Friday, August 21, 2009

Detroit Versus Youngstown

Over the last week or so, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the urban frontier comparisons between Detroit and Youngstown. Detroit is the media darling of right now. But I think Youngstown is in much better position to take advantage of the ample political space a dramatic economic collapse creates. One reason is the respective size of each city. Sometimes, smaller is better:

Why did Pittsburgh win the iPhone App "space race" when Boston announced their app over a month ago? Is it because we have a younger mayor? No. It's because we're small. Less bureaucracy means more flexibility.

That's a good way to describe what I term "ample political space". Pittsburgh's power base remained largely intact during its dark years (e.g. Allegheny Conference on Community Development). There isn't a wild west opportunity in the region. But its smaller size, relative to Boston, might make it more nimble.

But if you really want to see "less bureaucracy" at work, then head to Youngstown. Given the compact development, almost everyone is rowing in the same direction. On the other hand, Detroit is unwieldy and chaotic. The city is big. Really big. Good ideas aren't likely to run into each other as they would (and have) in place such as Pittsburgh.

In Detroit, there is anarchy. In Youngstown, there is very little bureaucracy. That's the big difference between those two urban frontiers.

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