Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dying Cities Paradigm

The infamous Joshua Zumbrun, the author behind the Forbes list of dying cities, expresses skepticism about good news Youngstown gracing the pages of this week's Economist newspaper. Industrial decline would seem to be an intractable problem. I think the issue is the lens (growth paradigm) we use to assess city health. We're fixated on the population numbers and focus on reversing the trend (e.g. plug the brain drain). The trick seems to be thinking about all the perceived liabilities as an asset, a competitive advantage.

Yesterday, I was speaking on the phone with one of the Youngstown Vanguard (the architects of Dream City). He had met with a group of the foreign-born students at Youngstown State University. How did they end up at Youngstown? The answer surprised him (and me). All of them mentioned that YSU was the most inexpensive place to earn an American college degree. They were employing geographic arbitrage, a key component of the Mahoning Valley opportunity landscape.

In order to unleash the geographic arbitrage advantage, the region must mitigate or reduce legacy costs. As we begin to develop shrinking city planning techniques, dealing with these legacy costs should be priority number one. Joshua Zumbrun should come and see for himself just how Youngstown has done this.

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