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Is 'cool' an economic development strategy?: Pittsburgh Versus Portland

San Francisco is "Portland with jobs". That search generated some traffic at my blog. The quip is all about Portland's jobs problem. The first thing that comes to my mind is Aaron Renn's (The Urbanophile) "Nikki Sutton Story":

Eager to be in this great physical setting and around more people who shared her values, Nikki moved to Portland without a job in the early 2000's. (She originally thought she had one, but it fell through right as she was moving). She spent 14 months looking for serious employment, but couldn't find it. In the meantime, she worked at the Banana Republic flagship. According to her, the entire staff was in the same boat – people who wanted to live in Portland but hadn't been able to find employment in their own field.

Since it gave benefits to part time workers, Nikki also applied for a retail job at Starbucks. She was told there was such a backlog of applications it would likely be some time before she even got a call back. Yes, there appears to be a long waiting list for jobs at Starbucks in Portland.

After more than a year of this, she was lured back to Indianapolis by an actual job offer from a local architecture firm. After working there for some time, she launched her own firm, Level Interior. She's also active as a model and fashion stylist. I'm personally very impressed with her work.

Portland put the cart before the horse. Riffing off of one of my main themes ... local development for people, not places:

Policy should be assessed by impact on people, not places. In the recent past, policy has arguably been too heavily focused on public expenditure to turn around declining places, and paid too little attention to individuals, housing costs and amenity differences.

Move to Portland and be somewhere. Move to Indianapolis and do something. Portland is a wonderful example of great placemaking. Placemaking to what end? Portland is attractive. Portland is winning the war for talent. Portland is San Francisco without jobs.

Now about that Pittsburgh is better than Portland thing:

This ought not to be about Pittsburgh versus Portland. As it happens, Pittsburgh does have a lot going for it. The city, more than any other former industrial Mecca flourishing in generations past, has found a way to reinvent itself as a flourishing small metropolis connecting the East Coast and the Midwest. And admittedly, Portland has its problems: we need jobs and greater diversity. But Pittsburgh and Portland, rather than rivals or as combatatants in some kind of cool-cache duel, both represent the rise of the small city at the expense of megalopolises like New York, DC and Los Angeles.

Gone are the days before the Internet and ease of travel when small cities' most talented artists and entrepreneurs felt they had to migrate across the country forever in order to find attention, investment and advancement. Today Mark Rothko wouldn't have to go to New York to become Mark Rothko.

The great diaspora of the 21st century will not be immigrants foreign and domestic heading to two or three American cultura capitols. It will be one that favors the Copenhagens, Kyotos, Portlands and Pittsburghs of the world - not to the same centers of smog, hubris and spit of the past. There is no Ellis Island today but an archipelago.

No surprise, The Washington Post list sticking a fork in Portland-chic struck a nerve. Nobody puts Portland in a corner. Portland and Pittsburgh need to stick together and take on those big, bad alpha global cities. The "world is spiky" my ass.

Great people make great places, not the other way around. The hubris of architects and urban planners is astounding. Sorry Michigan, cool is not an economic development strategy. Attracting/retaining talent is a means to some end, not the end itself.

What's in and what is out is a "cool-cache duel", all in good fun. I'm more concerned about the Portland Way. Is it a good idea? Should Detroit try to emulate the success? Some snarky journalism struck me as a good way to broach the subject. Pittsburgh is suddenly Creative Class hip. That's funny, right?