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Row houses are common throughout Lawrenceville. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Urban Frontier Mythology

• August 13, 2013 • 10:49 AM

Row houses are common throughout Lawrenceville. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Where the creative class, to use urbanist Richard Florida’s term, are moving to today—and why.

Thanks to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City has lost its mojo. The creatively inclined flee Big City, seeking a new urban frontier. The wild anarchy of Pittsburgh pulls them in:

And, indeed, many prominent people who want to fix Detroit — and New Orleans and Pittsburgh, among other places — see in a changing New York their great opportunity. What those cities may lack in security and public services, they make up for with the opportunity to crash with a bunch of friends in a $500-a-month house and pursue creative work of the sort that takes time to be recognized and financed.

Today’s Huckleberry Finn lighting out for the territory means moving to the Rust Belt. In Detroit, ironically, American Exceptionalism lives on. Back in Pittsburgh, the suggestion that one has to brave a “lack in security and public services” may strike most as amusing. In 2009, The Financial Times put hipster neighborhood Lawrenceville on the map of the global elite:

Yet residents of Lawrenceville, the area where Foster was born and raised, are hoping that, in this recession, the hardest of times might pass them by. After all, no less an authority than Richard Florida, the urban studies theorist, has called their community “an example of the kind of place that can be a ‘next neighbourhood’.”

Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and professor of business and creativity at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, knows Lawrenceville well. Before decamping to Canada he was on the faculty of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. He did the research for the book that made his name, The Rise of the Creative Class there, and he thinks Lawrenceville – with its inexpensive housing stock, growing number of restaurants, bars, arts outlets and specialty shops – has what it takes to attract and keep precisely the type of people he describes in that book – the designers, engineers, technology workers and artists he sees as the drivers of contemporary economic growth.

Real estate refugees from Brooklyn will be disappointed in the rising rents of Lawrenceville. The bow wave of gentrification in Pittsburgh has already moved beyond this boutique enclave to more “dicey” locales. One would be hard pressed to find urban misadventure where pioneers set up shop.

As much as the mayor of New York would like to take credit for that city’s boom, economic globalization restructured the urban core. NYC was first in line for the transformation. Other distressed cities, such as Chicago, would soon follow. The same trend now diffuses to the Rust Belt.

The skinny:

Both police records (which underestimate some types of crime) and surveys of victims (which should not, but are not as regularly available a source of data) show crime against the person and against property falling over the past ten years in most rich countries. In America the fall began around 1991; in Britain it began around 1995, though the murder rate followed only in the mid-2000s. In France, property crime rose until 2001—but it has fallen by a third since. Some crimes are all but disappearing. In 1997, some 400,000 cars were reported stolen in England and Wales: in 2012, just 86,000.

Wherever there is wealth, crime is falling. Wealth is moving back into cities all over the world. Lena Dunham won’t have to sacrifice anything but an overpriced latte to move from Brooklyn to Lawrenceville. We haven’t heard the last of brain drain from New York.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

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