Wide Open Spaces

Chicago and Toronto are in pretty good shape relative to their Rust Belt neighbours. As far as I can tell from the Wikipedia numbers, the urban agglomerations on the south shore of Lake Michigan and the west shore of Lake Ontario are by far the most populous in the Rust Belt. The relative prosperity of Chicago and Toronto may in part be due to their critical mass which allows them to function independent of their surroundings.

Smaller cities like Cleveland struggle in isolation because they are not as self-sustaining. The only physical connections between Rust Belt cities and beyond are expensive airplane tickets or interminably long journeys by road.

The upcoming Democratic primary in Pennsylvania had drawn some attention to the contrast between Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west. Ryan Avent asks, why is eastern Pennsylvania so much more prosperous than the west?  His answer, after the break.

The most obvious answer is that it’s right smack dab in the middle of the northeastern megalopolis, which is the largest, richest, most dynamic region in the nation. Ok, but so what? What is it about that region that has pulled eastern seaboard cities back from the brink and returned them to their status as concentrations of wealth production?

Basically, he says, the cities from Washington to Boston are big, dense, and well-connected to each other. Philadelphia has the benefit of being a stone’s throw from New York City, but Detroit is 300 mostly-empty miles from Chicago.

If the Rust Belt wants to prosper again, the cities have to get jobs and people back into downtown areas, and connect those downtowns with high-speed rail. Shrinking the distances between people makes cities like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh attractive places to live and work. Through infrastructure, they can create what the East Coast, Chicago, and Toronto already have.

A lot of people and jobs have gone south thanks to the attractive climate. Well it’s the built environment that will bring them back.

As an aside, I was interested to see what a comprehensive high-speed rail network might look like between the Mississippi and the Appalachians. Every urban area with a population over one million should be marked in blue.

[image 1024×716] greatlakesrailts9.jpg

[Google Earth] Great_Lakes_Rail.kml

In green are the four biggest cities on the East Coast which should be connected. In red are a few western and southern cities that I pretty much picked out of the air. Additionally, in purple, is Quebec City, because I figure it would be a political necessity in Canada if high-speed rail were built.

[photo] “Detroit and Windsor” by dherrera_96

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