Both deal with migration and population, constant points of discussion/contention in Pittsburgh. Briem does a nice job of coming across as less pessimistic than many of the people who have made a cottage industry of wringing their hands about the local head count. Sure, a lot of people are leaving. But a lot of people are arriving, too. Rather than having me paraphrase the whole thing, just read it.
In the meantime, I think the op-ed does a good job of touching on another important truth: The numbers presented in the article are largely regional ones. But they are hardly the only ones that matter:
Within the region, the movement of population is reshaping the region. The continuing movement of population away from urban cores is true for regions across the country. Suburbanization and exurbanization is a trend almost everywhere. Allegheny County has long been the concentration of population and employment in Southwestern Pennsylvania. That it bears the brunt of population loss as residents move ever farther out is almost unavoidable.
Yet even though more people leave Allegheny County each year than arrive, there are still thousands who move into the county from the suburbs each year. It is not a one-way flow.
The movement of population within the region has its consequences as well. New infrastructure is needed even as regional population is stagnant. Jobs are not moving out from the core at the same rate as residents showing that workers are willing to endure ever-longer commutes. Today, thousands travel into the region daily from Ohio, West Virginia and beyond.
I think this touches a few very raw nerves. Because a lot of people wouldn't be at all happy if the Pittsburgh region grew by leaps and bounds... but all the new people were in Cranberry. We see this with the current discussion about housing "downtown." My mind goes back to this article in the early days of the mayor's abatement proposal:
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl would love to be the guy who reverses the city's six-decade population plunge. His formula for doing that includes affordable living and merrymaking Downtown, more fun development like the SouthSide Works, and engagement between the city and its school district.
I think that when a lot of people talk about the "population plunge," they are in fact talking about the city. And assigning that reality to the entire region. As Briem has shown time and again, you have to be careful about what you are talking about. And even more careful not to cherry pick the numbers that suit your argument on any given day. It's easy to let it get away from you.
At any rate, I do think that the intramural scuffle is at least as interesting as the regional one. I know I have pointed this out a thousand times, but I do think it is important to think about where the new city residents will come from in the mayor's abatement proposal and other "downtown" initiatives. Because for a lot of people, getting a few thousand people to move from Cranberry to the Golden Triangle would be a great achievement. Others might see it as pointless. Others. like me, wonder what will happen if a whole bunch of the new downtown types come from other city neighborhoods. Which puts me in mind of another discussion of Ravenstahl's abatement plan:
The measure, approved 8-0, will waive the first $2,700 in city property taxes for 10 years on new housing units built Downtown and in 28 other city neighborhoods.
"It's symbolic of our effort to prioritize and give incentives for people to move back Downtown and to create incentives for people to move back into neighborhoods that haven't seen investment for some time," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said.
Move downtown and into the neighborhoods... from Cleveland? From Westmoreland County? From Shadyside? What's interesting is that these things could have a hugely transformative impact on the city and on the region as a whole. But they could, conceivably, have very little impact on the region's total headcount. Or they might have a large impact.
Either way, I bet there will be a way to look at the numbers that will allow the optimists to remain optimistic, and for the pessimists to remain pessimistic. Of course, that's a pretty safe wager.