digital rhetoric

life between mega-regions

As Richard Florida notes, while nations are based on imaginary boundaries, you can basically see mega-regions by looking at the night-side of the planet.

Photo of US eastern coast at night showing the bright lights of cities.

In other words, you can see here what Florida means by the Boston-NY-Washington mega-region. You can also pick out the sparser (less-mega?) mega-region surrounding the Great Lakes. Although the East Coast region doesn’t quite reach Atlanta, I am reminded of William Gibson’s BAMA (Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis). From Neuromancer

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every
thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen.
Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to
pulse. the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation.
Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale.
Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in
midtown Manhanan. outlines of hundred-year-old industrial
parks ringing the old core of Atlanta.

City lights obviously don’t tell the whole story. A map like Gibson’s might be more telling of where the action is, but get the point. Either way, central NY is going to be a black hole. Oh, I’m sure Syracuse is one of those smaller blips of light in a chain of cities moving east from Lake Erie: Buffalo (pop 280K), Rochester (211K), Syracuse (140K), Albany-Schenectady (150K). The major employers in these cities as near as I can figure are in education, health, and government. In short, we take care of the old and the young, but if you are healthy, educated, and don’t want to work in one of these fields, then you need to get out.

The sad thing is that in many respects upstate NY is not a bad place to live. Yes the winter can be hellish, but otherwise the seasons are quite nice. Many people come here for vacations. The air is clean, the cost of living is low (despite NYS taxes), and so on. However, it’s obviously not the same as living in a mega-region. The professional opportunities, the cultural resources and diversity, etc.–all the things we love about cities–are not plentiful here (as if you needed me to tell you that!). Overall Syracuse ranks somewhere in the middle of the 330 US cities Florida ranks in The Flight of the Creative Class, behind Rochester and Albany, ahead of Buffalo.

I’m thinking about these things as another cohort of majors approaches graduation next month. Anyone can look at that satellite map and see there’s no secret as to where our grads need to go. And yet part of me wonders what that means for upstate NY. Folks here have been talking about the brain drain for years. In the 90’s the upstate population of people 18-34 declined 22%. Even a university like Cornell can have trouble attracting and retaining faculty. Single faculty want a more lively community. Married faculty have spouses that struggle to find work. Obviously these things are even more challenging at Cortland.

On the one hand, it would be good to see these cities come back to life, but I don’t know if it’s simply a matter of will or strategic planning or budgets. On the other hand, when you’re looking at your students on graduation day, it’s hard to give them the advice that they should be sticking around.

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