| Follow Us:
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

Features

TEDx Pittsburgh talk: 2.4 million





This is the transcript of Don Carter's TEDx Pittsburgh talk given in November 2011. The video above includes all the slides referenced here.

"Let's talk about the power of cities. Because the world is rapidly urbanizing.

This is the city of Shenzhen. In southern China, just north of Hong Kong. In 1979 it was a fishing community of 30,000. Today it is a mega city of 10 million.

The United Nations projects that population will increase by 1/3 from 7.0 billion today to 9.2 billion by 2050.
    -    China will remain the same at 1.4 billion (one child policy).
    -    India will grow by 1/3 to 1.6 billion and will surpass China as most populous.
    -    The U.S., unique among Western democracies, which will remain stable or decline in population, will also grow by 1/3.    
    -    This world population growth is being accompanied by an unprecedented migration from rural to urban, especially in the  developing world.

In 1900 (the world was) 10% urban; by 2008 it was 50% for the first time, and by 2050 75% urban, including China and India.
    -    The U.S. is already 82% urban and will be 84% urban in 2050.
    -    Unfortunately this rural migration is creating mega cities of 10 to 30 million.

Mumbai slum
    -    Like Mumbai here in India with a population of 20 million today and expected to grow to 36 million in 2050
    -    40% of the population, or 8 million, live in slums like this, with little or no electricity, sanitary facilities, or fresh water.
    -    Lack of fresh water is not only an urban problem in developing countries. It is also a major problem in rural areas like northern India. Families come daily to this open well for water.

In April 2010 the National Geographic published a special issue on "Water - Our Thirsty World."? Just a few factoids:
        -    Only 2.5% of water on earth is fresh water, the rest is salt water.
        -    Two-thirds of the fresh water is frozen in the polar ice caps and in glaciers, and what remains is not evenly distributed on the earth.
        -    20% of the earth's surface fresh water is right here in the Great Lakes and watersheds of the upper Midwest.

Depak Jain, a professor at Northwestern University who has been studying global water issues, predicted in 2009 that "Water is going to be more important than oil in twenty years."

The water crisis is not just this little Indian boy heading home across parched earth with a water jar on his head from that open well. It is also Lake Mead, the fresh water reservoir created in 1937 by the Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas.It has shrunk to its lowest level ever.
 
Las Vegas is already in trouble, not only because of receding Lake Mead, but also because it is dangerously drawing down water from the Owens Aquifer underneath the city.

The Natural Resources Defense Council forecasts that "By 2050 1/3 of counties in the U.S., primarily in the Sun Belt, will be at severe water risk." In fact, the entire Southwest has been on drought watch for 12 years and counting.

Pittsburgh Golden Triangle
How does Pittsburgh fit into this picture of global water crisis and global population growth? Well, it clearly has water. But, also clearly, it's not growing in population.

What it is doing is sprawling and spreading out. This is the six county Pittsburgh region. The urbanized areas are in red.
    -    The population was 2.4 million in 1950 and today it is 2.4 million.
    -    We consumed three to four times as much land as our cities and towns depopulated and low-density suburbs proliferated.
    -    And like most post-industrial cities in the US Northeast and Midwest, Pittsburgh has had to cope with the loss of basic industries while retooling and revitalizing. And we have done a good job.

The stigma of the past hangs on for Pittsburgh and other post-industrial cities. As a result, post-industrial cities like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Cleveland are labeled with pejorative terms:
        -    shrinking cities
        -    frost belt cities
        -    and the one I hate most, Rust Belt cities

(Slide of smoky downtown) Nothing like this exists anymore, such as darkness at noon in Downtown Pittsburgh. We are a
green city, a sustainable city.    

Post-industrial cities are not dead and rusting cities, they are national treasures not to be cast side like the ghost towns of the Old West.

Inherent strengths of post-industrial cities
    -    Authenticity and heritage
    -    Walkable neighborhoods with transit
    -    Universities and medical centers
    -    Cultural and recreational amenities
    -    Abundant fresh water

(slide of North Side neighborhood) Like this walkable historic neighborhood on Pittsburgh's North Side.

(slide of Oakland aerial) Or the economic engine of the region that is Oakland with Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and University of  Pittsburgh Medical Center.

 But you people still say, "If we only had more people," as if size was the problem. But size is not the problem. The Pittsburgh region is as large or larger in population than 75% of the regions in Europe.

    -    Here are few representative European regions:
        -    Pittsburgh Region: 2.4 million
        -    Copenhagen Region: 2.4 million
        -    Zurich Region: 2.4 million
        -    Vienna Region: 2.2 million
        -    Turin Region: 2.2 million
        -    Dublin Region: 1.6 million
    -    Like Pittsburgh, they are not growing in population.

I doubt that any of them, such as Dublin here, think they are too small to be a complete region with a great quality of life. So population size is not the issue, nor do I think that population growth is the issue either.

Let's compare two major US metropolitan regions from 1950 to 2010. As we saw earlier, the Pittsburgh region stayed the same at 2,400,000 while the City Pittsburgh decreased from 677,000 to 305,000. By contrast Phoenix City grew from 107,000 to 1,600,000 and the Phoenix region grew 12 times in population from 350,000 to 4,300,000.

Rust belt/Sun Belt
This sets up a familiar equation about population growth:
            Rust Belt = Bad
            Sun Belt = Good.
But not so fast.

Paul Gottlieb, an economist, completed a study called "Growth Without Growth" for the Brookings Institution a few years ago on the growth patterns of major metropolitan regions in the U.S. and concluded that, "Growth in per capita income is more important than population growth."

He classifies regions into categories, two of which he calls Population Magnets and Wealth Builders.

Population Magnets, like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Orlando, in the Sun Belt, are low-density and auto-dependent with undiversified economies and with population growth driven by the business of growth itself -- home building and road construction. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 revealed this growth model as illusory and unsustainable.

To most everyone's surprise, Gottlieb's top three Wealth Builders were St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee.
Wealth Builders are technology-rich regions with stable populations and diverse economies fueled by legacy educational, medical, and philanthropic institutions.

(slide of Phoenix) Here is Population Magnet Phoenix importing ever scarcer water in open canals from the Colorado River, irrigating the Sonoma desert, sprawling in all directions, and in economic free fall.

(slide of Pittsburgh) Here is Wealth Builder Pittsburgh, water rich, stable, and diversified, successfully reinventing the post-industrial city.

It's time for a new terminology.

-    The Sun Belt becomes the Drought Belt.

-    The Rust Belt becomes the Water Belt.

(slide of city in the mist)  This is the power of the post-industrial city.

 Thank you.
Signup for Email Alerts
Share this page
0
Email
Print
Signup for Email Alerts