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Fixing the Rust Belt Through Immigration


Jeff La Noue has an interesting piece about how to “fix” the Rust Belt cities. Using Toronto as a model, he asks why the Canadian side of the Great Lakes is booming and the American side is in a decades-long slide. There are complex reasons for this. I am not this site’s resident Canadian, but among Toronto’s clear advantages over Toledo or Buffalo is that Canada doesn’t have an east coast chock full of interesting cities. Halifax might compare to Portland, Maine but it doesn’t compare to Boston, while Montreal is a different beast.

Anyway, he points to the Rust Belt cities making themselves welcome homes of immigrants as key to Toronto’s success:

Hogtown, yes, that is Toronto’s nickname from its frontier days, is comprised of (just a shade under) 50 % foreign born. This 49+percent immigrant population comprises half of Toronto’s 2.6 million people and a metro area now over 5.6 million. In 1950, Toronto was just slightly larger than Cleveland and about 700,000 warm bodies less than Detroit’s population. Today there are more foreign born Torontonians than the combined populations of Detroit and Cleveland. Toronto attracts Asians. Cleveland’s Asia Town strategy is a streetscape project! I am not exactly sure if it involves actually adding Asians. Toronto does not have better weather, natural resources, or geographic advantages than probably any of America’s big city population losers. It’s booming economy relies on “innovation and the development of ideas to create wealth” according to Invest Toronto. Toronto understands immigrants are a central ingredient to their success. It starts with a friendly immigrant portal for getting started in Toronto!

Cleveland, Detroit, etc. would be forever changed if they made their primary revitalization strategy to be a top American “port of entry.” (The Feds would have to approve and cooperate) Cities need new people and immigrants to America have a centuries long tradition of creating or finding opportunity.

Even better, many immigrants would be excited to come if it came with an expedited US green card (even if it required a start out in a Rust Belt City provision) . Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit boomed with the help of immigrants from eastern Europe before WWI, and African-american migrants from the American South in WWII. It is time to avoid native protectionism and tailor a policy to bring new waves of immigrants that would be eager to call themselves Clevelanders et al. Looking across the lake to Toronto is the first step.

Again, I think that Toronto being the financial capital of Canada is probably more important, but the point is valid.

It’s also very much worth noting how capitalists respond to the problems of Cleveland by pushing a failed corporate agenda that promotes their own investment interests. He links to a piece by Sandra Pianalto, President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, who argues that what the city really needs to reinvent itself is–wait for it–Rheeism! (for more info about the Cleveland version of this, see here)

This is patently absurd as a way to fix the city. I know that according to Rhee and Rahm Emanuel and all the other school reform charlatans teacher unions are a unique evil, but holding back the entire city of Cleveland from becoming a booming metropolis like Toronto is really quite impressive. But regardless of what one thinks about education issues, that’s so far from a solution to the problem that it’s laughable. Yet as Thomas Frank mentioned in his essay on academic capitalism, the solution for these people is ALWAYS more capitalism, more privatization, more magical hand of the free market.

La Noue’s idea of opening these cities up as immigrant hubs makes a lot more sense. I’m sure older red-blooded Americans like Mr. Horvath and Ms. Wojcik might oppose their cities being taken over by immigrants who just won’t assimilate to our ways, but these concerns are of course misplaced.

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