Monday, 12 September 2016

Diversity and the metropolitan diaspora

OK we have to accept a more-or-less economic definition of successful here (which I'm guessing will be fine for most folk) but the evidence tells us that more diverse places - that is places with lots of people who weren't born there - are more successful:

One of the most important ways for cities to get connected is through migration. Jim Russell and his collaborator Richey Piiparinen at Cleveland State University’s Center for Population Dynamics have been documenting how Cleveland has been getting more connected to the global world through this process. This includes foreign immigration but isn’t limited to that. A key part of it is the influx into places like Cleveland of people who have lived in major global cities like New York, then cycled out.

Now diversity isn't an absolute guarantor of success but within this work lies the germ of an economic development strategy that might rebalance England (bearing in mind that my country is, compared to most places, a pretty small place). This isn't about attracting skilled migrants from the other side of the world - or even from Paris - but rather to look at how you provide the opportunities for people to 'cycle out' from an increasingly expensive and intolerable London.

We've seen some of this 'cycling out' with the success of Brighton, Reading and now Bristol - all places close enough to London to allow for folk to scuttle back and forth. Other places may well begin to fit this pattern - Whitstable, Canterbury and even Margate. As London overheats the result is that innovators and creators relocate, taking the risk of a smaller pool against the certainty of greater affordability. In the USA this is now noticed - here's an article about chefs in New York:
Bret Thorn, senior editor at the trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News, agrees. “We are experiencing a serious brain drain from New York City,” he says. “Chefs leaving to move home to Cleveland (Dante Boccuzzi) and Minneapolis (Gavin Kaysen). You don’t have to put up with the exorbitant rents or deal with the general cost of doing business or the difficult community boards. You can go to Oklahoma City and have customers who are interested and will marvel at what New Yorkers might be bored with.”
We've yet to hit this point yet in England but it gets closer with each rent hike and each new regulation. Intemperate actions like the shutting down of Fabric don't help and neither does the understandable preference of local authorities for order and the interests of residents. London's fantastic - yes seriously Londoners, fantastic - public transport has helped the city keep these innovators as it's possible to move further from the expensive centre without losing connectivity.

The question for us to ask is what drives the success of these out-of-London places - why Margate and not Hastings, how come Bristol but not Leicester. Some of this is about access - good road and rail links - but this isn't the only factor. And looking at the evidence from the USA it's tracking the pioneers who go back home - the creator who decides to sell the overpriced two-bed flat in Greenwich and head back with the proceeds to Birmingham (or wherever) or the new entrepreneur who thinks success is more likely in their lower rent home town than in London.

Places like Bradford need to invest some time on their diaspora, in the connections that already exist. We moan and mither about the brain drain but simply ignore those brains once they've left. Perhaps part of the strategy is to talk to these exiles - most will have a soft spot for home (if only because of friends and family) and can be relied on to put in a good word. But maybe the big benefit comes when those people decide to take their well-gotten gains and head somewhere cheaper - if they've been loved by the home town even though they left, surely the chances of them returning are greater.

Of course, for me, the home town is London. And I can't afford it.


1 comment:

Trofim said...

It started a long time ago. Estuary accents are more common in Worcestershire than the local, given the huge number of ex-Londoners (in reality white flight) who have relocated here for a better life. In fact a Worcs accent is now more or less a rarity in Worcester, and looked on with a mixture of disdain and condescension as an outdated quirk.