JIM RUSSELL – What the Rust Belt Can Teach Us About White Flight, Gentrification, and Brain Drain

The dying cities of the Rust Belt shouldn’t have brain gain. But they do. Real estate appreciation within an urban core suffering from demographic decline doesn’t make any sense. Yet these neighborhoods exist in places such as Buffalo and Pittsburgh. To be young, college-educated, and white means to flee where manufacturing used to rule. Boom goes Detroit. Concerning migration, expect the unexpected in America’s legacy cities.

The story about Rust Belt shrinking cities doesn’t translate well to the overall metro. In 1950, the population of the Pittsburgh metro was about the same as it is today. As for the city proper, the population now is about half of what it was in 1950. This sprawl is commonly referred to as “white flight.” Whites, who were not restricted by racist practices such as redlining, escape something bad. Intolerant of African Americans in close proximity, whites fled the city for the suburbs. Certainly, there is ample proof of the push. But there is also ample proof of the pull, the allure of suburban living.  We don’t have the data to determine if the migration actually was white flight:

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