Rhode Island Has It Worse Than Anywhere Else, Unless You’re Anywhere Else

Geographer Jim Russell has some typically illuminating thoughts (highly applicable to Rhode Island) on what he describes as “The Mythology of Uniqueness” in Pacific Standard.

Adding a geographic perspective to the affordable housing debate, the illusion of local limits our policy choices. The problem (i.e. lack of affordable housing) is framed as local. Thus, the solutions offered are local. But the demand driving up rents is not local, but global. Cities around the country and the world, in a variety of political geographies, struggle with the same issue. Such observations are not pause for thought, but deemed irrelevant. Your town is guilty of place failure, the reason why the rents are too damn high. Either fix the local or continue to struggle.

In a similar vein, concerning spurring regional innovation, consider the mythology of uniqueness. Places, like people, thrive on a self-perception of exceptionalism. Looking into brain drain claims, I learned that the anxiety about native daughters and sons leaving is ubiquitous. Also universal is the sense that your hometown has it worse than anyplace else. Residents leave because something is wrong with place, which ignores the many places commonly deemed successful experiencing more dramatic out-migration. The same should be said for innovation. Why can’t Pittsburgh pull a Silicon Valley? Because United States innovation is dying

The whole article takes about a minute of your time and should get some synapses firing.

There’s a lot we talk about here in Rhode Island; the lack of affordable housing, the brain drain, the abominable and mythical skills gap, etc.; that are presented as issues uniquely deadly to the state. In reality, they’re far from unique. The funny thing is that the insularity of Rhode Island’s thinking isn’t even unique to us. Look at the other former textile industry cities around New England; almost all of them have hit upon the idea that medical and education jobs are definitely the savior of their economies.

Theoretically we all can use meds and eds to achieve economic success; but there are two problems. First, both industries are not industries of broad-based employment like textiles. Second, both depend on phenomenal and unsustainable growth. Both the costs of college education and the costs of healthcare have been in Rhode Island’s news recently. Somehow, we want to rein in those costs without seeing a similar drop in employment.

You tell me if that’s a realistic idea.

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