I'm working on an alternate future setting (somewhere between 2070 and 2130) in which Southern/South Western Ontario, specifically the London, ON area, becomes a tech powerhouse on par with Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately, I've made the classic blunder of coming up with an effect without considering its cause first. I've decided that somehow this new tech powerhouse affects the population of New York City (est. ~10m in this future), dropping it quite dramatically to almost half that (somewhere around 6-7m).

When I came up with this "effect" I decided that the population change happened over the course of a few decades, but that might not be a realistic time frame, and I'm flexible on that.

I've considered possibilities such as New Yorkers emigrating to Canada's new Silicon Valley, but 3-4m immigrants from the same city over the course of a few decades seems like something that would cause Canada to heavily tighten immigration requirements.

I've also considered slightly hand-wavey solutions, such as a plague, or other such disaster, striking NYC and causing the city to be so undesirable that it triggers mass emigration. I dismissed these solutions because they seem very Ex Machina-esque, I'd prefer a solution more rooted in viable politics.

What event, political problem, or other feasible happening could cause such a population shift?


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    $\begingroup$ The population of cities grows and decreases. Look for example at Detroit -- its population is now half of what it was in the 1950s. Why? Because the automotive industry moved elsewhere. So maybe in the future depicted in the story people begin to leave New York -- maybe because the city loses its status as a financial hub, maybe because strict environmental regulations make it difficult to operate industrial plants, maybe because a series of left-leaning city officials increase taxes beyond what business can support etc. As it is, the population of N.Y. is barely growing in recent times. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 4 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Good thinking, perhaps the rapid growth of the venture capital business and the associated financial sector lead to the competing financial sector in New York being hit hard by capital flight. Especially with the relative proximity this could easily trigger something of a positive feedback loop as uncertainty of job security motivates some of New York's highly skilled finance professionals to seek what they consider more secure employment across the border which of course in turn encourages more banks to invest where the skilled labour now is feeding the cycle of decline in New York. $\endgroup$ – MttJocy Jun 4 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MttJocy It has to be more than just job insecurity to justify the population flight. Detroit is probably the only example of major US city suffering from depopulation (rather than stagnation). If overall US population is still growing, things in NYC need to turn real bleak for almost 50% population drop. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 4 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, actually Detroit's population was dropping even before the decline of the auto industry. It was because of the cars that they were making. Workers no longer needed to live within walking or tram distance of the noisy, polluting plant. Executives and workers (who had money) moved further out (i.e. Redlands) where it was nicer and those without money moved into the vacated and devalued housing. Note: Grandfather was senior management at Ford. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Jun 4 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ Why would you think of NYC as having a major tech sector? (Outside of the "quants" in the financial industry.) Probably only a tiny fraction of NYC's population would be able to qualify for tech jobs, and I would expect that most who could qualify have already moved to places like Silicon Valley. (Also, these days you don't have to actually live in a specific place to hold down a tech job.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 4 at 17:01

Well the population loss in New York need not be only from people migrating to the new hub, some of it could be people leaving New York in search of perceived better opportunities elsewhere. To trigger such migration on this sort of scale though would likely require dealing a crippling blow to New York's economy. One aspect in your favour in accomplishing this is that New York's economy is heavily dependent on the financial sector the lifeblood of which is a highly mobile resource namely capital.

So it seems to me that what you would need is to have the development of the new tech hub set in motion a chain of events that results in large scale capital migration away from New York, such capital flight is really bad for a financial centre like New York. The problem you have here is that normally one would expect New York to position itself as far as possible to capitalise on the new tech hub becoming the de facto go to place to funnel the venture capital and other investment through.

Sadly the most likely prospect of circumventing that is also rather boring since the only real influence with this kind of power to distort the market is government regulation. This could be the US government shooting itself in the foot by introducing regulatory overburden that renders their financial centre less competitive globally. Or perhaps Canada moving to foster a more attractive regulatory environment that encourages a boom in the financial and service sectors including tech startups etc.

The latter probably makes more sense here as it would go along with being the trigger that ultimately lead to the rapidly booming tech hub in London, ON too. Think things like lowered taxes, streamlining regulations and reducing red tape or artificial roadblocks that put up barriers to entry for entrepreneurs etc.

It could also be some combination of good regulatory strategy on Canada's part and missteps on the part of the US. In fact I could imagine misguided efforts by the US legislature to put up protectionist barriers in an attempt to prevent capital flight actually making things worse due to a failure to fully understand the industry they are attempting to regulate, this would be far from the first time a legislature made this sort of mistake.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer addresses pretty much exactly what my idea was after reading the other answers, albeit more in depth than I had thought about. I will likely take the approach of combining good regulations from Canada with poor regulations, or poor attempts at protective regulation from the US government. $\endgroup$ – Skidsdev Jun 4 at 15:02

There's no reason why it would

It may even help New York. NY is a financial centre, Silicon Valley is a tech centre. When Silicon Valley grows, the share prices increase and Wall Street makes more money. There's no reason to think that another tech centre with a tendency to list their stocks on the NY exchange will cause any harm to the city. Quite the contrary. You're not competing in the same market, tech people and financial people are worlds apart. If you don't work in/with tech there's no reason at all to go to Silicon Valley.

Now if Canada's rules said that these companies must list on the Toronto stock exchange and your new tech centre did displace Silicon Valley as the heart of the global industry, then you might start doing damage to New York, but not by sucking people into your new zone but rather from NY to Toronto.

  • $\begingroup$ That could do it too, I was kinda thinking that perhaps the growth in venture capital in the new hub could trigger capital flight but government regulations or incentives here could easily have a similar effect. Since New York is so heavily invested in the finance sector some form of capital flight would certainly make the most sense when it comes to harming it's economy which in turn could trigger a cycle of decline under the right circumstances. $\endgroup$ – MttJocy Jun 4 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ This is a valid point. I didn't consider the fact that NYC isn't just a big city for the sake of it, it's actually a huge financial hub $\endgroup$ – Skidsdev Jun 4 at 14:03

It probably is not enough to have just a tech area as such. You would need some other factors that draw all kinds of economic activity. Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft's head office is located, is not a gigantic city and probably won't require millions of people for tech activities. These sorts of things require specific skills in a significant but not enormous work force. We are talking 10's of thousands, maybe 100's of thousands.

To get millions to move there you need something that drives an entire economy. Even a single resource such as oil won't result in millions of people moving there. Alberta, Canada, is quite rich in oil, but is still fairly modest in terms of population.

I can think of an example, but it's probably not directly helpful to you. In 1980 the city of Shenzhen China (to be called SZ from here), was a town of round-about 60,000 people. It existed primarily as a port city, and to service the border with Hong Kong, which is across a very narrow section of water directly south of SZ. Then SZ was made a special economic zone. That meant people could be business owners, make money, and get rich. So there was very suddenly a huge draw to move there, and today it is more than 12 million. And growing basically as fast as the country's government permits, and apartment construction allows.

SZ has every sort of industry. Manufacturing of all kinds, finance, import/export, entertainment, etc. and etc. It is very strong in electronics manufacture, but it is also strong in many other industries.

So you need some factor, or collection of factors, that allow an entire economy to flourish in comparison to the places that population migrates from.

In addition, you need some conditions that mean the source location is specifically unattractive. That is, NYC would have to be relatively unpleasant or undesirable for some reason. Otherwise, the attractive place would attract people from much larger zones. In SZ, people arrive from all over China, not just one nearby city. South Western Ontario would draw from Detroit and Chicago. And also other parts of Canada. Not just NYC.

Maybe in your scenario, NYC has become tyrannical in some way, and Ontario is then a place people can become wealthy.

Interestingly, if a city starts losing population over this time scale, it can become a cascade failure. For example, if an area loses population then the sewer system may not have enough flow to keep things functioning. And entire neighborhoods can become uninhabitable. Other things like police, ambulance, and fire department can fail when population falls abruptly. Google up some of the events around Detroit losing population to see examples of some of these things.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, perhaps those in charge of NYC's financial sector, thinking that nobody can compete with them as a financial hub, begin imposing unpopular and borderline tyrannical regulations on the city's finance industry, only to have, for example, Toronto, helped by the economy boost of the nearby huge tech industry, grow into a financial hub to compete with NYC $\endgroup$ – Skidsdev Jun 4 at 14:02

Sea level rise.

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Not just New York, but much of the Eastern seaboard is threatened by sea level rise. People will have to move and moving inland makes sense. If the part of Canada you use for your story already has established socioeconomic policies appreciated by the liberal elites on the East coast (because the Canucks established such policies to draw liberal elite tech masters from the West coast!), the Easterners would migrate there as well to leave drowning NYC and Boston.

Global warming would probably also help ameliorate winters in Ontario!

  • $\begingroup$ This is a really good point I didn't even consider. it's absolutely possible within the next Century that this could become an issue for NYC $\endgroup$ – Skidsdev Jun 4 at 20:14

Anti-immigration crackdown in US.

To depopulate major metropolitan area, it's not enough to create a "pull" elsewhere, we would need a "push" from that area itself.

In coming years, anti-immigrant sentiment in US would grow. Federal government would prevail in its fight against the "sanctuary city" laws and practices. Both legal and illegal immigrants would be affected. Legal immigrant would be losing their status for minor infractions like speeding violations. Illegal immigrants would be rounded up and deported en masse.

New York City, with over 3 million of its inhabitants born in another country, is currently the most "immigrant" city in the world. Immigrants are drawn in by its thriving multiethnic communities as well as abundant opportunities for work and business. Immigration enforcement is restrained by the liberal city policies.

Once anti-immigrant policies in the city would prevail, it would quickly turn from population magnet to a place where any immigrant would fear for him/herself and the family.

At the same time, Canada, which is already immigration-friendly, may expand its policies and offer new opportunities to former US immigrants. Over a few decades, New York may turn from thriving, very diverse city to a shadow if its former self. Coupled with capital flight from US to Canada (discussed in other answers), this would provide no incentive to anyone to stay in NYC. Mission accomplished :)


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