San Diego – It’s a great time for this magazine to convene a gathering of apartment industry leaders in Southern California. The weather is fantastic, and I’m not talking about just the sunny skies.

If you are joining us for Apartment Finance Today’s Developer Conference at the Omni Hotel in San Diego, March 8-10, welcome to our home state. The business climate here could not be better. It is especially good for the apartment industry, and if you are not already invested here, this is a good time to consider it.

The conference is going to be fantastic. We have a jam-packed program on cutting-edge topics with 59 excellent speakers, including Doug Bibby of the National Multi Housing Council; Douglas Culkin of the National Apartment Association; Harvey Green of Marcus & Millichap; J. Ronald Terwilliger of Trammell Crow Residential; Christopher Lee of CEL and Associates, Inc.; and Peter Linneman of The Wharton School.

But even if you are unable to attend our conference this year, Southern California markets still represent a great business opportunity as well as a remarkable lesson for students of real estate and urban development.

Most of you know Southern California apartment markets have been booming. But the most fascinating trend is the enduring appeal of downtown living in the urban cores of Los Angeles and San Diego. Even in the many municipalities that don’t have an urban core, the most successful projects are recreating the feel of an urban center.

Best of all, unlike the often misguided attempts at government-sponsored urban renewal in the ’50s and ’60s, this time the cities are being revitalized with sensible planning, good design and an explicit priority for providing housing and services for people with a range of incomes.

For in-depth reports on downtown development in L.A. and San Diego.

Of course, if you are from the Midwest, I know exactly what you’re thinking – What does high-end housing in downtown L.A. have to do with you?

I hear you. I just returned from a visit to my place of birth: Youngstown, Ohio, where a moderate-income worker can afford a house, but job formation is a dim memory from the era of “Big Steel.”

Here’s where the stories overlap. Even in a blue collar city as depressed as Youngstown, there are small but significant signs of the same kind of revitalization that is so powerfully reshaping downtown Los Angeles.

When you stop laughing, consider this: As in so many other decaying rust belt cities, jobs, shopping and dining have left Youngstown for the suburbs. Youngstown is crawling back from the ashes by developing the city core as an entertainment and cultural center. They don’t have a Frank Gehry-designed, Disney-financed music hall like L.A., but they do have a convocation center with minor league hockey, a symphony with a great home auditorium and a brand new “martini bar” that is attracting hip young people who are bored by suburbia.

It’s a slow process that will never have the momentum a city like L.A. can generate, but it’s a start on the long road to economic growth and job creation, and that can only be good for the housing industry in cities like Youngstown. And the same pattern is being repeated in dozens of other middle-market towns.