Touching a Nerve

The Tube City Almanac doesn't have permalinks, but take a look at his posts for August 31 and September 1, reacting to my comments about steel.

I'm happy to keep up the conversation. Some additional thoughts:

I certainly didn't intend to provoke such a visceral reaction, but the fact I did suggests to me that there is something here worth talking about. Not about steel, per se, though that's an interesting topic in itself. But about the city, its past, and its future.

I happen to like Pittsburgh, a lot. I think that it's a terrific place to live and that it's terribly underappreciated, especially by a lot of people who were raised here and who still live here. I also happen to think that Pittsburgh has a lot of undeveloped potential -- economically, socially, and culturally. To my mind, the notion that we need to get past steel is consistent with both statements. "Get past steel" doesn't mean that we should ignore or undervalue the contributions of steelworkers or the steel industry; it means that the future of the city and the region doesn't and can't depend on them. It's terrific to recognize, remember, and respect the past. It's not terrific to stop there and to believe that respect for the past is enough to sustain Pittsburgh into the future.

TubeCity, who suggests that I'm a snob, writes:

"But it gets my Irish (or is that Hungarian?) up. You're telling me that what my grandfathers and father did to build America wasn't worthwhile, and that they didn't do anything to make this country great, and that I should forget about it. I take that very personally. Setting aside the obvious --- that Pennsylvania steel built the great buildings, bridges and ships of the world for nearly a century --- the leadership of steelworkers and coal miners made possible such "radical" concepts as overtime pay, paid vacations and holidays, and health insurance. Those didn't exist until men and women struck for their rights, often at great personal risk to themselves. And don't forget the impact that Big Steel had on the northern migration of African-Americans to Pennsylvania in search of a better life; the steel companies pitted whites and blacks against one another, hiring blacks to break strikes by white steelworkers and helping to solidify racist attitudes that still exist to this day.

We're supposed to get past that? We're still living with the consequences of decisions that happened 50, 75 or 100 years ago. How can we expect to move forward without understanding what happened in the past?"

I guess that I'd be offended if I disagreed with what he wrote. (I find it a little odd that he thinks that this is what I wrote.) But I don't; he's right about the importance of Pittsburgh's history, and about the contributions of his ancestors and other steelworkers. If only all native Pittsburghers had equal perspective. I'm not thrilled about being called a snob, but it goes with the territory, and the territory is this: Pittsburgh has a choice. It can stay where it is, or it can try to grow and evolve. If it chooses the latter, it needs to build new traditions. It needs to welcome outsiders. It needs to adjust its self-image (there you are again, Cope), so that we don't default to the Popeye view of Pittsburgh ("I yam what I yam"). We are what we want to be. The question is what that is, and how do we get there. What's next?

How about the following provocative -- and purely hypothetical -- suggestion: Should we tear down the Duquesne Club, as a metaphorical gesture intended to break the clubby tradition that has defined Pittsburgh business and politics for so long?

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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