Good News for Pittsburgh

Pop City's Justin Hopper writes today about what he calls the true gospel of Pittsburgh:
Whenever someone fails or succeeds in Pittsburgh, it’s like we all fail or succeed. That’s why, when things go wrong, it’s such a betrayal – when a politician gives a break to some big-box shop while a local, whose head tells them to move but heart tells them to stay, struggles. That’s why, when things go right, it’s a joy – when Wiz Khalifa gets “Pittsburgh Sound” into Rolling Stone’s top picks.

This city is something of a tabula rasa – as I sometimes say to outsiders, it’s open season for freaks here. Try something. Try anything. If it fails, we’ll help you move on; if it succeeds, we’ll be the first to buy a round. And by “we,” I don’t mean some institution or government agency, but the rest of us who believe in the true gospel of Pittsburgh – the base layer of “hope” that holds everything here together, including you and me.

Tabula rasa? That's not the Pittsburgh I've learned about over the last nine years. Try this as piece of possible Pittsburgh scripture: "The steel industry is over and one with, and its history matters not a whit to Pittsburgh's future." Everyone (the Pittsburgh "we," believers in the true gospel of Pittsburgh) ready to recite that statement and help the city just move on? When you see a new Pittsburgh business fail, are the Pittsburgh "we" ready to lend a helping hand and put the owner and employees on new footing with a fresh start and a new bank loan, no harm no foul? I didn't think so. Tabula rasa, and open season for freaks ("Berkeley on the Mon")? Maybe someday, and maybe some of that would be a good thing. Too much, probably not.

Right now, the good news in Pittsburgh consists mostly of veneration for its history. History, that is, that lives in us -- steel, glass, labor, Maz, Roberto, Pops, Franco, Mario, not history lost to the ages, such as William Pitt the Elder). The gospel has room for some hope for the future (biomed, higher ed, high tech, Downtown residential development), but good news for the future comes less frequently than it should; hope is often tempered by clouds, and by fear. Like any city, Pittsburgh has its freaks, but it keeps them at a safe distance, reading the City Paper and hanging out at the Beehive.

The religious metaphor is an interesting one, but metaphoric gospel of Pittsburgh that contrasts true traditionalist believers with heretic freaks (note, as always, that one group needs the other) misses the best of Pittsburgh's future. Metaphorically, Pittsburgh needs less old-time religion. It needs less hope. The future of Pittsburgh needs economic and cultural evangelicals, doers (not hopers) like those showcased in today's other Pop City promo, freaks who got organized and funded and are building their own church on the foundations of its predecessor.


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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] Mike also blogs at, 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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