What's the difference? Attitude. A robust approach to the Great Outdoors is the only thing that keeps Western Pennsylvania from attracting hordes of enviro-tourists, just like Vermont.
Vermont embraces its foothills and forests, sometimes to the point of snobbery. Vermonters live almost competitively progressive lives, flaunting their wilderness knowledge and eco-friendly houses. Pennsylvanians (specifically Pittsburghers) seem to forget that the wilderness exists. We pretend that Pittsburgh is a sprawling megalopolis, rife with urban problems that can only be fixed with urban solutions: new arenas, more nightlife, slot machines, smoking bans, a city motto.
But the solution also should include a broader redefinition: Pittsburgh would make the perfect granola town.
Whenever I describe the virtues of Pittsburgh to friends who have never visited, I begin with outdoor recreation. Hiking, biking (yes, biking), boating, rafting, skiing, fishing, hunting (if you hunt) is accessible and inexpensive here in quantity and quality that blew me away when I first moved to the area. Little of it is as good as you can find anywhere, but most of it is good enough and -- this is important -- it's easy to get to.
There's more than an attitude issue here, though, and "yinz got gorp" or "steel our forests," which I like a little better, gets at the problem. It's language, and metaphors in particular, and the connection between language and history. Vermont houses a bunch of granola-chewing enviros; Pittsburgh houses a bunch of beer-swilling, steel-making football fans. (Today, they're hockey fans.) Reverse those stereotypes. Make sense? Obviously not. But start to talk about the town differently; attitudes can follow. (I can't say "will follow"; the stereotypes may be too deeply embedded for any of this to change. But it's fun to speculate.) What's Mike Tomlin's favorite snack?
Ten years ago, before I moved to Pittsburgh, I was involved briefly with an environmental group out West that was trying to save a stand of old-growth redwood forest owned, as it happened, by a publicly-traded real estate and timber company. Typical enviro public pressure had no effect on these people; the only language they spoke was green -- as in, cash. So the environmental group found an unlikely ally: a sizable shareholder in the company which didn't like its investment tied up in environmental litigation over trees. That ally was the United Steelworkers Union. Steelworkers and enviros found some unexpected affinities. A large number of the trees were saved.
Could a metaphorical steel/enviro coalition emerge in the 'Burgh?