Yinz got gorp?

I cringed when I read that "slogan," but I love the spirit behind this op-ed in today's Post-Gazette:
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?


4 Responses to "Yinz got gorp?"

Schultz said... 4/15/2007 10:42 PM

Here is another difference that the article does not mention - there are zero professional sports franchises in Vermont. The outdoors and the environment is their Steelers and Penguins. If we can get people in this region to have 1/10 of the passion they have for sports for something else we could have something very special here.

We talk about the need for more startups and bringing new businesses to town but like the article mentions we already have all of the outdoor amenities in and around the burgh. All we need is a concise message - maybe it's time to add a #8 to the manifesto?

Anonymous said... 4/15/2007 11:06 PM

Have you ever tried these guys? http://www.ventureoutdoors.org/

Jim Russell said... 4/16/2007 12:21 AM

I agree that Greater Pittsburgh has the natural assets to market, but there's a Vermont political tradition that Western PA does not have: libertarianism.

Sorry, but Pittsburgh is not a "live and let live" kind of place like Vermont. Regardless, Vermont is not an economic model worth emulating. The "granola demographic" drives up property taxes without expanding the job base. As a result, native Vermonters continue to flee the state (as they long have done).

Go to the Northeast Kingdom and ask a local about the granola revolution. Be prepared to duck.

I've got a soft spot for Vermont (high school graduate and a degree from UVM), but I prefer Pittsburgh.

Eli said... 4/16/2007 11:42 AM

Pittsburgh has been named one of the top cities in the country for bicycling a number of times.

Also, we're home to Dirt Rag and PORC both of which promote and encourage the heck out of mountain biking at all levels.

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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.

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