More on Multiple Pittsburghs

Here's an excellent comment on my post regarding the multiple Pittsburghs. I've added some paragraphing for clarity:

It’s interesting to see how the pasts of the various Pittsburghs have
influenced how these different groups are viewing their prospects in a new regional economy.

Traditional Pittsburghers have for the most part resigned themselves to the fact that the old economy is over, and they are skeptical that anything acceptable can be developed that will help them or bring their kids back to the region. For those that have come to grips with the current economy,especially those in their golden years, prestige is more important than reinvention. Losing the status of major city is more important that developing a competitive economy.

Poor Pittsburgh never really had a shot in the region’s traditional economy, and they’re not expecting much out of the new economy either. In the meantime the social and support networks from which they’ve relied have become frayed, and their communities more fragile. In a region where opportunity is viewed in short supply, there’s always a need for someone to pick up the garbage, make beds, or clean houses and offices, and this will be needed no matter the state of the economy.

Corporate Pittsburgh sees its paternalist role as holding everything together, which mainly means keeping up appearances, keeping a lid on any potential social revolt (many remember the smoke rising from the Hill in 1968), and keeping their corporations in business. They’ve taken on the role of entrepreneurially developing regional assets in order to be economically competitive, and their lack of entrepreneurial skills is telling.

New Pittsburgh is the future, and they, along with their civic boosters, are waiting out the obstructionalists (Traditional and Corporate Pittsburgh) so that they can step forward and redefine the regional economy and its institutions.

The problem with all of this is that there has been very little work to bring these different groups together to negotiate an economic future where opportunity and wealth are expanded and shared. Part of this is because most feel that decisions about the region’s economic future isn’t, and shouldn’t, be in their hands. Economic decision-making is something best left to experts, and outside of the political process. The belief in the public’s right to consent in the region’s economic development investments is almost pre-Enlightenment in its absurdity.

But if the region is going to bring these populations together, there must be a shared agenda, and that shared agenda has to be built not from power relationships or a skepticism that change is possible, but from a sense of shared benefit from change. The institutional infrastructure to broker these kinds of discussions is really not in place. In the forties Lawrence and Mellon could engage the rank and file and the corporate leadership around a strategy to transform the city into a corporate headquarters. They were strong leaders, certainly, but they also needed consent. The plan gained consent because it was felt that this proposed future was in their best interest. When that strategy failed (as did numerous neighborhood redevelopment strategies), and folks learned what is was like to be left on the short end of what was supposed to benefit all, a distrust set in that many consider insurmountable. Absent negotiation, Pittsburgh’s economic future will depend upon endurance built from a sense of scarcity, rather than growth built from the value of contribution. Could the fruits of victory be more bitter?


2 Responses to "More on Multiple Pittsburghs"

Bram Reichbaum said... 7/27/2007 11:38 PM

Thanks you for amplifying that comment. It is strong.

I thought the article on the Manifesto was partly good and partly facile, but it crystalized some of my thoughts:

It should not be thought of as a "manifesto", a theoretical abstract which will come forth when fully assembled and perfected.

It needs to be thought of (as soon as common-sense confidence warrants) like the seven commandments. When the City has business of import in front of it, we should think, "what does the Manifesto have to say about this?"

In other words, I really hope we'll be hearing from you on the Hill.

Anonymous said... 8/03/2007 11:30 AM

After several years in New York, I relocated to my hometown of Pittsburgh earlier this year to continue my career here. Strong resume in hand, I've been interviewed by person after person who have never left Pittsburgh, never worked for another employer, and are as entrenched as anyone I have ever met.

The world has changed and is changing. Pittsburgh doesn't need a hockey arena. It needs a Sarkozy-like leader (among other things) to wake it up. For now, I would have to say all PR about Pittsburgh being a city on the rebound is hollow sloganeering.

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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.

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