Aren't We Special?

On another blog, I was asked to respond to this question: What makes Pittsburghers special?

Here's what I posted:

As a non-native and nine-year resident of the Pittsburgh region, I'll answer [the] "What makes Pittsburghers special?" question with some skepticism. I'm not persuaded that Pittsburghers are special, at least not in the sense that Pittsburghers generally possess some quality or set of characteristics that isn't widely shared in Cleveland or Providence or Tampa or San Diego or Des Moines.

I'm a native Californian, and I learned from a very early age that California is the American Shangri-La. There is no happier, sunnier, or more prosperous place than that anywhere in the world, and there is nowhere else that a person could live and be truly happy.

Of course, this is bunk.

Instead of asking "What makes Pittsburghers [or Californians, or Iowans, or Bostonians] special?," I'd ask "What makes Pittsburghers distinct?" That's a question that I can sink my teeth into, if only preliminarily.

-- A very unusual geography: The hills, the natural resources, the densely populated urban center (now not quite so dense), the quick transition to suburbs and rural areas

-- An unusually strong core demographic and sociological narrative over the last century: Most urban areas are blends of different narratives; Pittsburgh really only has one.

-- The diasporan connection: Partly because of the economic implosion of the 70s and early 80s, a giant distributed population of former Pittsburghers.

That combination, together with other things that I'm not thinking of right now, gives Pittsburghers a price-of-place that is unusual in this country, even among cities and other places that are extraordinarly proud of who and what and where they are.


1 Response to "Aren't We Special?"

O said... 8/29/2007 10:31 PM

You mean Special Olympics "Special," right?

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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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