Pittsburgh 251

As much as I enjoy a big fireworks show, I'm relieved to note that Pittsburgh's 250th birthday is officially over. Can we get back to the business of actually rebuilding the region?

I'm not really a curmudgeon, especially on New Year's Day, but I thought that Pittsburgh 250 -- the whole thing -- was a colossal missing of the mark. The entire enterprise was conceived as a marketing campaign to show off Pittsburgh to the rest of the country and the rest of the world, especially from a business development standpoint. See what a great place this is. We've been here for 25o years. Please, pretty please, move your company here and hire a bunch of Pittsburghers. Never mind the dysfunctional government, oppressive tax environment, or sky-high public debt.

Did it work? Look around. There's a casino going up on the North Shore. A hockey arena going up in the Lower Hill. Something called the North Shore Connector tunnelling its way toward Heinz Field. Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville is basically complete; an office tower and hotel Downtown is nearly so. East Liberty and its environs seem to have new hotels and restaurants coming out of their ears. A German beer hall will soon open at the South Side Works. Up in Cleveland, if you read the Plain-Dealer you might think that Pittsburgh envy is running at an all-time high. Detroit would give most of Michigan to be Pittsburgh right now.

Even if you think that all of these developments bode well for Pittsburgh -- and I don't -- how many of them have anything to do with Pittsburgh 250? My answer: Few of them. If I'm wrong, then in the comments, please show me where. The very best case for Pittsburgh 250, I think, is that it was a giant sleight-of-hand: While the region was off enjoying fireworks shows, movers-and-shakers were working behind the scenes, where few of us could see what's really going on, to shore up the economy. No one really wants to see the sausage being made, so we got to watch the cotton candy machine instead. So where's the beef? And why the secrecy?

I know the answer to the second question. Pittsburgh's leaders don't like the sunshine. (And you thought that our cloudy days were a product of nature!) I think that I know the answer to the first one. Pittsburgh is still on a sugar high, with little protein in sight.

But I don't like cotton candy much, either. Pittsburgh has a long and mostly glorious history as a city and region. 250 years' worth, to be precise. There was an opportunity over the last year to really acquaint the region with itself, to put the last 30 years A.S. (After-Steel) in a broader context and give all of the people of Pittsburgh a meaningful stake in what it means to live in this region, in this time. Pittsburghers are staggeringly complacent when it comes to the political future of the city and the region. There is no guarantee that a history lesson would shake any of that complacency, but it couldn't hurt. And everyone would like more reasons to feel good about living here, despite the current economy.

Quick: Name five communities in the Pittsburgh region that are named for individual Indians, Indian tribes, words, or cultures. Describe Pittsburgh's central role in the early development of federal authority. Explain the difference between and significance of Pittsburgh's two nicknames: Iron City and Steel City. Discuss three shameful episodes or major tragedies in Pittsburgh's past. Identify five world-class artists (visual, performing, or musical arts) who were born and raised in Pittsburgh. Name three of Pittsburgh's Sister Cities and explain why they are on the Sister City list.

It's not too late to do any of that, of course, but celebrating Pittsburgh's birthday is no longer an excuse.

Answers another time -- or do the research and post thoughts in the comments.


2 Responses to "Pittsburgh 251"

EdHeath said... 1/05/2009 12:27 PM

So in year 251, we are still in Act 47 status, which by the way is either de facto bankruptcy, or one step above. I gather we got in to Act 47 because we were going to have more expenses than revenues back somewhere around 2001 or so. The additional taxes the State allowed us (as well as direct money from them) enabled us to start running surpluses. As we have reached the end of the original five plan, the taxes are supposed to go away. A second five year plan is supposed to be developed, I guess, but I am not sure by who. We have a wonderful opportunity to start a dialogue on Pittsburgh's future for the next decade or so, but it seems to me that local leaders are relying on that complacency to keep their own actions (or lack thereof) under wraps. Of course, the State are the real people in charge of this process, but I am not thinking that the leaders of the State are much better than the leaders of our region.

Brianna said... 1/06/2009 10:23 AM

Thank you so much for this! I have seen few people speak out about this entire issue, and I agree with you completely. I would like to see Pittsburgh become the city it once was - the city I have never seen in my 21 years of life.

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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.

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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