Onward and Upward in Pittsburgh?

I've been traveling even more than usual recently, but touring the country gives me more opportunities than usual to collect nuggets of insight about Pittsburgh from distant colleagues. And the news, on the whole, is pretty good. Five years ago, among my colleagues in intellectual property and technology law Pittsburgh had more or less no reputation. Now, the word is good. Pittsburgh has a booming biotechnology economy. Pittsburgh has recovered and rebuilt itself. Pittsburgh is a happening place.

That's what I hear, anyway.

Coming home yesterday, I would be forgiven for thinking that it's all true.

According to China Millman, Pittsburgh is finally getting some recognition as a foodie town (even though we don't necessarily know it ourselves). (Remember my informal motto: China Millman is Everywhere!)

According to Harold Miller, even rising unemployment shows off Pittsburgh in a good light.

According to the Mayor, the major construction projects now underway Downtown and on the North Shore suggest that another Pittsburgh Renaissance is upon us. Real estate developers are guardedly optimistic about the Downtown condo market.

The future's so bright, we have to wear shades!

But there are clouds.

I'm speaking later this month at a symposium on "digital entrepreneurship" at WVU in Morgantown, and my theme will be building infrastructure -- technology infrastructure, economic infrastructure, services infrastructure, legal infrastructure. Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania have a long ways to go on all of those fronts.

And there is the matter of $800 million or so in pension liabilities.

This is a real challenge for Patrick Dowd as he challenges Luke Ravenstahl in the upcoming mayoral primary. The angels aren't singing in Pittsburgh, but things here don't seem so bad compared to a lot of places, and in a lot of ways, things feel relatively good. "Things" captures those vague feelings you can get when you read about new restaurants and the fact that the Penguins may make the playoffs after all and deserve that new arena that's employing a lot of construction workers. "Things" aren't really so rosy, but Dowd can't be Mr. Doom-and-Gloom and hope to pull off an Obama-esque upset.


2 Responses to "Onward and Upward in Pittsburgh?"

Jerry said... 3/02/2009 11:52 AM

If the city is doing so well despite inept government, maybe it would be best to elect a mayor who will just concentrate on getting the city's affairs in order, rather than one who will try to attract jobs?

I mean, what has Ravenstahl, or O'Connor or Murphy for that matter, done to attract people to the city? (Murphy might have the best marks on that question, as he apparently did a lot of stuff to get developers interested in South Side Works and East Side. I won't vouch for that, since I wasn't in town at the time and don't know much about the history, but I've heard others suggest it.) Not much, I don't think. And yet, it seems, people are coming here.

Seems to me that what we need from a mayor is a technocrat who will take care of official business and get out of the way otherwise. To the extent that this is possible. Tussling with UPMC, which will have to happen, may make it impossible to "get out of the way."

Schultz said... 3/05/2009 9:16 AM

Mark DeSantis would have been that "technocrat who will take care of official business and get out of the way otherwise." But city voters don't want a technocratic mayor. Forget about all the important stuff, like making the city better for business, or getting the city's fiscal house in order. They want a mayor who will wave that terrible towel while leading them in a Steelers rally. They could care less if the mayor is dumb, if he cares more about being a celebrity chaser than a public servant - he was born here. He's one of them!

The problem city voters had with Mark wasn't a matter of policy, for the most part at least. It is the same problem Patrick Dowd will have. "He wasn't born here... he's not one of us....he doesn't know Pittsburgh." And believe it or not, having a PHD doesn't help matters.

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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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