The Californication of Pittsburgh

Bill Toland's recent Diapora Report focused on in-migration of Californians. The Golden State is falling apart, almost literally, and its middle class is seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Bill writes:

We've sent tens of thousands of Pittsburghers to California over the past 25 years, but lately, the inflow-outflow has become more balanced.

From 2000 to 2006, we sent 2,200 Pittsburghers to the Los Angeles metro area, and they sent us 2,300 Californians in return, according to IRS data. That's partly because we're running out of people to send, but maybe there's more to it than that.
When I moved here with my family 11 years ago, I had the clear sense that I was part of a California out-migration (virtually all of the families in our pre-K program vacated the state within a couple of years of the kids starting elementary school), and as I met California ex-pats in the Pittsburgh region, there were inklings that we were part of a First Wave. Now, from that report, it sounds like there is a Second Wave well under way.

But as the numbers grow, so do expectations. With Californians, will Pittsburgh get Californication? The "New Girl in Town" column in Pop City asks: what kind of amenties could Pittsburgh use? The answers -- a public market, a "living wall," a "global newsstand," a destination downtown -- sound vaguely little Pittsburgh could do to make itself a little more like San Francisco or Seattle. (That's not a complete surprise; the New Girl and her family chose Pittsburgh after living in San Francisco.)

In a couple of respects, that's fine. First, I'm for anything that brings a broader international sensibility to the region, and/or brings visibility to its existing international communities -- especially the non-European communities. I'm not waiting for anything like this to happen overnight, however, and a global newsstand is a non-starter in any case. Out of Town News in Harvard Square escaped closure earlier this year by the skin of its teeth. If times are tough for printed international news in Cambridge, then they don't stand a chance in Western PA. Second, I'm for dreaming big and pushing the envelope. If Californication brings a more robust "why not?" sensibility to Pittsburgh, I think that's great.

The broader point is that even in terms of amenities that we'd like to have more of in Pittsburgh (as opposed to, say, transparency, accountability, and fiscal sanity for local government, which are necessities that Pittsburgh truly needs), I wouldn't put "make Pittsburgh more like Seattle or San Francisco" at the top of the list. It's fine to think "why not?," but San Francisco and Seattle aren't models for me (sure, SF and Pgh both have hills, cable cars, and boy mayors, and Seattle and Pgh both have hills and company-town histories, but there the similarities largely end). Instead, I'd put "infrastructure" at the top of the local list -- public safety and public transportation being two of the most important -- so that the great people who already live and work here can make the most of the opportunities that they should have. Let Pittsburgh become Pittsburgh.

As a prescription, that's really vague, so let's make it concrete: Before we imagine building a public market, let's help Karen Lillis find a safe place to live and way to travel around the city.

Illustration: Californication, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.


1 Response to "The Californication of Pittsburgh"

jet said... 6/25/2009 12:52 PM

I moved here from Cali a few years ago, and I'd be really happy to see some "transparency, accountability, and fiscal sanity for local government". Once that's underway, other amenities will be much easier to develop.

But as an outsider, all I see some days is a corrupt political machine that will stymie any attempt by outsiders to do anything "out of the norm" for Pittsburgh. If I were to start a business here, I'd look at towns and boroughs outside of PGH where drive, change, and hard work appear to be rewarded instead of feared.

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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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