Pittsburgh as City State

If Pittsburgh were an ancient city state, which city state would it be? I suggest Corinth: wealthy, proud, and cosmopolitan in its heyday, yet unable to maintain its independence, and ultimately destroyed, later to be rebuilt.

The city-state proposition occurred to me as I thought about the Penguin-palooza that's taken place outside the Igloo/Mellon Arena during Penguins playoff games. Despite my optimism about "Penguins Nation," it's clear to me that Penguins mania is almost the perfect antithesis of Steelers mania. The Pens phenomenon is tightly concentrated in Southwestern Pennsylvania and among a narrow band of hockey fanatics elsewhere. The regional allegiance that binds Steelers fans internationally, whether or not they really care about football, seems not to map to hockey.

That's fine, of course, because the point is the metaphor, not the sport itself. In many ways, though I don't care about hockey much, I like the Penguins better than the Steelers. The Pens as a business understand their role in the region's business ecology (the link is to an earlier post that commented on a story about partnering with local entrereneurs) better than the Steelers sometimes seem to (the link is to the latest news on the Steelers' proposed state-subsidized entertainment venue next to Heinz Field).

That makes me think of the city-state analogy. In certain weird ways, the Pittsburgh region is its own country. And from Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Classicists, to arms: Which ancient city-state are we?


7 Responses to "Pittsburgh as City State"

Paz said... 6/10/2009 10:40 AM

A little later than the classic period, but maybe that other Renaissance city, Florence. A regional trade center, historicaly a heavy reliance on one industry (wool, pre-Black Death), and, of course, a vast patronage network run by a connected family (or families, in our case).

MH said... 6/10/2009 9:55 PM

If Pittsburgh is the new Florence, I think we'd have better art.

MH said... 6/11/2009 10:11 AM

On second thought, Pittsburgh's art isn't that bad when you add the handicap for the 21st century.

Anonymous said... 6/11/2009 6:21 PM


how about sparta. it was the proudest of all the city states and it's empire was relatively short-lived. plus, i b'lieve they were known for their blue collar work ethic.

the two king thing, that's a archetype for our own mayor / county executive.

MH said... 6/12/2009 9:32 AM

I've actually been trying to improve on Corinth, but not having any luck. Sparta doesn't seem right to be as they weren't 'blue collar' at all. They were elitists that, while highly motivated, didn't have a 'work ethic' because they didn't 'work' (i.e. they did no productive labor). Though, the fact that Sparta used iron rods for money shows that they would probably be a good match with various local governing bodies in terms of financial sophistication.

MH said... 6/12/2009 9:40 AM

Another point for Corinth. St. Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians and our cathedral is named after him.

Mark Winston said... 6/16/2009 11:57 AM

Of course, Jane Jacobs advocated a return to the City State as a way for cities to get back their independence and as a solution to the post-oil collapse of the suburbs. It's quite tempting...

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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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