Three Tales of Pittsburgh

There are several Pittsburghs in the news these days, three narratives that weave in and out of and back on each other. It's Pittsburgh-as-Escher. The three-ring circus can get a little confusing. Here's how I try to keep track of what's going on:

The G-20 summit and what it will do for the city: This is the "short" story. Thousands of economists, politicians, bureaucrats, media, protesters, and law enforcement will arrive in Pittsburgh in late September, mill about together (or separately) for a couple of days, then leave. Local politicos hope that the result of this stew will be a surge of positive publicity for the city and the region, especially if Downtown buildings are scrubbed of graffiti and grime and some eyesores are covered in big sheets. (Many residents hope that the result will be as little disruption to their usual lives as possible.) My sense is that far too many eggs are being placed in the G-20 basket. Pittsburgh is and will be whatever Pittsburgh is and will be, and there is very little that can come of the G-20 to change that.

Pittsburgh as revitalized, green, and hip: This is one "long" story. All around me, everyone is talking about what a cool, great place Pittsburgh is. This is a strange and sometimes neat thing, to travel around the country, introduce myself as a Pittsburgh area resident, and have the immediate response be "cool" or some equivalent. It's almost impossible to explain or understand how this transformation in the image of Pittsburgh has taken place. Some of it has to do with media and coverage of the city. Some of it has to do with very specific things -- some high profile green architecture, for example, and the Super Bowl and Stanley Cup in the same year, and some great artists and their success. I'm not complaining about the phenomenon. I'm just noting it. Pittsburgh is a happening city.

Pittsburgh as a bankrupt city, sliding sideways in no great hurry: This is a second "long" story, but it's one that you see when you look the other way through the telescope. It's the city that's stalemated, not the city that's on the move. The event that prompts that observation today is the pull-and-push now being revived in conversations about the state's role in the city's pension melodrama. Pittsburgh has accumulated a huge deficit in its pension obligations. For a long time, local politicians have said that the only way to resolve that burden is to engage the state legislature in a bailout. The state legislature is now paying attention to the problem, but not surprisingly the state legislature would offer a solution on the legislature's terms, not on the city's terms. So the city wants to say: No, thanks. We created our problem over a long period of time, so we'll take our sweet time in resolving it ourselves.

Meanwhile, the Pirates have won a few games, a feat that deserves a trio of stories in itself. More shortly.


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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.

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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