Murphy and Me

At Null Space, Chris Briem muses on the meaning of Bob Cranmer's "rebuttal" to my Post-Gazette piece from a week ago (follow the links at my post yesterday). Be sure to read the comments, which are at least as interesting as Chris's post.

My bottom line: It's a bit weird to read comments about my work in that forum, but as one commenter notes, I can certainly take it - and I probably could stand some push back. (I'll interpret that statement as fair in all of the several ways in which it may have been intended!)

The more important point is that I hope that my posts, and Chris's, and others, become part of a much-needed broader and public conversation about the future of the city and the region. The debate isn't really about anything that I've written, or about anything that anyone writes in response to me, whether that's about Tom Murphy or Bob Cranmer or any other former Pittsburgh politician. The debate is about the future.

Agree with me, disagree with me, partly or wholly, no one should seriously dispute the proposition that right now, Pittsburgh is leader-less. There is no one in government, no one in business, no one in education, no one in philanthropy, no one in the media etc. etc. who is out there publicly leading a dialogue about what Pittsburgh can and should do to survive and prosper in the decades ahead.

This isn't news, at least not here. I first raised this problem more than two years ago. Things haven't gotten better; arguably, they've gotten worse.


Until a leader or leaders are found (elected, appointed, and/or volunteered), interested folks need to keep the conversation going, and they need to do their best to do so despite Pittsburgh's occasional efforts to marginalize people who are interested in the conversation but who don't fit the city's mid-20th century self-image: they aren't sufficiently born here; they aren't living in the right place; they didn't go to the right high school; and so on. They need to do their best despite the apparent disinterest of the larger population, despite the occasional indifference of the mass media (that's another challenge to the Post-Gazette), and despite repeated rumors of bullying -- and worse -- by political powers that have a vested interest in *not* engaging in that conversation, but instead in consolidating their hold on public office.

The brute fact about Pittsburgh is that its future doesn't belong to the generation that kept the flame of the city lit over the last 30 years and the generations that came before. There aren't enough of them. They're too old. And they don't have enough money. Respect them, value them, honor them, but don't count on them. Count on those people who are coming through school today, both here in Pittsburgh and around the world - for those people have to move here and help Pittsburgh; there aren't enough resources here, and not enough political and economic will, to built a future Pittsburgh that is anything more than the pleasant-but-hardly-thriving region that Pittsburghers inhabit today. There is no guarantee that any of them will succeed, but Pittsburgh's success depends on them, and it depends on envisioning a future that they are willing to invest in.

Enough abstraction for a while. More concrete posts coming soon.


4 Responses to "Murphy and Me"

n'at said... 10/14/2009 4:51 PM

Don't get me wrong: I'm smokin' what you're growin'. However, it's the theme of the debate which troubles me.
Pardon if I remain in the abstract, but why must there exist a single source to elicit direction or to accept hindsight adulation? You've presented evidence in your series for quite the opposite. Are we set sturdily within an era where a single person or group are politically, fiscally and bureaucratically incapable of planning, implementing and maintaining a privately authored agenda?

Would it be so bad if we were?

Mike Madison said... 10/14/2009 5:41 PM

If I'm following your point, then I agree. I'm not advocating for a czar, least of all a private czar. But I also think that "let's all keep going our merry way" is a recipe for disaster.

This isn't an either/or situation.

The middle ground is relatively broad. There are lots of possibilities. What I have in mind, if I could choose the possibility that I prefer, is leadership by inspiration: A person? A succssion of persons? More than one person? around whom the community at large (communities at large) rally in pursuit of economic, social, cultural, and political growth and justice.

Right now, it's every man (and occasionally every woman) for him or herself.

A parallel: the Internet thrives with diversity, but it operates according to some core philosophic and technical principles that are attributable to a handful of founding engineers -- many of them still alive and active today. Few of these are formal "laws"; many of which are aspirational or inpsirational. But the broader Internet community has been inspired by them, for decades, to built the thing. Without them, it might just fall apart -- or be entirely coopted by a handful of private interests.

Mark Rauterkus said... 10/18/2009 8:45 AM

I do not think that Pittsburgh is leader-less in that there is NO ONE anywhere that leads in public.

And, FWIW, Pittsburgh should be known as the greatest place in the world to PARENT.

Mike Madison said... 10/18/2009 9:13 AM

Name your leader, Mark. In my book, that person needs to have the following attributes: competence, character, and the ability to inspire.

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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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