Enough With Mt. Lebanon

My suburb, Mt. Lebanon, is Pittsburgh's Lake Wobegon, a place where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average. The skies above Mt. Lebanon are always clear and blue; everyone is extremely pleasant. Neighbors never gossip about each other or send harrassing or annoying emails. The Fire Department retrieves cats from trees. There is enough money in local government coffers to pay for most anything that the residents of the town would like to have. No one ever goes hungry, or gets hurt.

Mt. Lebanon, in other words, is the antithesis of Pittsburgh itself, which is a place so absorbed with its own deficiencies as a community, at least when Pittsburghers are talking among themselves, that I once characterized it as an Oreo cookie: soft and chewy on the inside, tough and crunchy on the outside.

That Mt. Lebanon, the Mt. Lebanon of pleasantness and kindness, is also fictional. It bears very little resemblance to the actual Mt. Lebanon, which is full of caring people and mean people, under-assessed homes, barren public bank accounts, the shouts of joyful children, and the hurt, and anger, and horror of violent crime.

Not that anyone else in the Pittsburgh region cares. Really, why would most of Pittsburgh want to read more about Mt. Lebanon?

I post all of this not to put down Mt. Lebanon (which is a nice place to live, despite its many flaws), but instead to point out that rumors of Mt. Lebanon's thriving -- like rumors of Pittsburgh's renaissance, which is a much more interesting topic -- are grossly exaggerated. So when you read me quoted in a Pop City story about a new "positive" blog in Mt. Lebanon, referring to Mt. Lebanon as "Pittsburgh's Brooklyn," don't take any of that only at face value. Mt. Lebanon is the Brooklyn of Pittsburgh in the sense that like Brooklynites, Mt. Lebanonites (or Mt. Lebanese, or Mt. Lebonians, or whatever) are given to an extraordinary amount of public navelgazing. I also said "I'd be willing to bet that Mt. Lebanon is Pittsburgh's Brooklyn," but the hedge got omitted, which turns a statement of opinion into a statement of apparent fact! Is Mt. Lebanon really Pittsburgh's Brooklyn, even in this narrow sense? How could I know for sure?

I do know this. Unlike Brooklyn, Mt. Lebanon is not the hippest, most happening place in the region. Far from it. Of course, it may soon be as expensive to live in Mt. Lebanon as it now is to live in Brooklyn.

And unlike Brooklyn, Mt. Lebanon has a very, very difficult time accepting critical self-scrutiny. Community blogging is a great thing, and I'm all for more of it. As the mainstream media sinks slowly in both West and East, for better or worse amateur journalism is what we will need and will get. But long before the new "positive" blog was published last month there already were other civil, community-oriented but critically minded blogs in Mt. Lebanon -- I founded one, and it's still going strong, thanks to Joe Polk and Tom Moertel!

Pittsburgh has some of these, too, and some constructive critics in the mainstream (and alternative) media. I won't call them out by name. You and they know who they are. It is a great thing to celebrate the positive about the region. I do that here, too, from time to time. But the bad and harmful and dangerous and needs-to-be-improved can't and shouldn't be ignored.


25 Responses to "Enough With Mt. Lebanon"

Anonymous said... 1/20/2010 2:28 PM

You think a place with 33 thousand people and only 200 black people happens by accident?

Living in your vaunted Mt Lebanon is, at best, idle complicity in racism and, at worst, an expression of racism. I wouldn't be proud of it at all.

Mike Madison said... 1/20/2010 3:02 PM

It might be your vaunted Mt. Lebanon; it's not my vaunted Mt. Lebanon. And the "racism" charge is a bit strong. I don't have the space or the time here to review the history of race in Mt. Lebanon; it's not good (restrictive covenants, a story - perhaps apocryphal - of Muhammed Ali being denied the right to buy a house), but it's not significantly different than the history of race in Pittsburgh as a whole. Maybe you've noticed that the City of Pittsburgh is among the most segregated of any medium to large-sized cities in America? But I wouldn't level the racism accusation at everyone living in Shadyside or Point Breeze or Squirrel Hill. What's the point?

People can surely leave Mt. Lebanon. Where can they go? There are more integrated and diverse communities in Pittsburgh, but there is nothing here than resembles, say, Oakland, CA, where I lived for a decade. (So - which set of expressive values do I represent?) A black family on my block did that just a few years ago. Left Mt. Lebanon. Where did they go? That paragon of integration - Sewickley.

You get to choose where you live, but only within some limits, and race isn't the only variable. The question can't be only what you find when you move in. The question is what you do to try to shape the community after you arrive. And on that score, if you like, you can search the Blog Lebo archives. Or talk to me. Or all kinds of things. Judging people based on their address, however, is the worst kind of old-Pittsburgh bias.

Mark Arsenal said... 1/20/2010 3:29 PM

Strange. I'm actually rather smarmy about Pittsburgh. I can't find anything especially systemic to complain about in regards to it, or the region, for that matter.

On the other hand, it is a little like San Francisco, in the sense that very few people in PGH have much of a sense of humour about their own home.

For instance, no one in SF or PGH would make a movie like LA Story.

Mike Madison said... 1/20/2010 3:38 PM

I love LA Story. Could Wonder Boys be the Pittsburgh equivalent (an affectionate look at the region's quirks)? For SF, I think that The Maltese Falcon holds up well, if you want to capture the spirit of the old city. For the new city, Milk can't be beat.

Mark Arsenal said... 1/20/2010 3:56 PM

Sorry man, Milk is an absolutely vile representation of SF. And I say that as a card-carrying homosexual who's lived here for 8 years (though admittedly someone too young to know the Truth About The 70s) :P

Mike Madison said... 1/20/2010 4:12 PM

Fascinating. Because I grew up there (but am not too young, etc.). Remember that era pretty vividly. Went to school with the producer, know him, and have a lot of respect for him. The whole movie really resonated in a big way.

Of course, we could go another direction on SF. Say, Dirty Harry. Or Bullitt. Or Sister Act. Or the Star Trek movie with the whales. ;-)

There are cards?

Mark Arsenal said... 1/20/2010 4:31 PM

Well, what I loved about LA story is you have this impression that the city itself is the main character. With few redeeming qualities. And people still loved being there.

"There are cards?"

Indeed. You need an application?

Miller said... 1/20/2010 4:43 PM

I want to know who is flying that Communist flag on Cochran Road across from the high school and why, you Mt. Lebanonites.

Mike Madison said... 1/20/2010 5:44 PM

Miller, here you go.

Mike Madison said... 1/20/2010 5:45 PM

Mark, nope. Comfortable as is.

Jim Russell said... 1/20/2010 8:00 PM

Cuban flag would have been funnier.

Mark Arsenal said... 1/20/2010 8:41 PM

I fly the Jolly Rodger from my dormer window, but that's just me :)

n'at said... 1/21/2010 2:02 PM

Hmm... where in Mt. Lebo can one experience a half double decaf half caf, with a twist of lemon?

Mike Madison said... 1/21/2010 2:53 PM

I think that would be a piece of cake at several places - Aldo Coffee, Uptown, Blue Horse. Maybe Coffee Tree (not my end of town).

Jonathan Potts said... 1/22/2010 2:44 PM

I'm just enjoying encountering a fellow "L.A. Story" fan.

As for Sewickley, I'm far too busy (read: lazy) to look up the numbers, but I think it is a higher African American population than what you would imagine. Trib columnist Mike Seate, who moved there a few years ago, told me it was a stop on the underground railroad. But that's irrelevant, because I agree with your main point, Mike.

Jefferson Provost said... 1/23/2010 12:57 AM

What? Pop City distorted a story to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative (from the discourse)?

The devil you say...

Mike Madison said... 1/23/2010 8:19 AM

"Distorted" is a little strong for what I wrote. Let's say that Pop City likes to follow Der Bingle and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive."

Bram Reichbaum said... 1/23/2010 11:47 PM

I wonder if RealLebo.com can be identified as a "positive blog", if that makes mine (and yours) a "negative blog."

15211Advocate said... 1/24/2010 6:27 PM

Trust me, all we hear about our blog about mt. washington, 15211.org, is that it's too negative. To us it's not...it's just honest. and sometimes the truth hurts.

joe said... 1/25/2010 10:39 PM

I created a Bethel Park response to all this Lebo talk :)

Spike Mt. Leebanon said... 1/26/2010 9:26 AM

It's funny. The comparison to Brooklyn is so ludicrous that no one even bothered to mention it in the comments (until now, excuse me). I've always believed that one reason Mt. Lebanon has such an inflated opinion of itself is because so many editors and reporters from the city's two dailies have lived there. Roddy tops the list, Cuddy at the Trib, and on down. If somebody sneezes on Cochran Road, it's in the paper.

Please Mike. Move to the East End. You know you want to. Imagine, walking and biking to work!

Mike Madison said... 1/26/2010 9:49 AM

I've certainly lived in East End-style neighborhoods before, though in cities where the neighborhoods were far more interesting than the East End. Been there, done that, now enjoying a very large garden. Re-read my post: From a quality-of-city-life standpoint, no sane person would compare Mt. Lebanon to Brooklyn. But they are equally self-absorbed, and that was the point.

Mike Madison said... 1/26/2010 7:21 PM

"Real Lebo" has attracted a parody: http://twitter.com/fakelebo.

Jefferson Provost said... 1/26/2010 8:44 PM

Lack of espresso machine budget for new high school calls into question our commitment to besting Upper St. Clair. LOL.

That is the first thing I've seen that has made me want to start using Twitter.

Joe Random said... 1/30/2010 9:08 PM

The fake lebo twitter is seriously funny. Thanks much for pointing it out.

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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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