Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh

This is something that I've been working on for several weeks, along with Pgh bloggers Jim Russell (Burgh Diaspora) and Jim Morris (Jim Morris's Thought of the Week). It's a not-so-Modest Proposal, a Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh. It's a little ponderous, but we're serious. In time, and with some colleagues, we hope to transition this platform into something a little less blogospheric and a lot more concrete. In the meantime, we welcome feedback and suggestions and amendments and (of course) links.

We describe a set of principles that we believe should guide the future growth and evolution of the city of Pittsburgh and Southwest Pennsylvania through the 21st century.

The principles are general. They are animated by a single, overarching idea. The future of Pittsburgh depends on the region’s recognition of its dependence on other cities – and regions – and countries. And it depends on their corresponding recognition of their connections with Pittsburgh. In the 21st century, connectivity is key and king, and in that connected world, Pittsburgh has a unique asset, which we call the Pittsburgh diaspora: the thousands of people who live around the world yet who still identify closely with the Steel City. They grew up in Pittsburgh, worked in Pittsburgh, or have family in Pittsburgh. By identifying with Pittsburgh they energize it emotionally. We believe that it is possible to translate that emotional energy into economic energy. Pittsburgh can, should, and must recapture and benefit from the intellectual, economic, and cultural capital associated with the Pittsburgh diaspora. That capital is distributed geographically, but it can be invested locally.

Finding concrete ways to put this Manifesto into action is, we believe, the key to Pittsburgh's future success. We call on the Pittsburgh diaspora to embrace these principles and to partner with the residents of Pittsburgh today in moving the region forward.

Seven Principles: Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh

1. Connect and reconnect with the virtual Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh must replicate its famous bridges, by building metaphoric bridges to other countries, states, companies, and groups and above all to the diaspora of people and institutions with historic ties to Western Pennsylvania. We must build a global Pittsburgh.

2. Bring new resources to the region.

Pittsburgh’s diaspora is flush with social capital, which is on full display whenever and wherever the Pittsburgh Steelers play. Pittsburgh needs to use its metaphoric bridges to broaden the sources of that capital and to convey it back to Western Pennsylvania in the form of intellectual and economic capital. The diaspora can contribute time, money, and ideas to the rebirth of the region.

3. Energize Pittsburgh’s culture and community.

Pittsburgh’s position as a world leader in science, art, and culture should get extended across populations both young and old and across virtual and material media. Building the global Pittsburgh means extending excellence in computing, music, and sport and embracing the economic and social value of global community in domains beyond Pittsburgh's traditional strengths.

4. Listen for new voices.

For too long, Pittsburgh has heard the same voices in public political, cultural, and economic conversations. As part of reaching out to the Pittsburgh diaspora, Pittsburgh must enfranchise new and marginalized voices.

5. Change the face of Pittsburgh.

With new people come new opportunities. East Asian, South Asian, and Latino populations, among many others, are bringing much needed energy and human and financial capital to cities all over the United States. Building bridges to the Pittsburgh diaspora means reaching out to a 21st century global Pittsburgh of many colors, nationalities and ethnicities.

6. Build on the best of Pittsburgh’s past.

A connected Pittsburgh brings change, and change and novelty must respect the strengths of the old. Pittsburgh has rich heritage of industrial and human success to be blended with the capital contributed by the diaspora.

7. Recognize the geopolitics of the neighborhood.

The traditional localism of Pittsburgh politics should give way to an accommodation of that localism in the context of 21st century globalization. The global Pittsburgh should exist at many scales, from the region to the city to the neighborhood.


joe said...

Maybe I'm feeling optimistic b/c the Bucs just started off the season with two wins on the road with solid pitching and clutch hitting, but I think you're onto something here...

I'm tempted to share your Manifesto with several friends around the country who like me moved away for college and have stayed away -- I recently moved back.

But what are we asking of them? Investing in Pittsburgh...what does that mean in practical terms for members of this thing we call the diaspora?

Thinking back to my time living away for 15 years, the thing that I missed most was the human story of Pittsburghers -- everybody just seemed so rooted in something that was hard to put a finger on. I may have felt that more acutely because I lived elsewhere (Oregon, Los Angeles, Providence) and I was living through my 20s and early 30s, but I definitely identified with the idiosyncratic community feel of Pittsburgh and the sense of place here. I had community in those other places, but there was something about Pittsburgh...

It's like that shared moment that connects the diaspora on the road, when the familiar accent is heard in a random comment and the "you from Pittsburgh?" conversational heads up begins an always lively and often meaningful exchange.

Yet now living back here there actually seems to be a strange lack of community mindedness, at least in terms of it equaling a real sense mindfulness in everyday life. We can all pick out isolated instances of this, no matter where in the country/world we live, but here it just seems more of an affront for some reason, like the guy who pulled out of the Starbucks/Whole Foods parking lot on Centre at 4pm the other day and promptly threw his coffee lid out the window while waiting for the light. What's that all about?

Start with one quality of life issue -- how can the Pittsburgh diaspora help us build what they call a litter consciousness? How do we involve the Pittsburgh diaspora in the April 28th Homewood/Point Breeze/Squirrel Hill neighborhood clean-up event that apparently 500 people have signed up for? That's a
cool story,
one that's getting national attention. So how do we connect the dots with the diaspora? Have them pitch in for garbage bags?

Anonymous said...

I love it! It's about the most visionary, forward-thinking concept that I've ever seen come out of the area.

Now...at the risk of sounding a bit tactical for this discussion, I'd like to offer a thought. There has to be a leadership role for the Post-Gazette to help build these bridges globally. You would think that a business that is desparately looking for a life-line might see how they can re-invent themselves by identifying their customers not by a geographic region (which is so meaningless in the Internet age,) but by the people who have a connection with Pittsburgh. Just think - the number of people who used to live here is probably greater than those that still do. If their content served such people, their readership could become larger than ever, and in turn, reverse the declining ad revenues. And, it would still be called the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette! Do you think they would ever embrace the principles? I think it's important to have such a communications vehicle embracing the manifesto.

Anonymous said...

Is there a plan to throw this into a full scale grassroots campaign (website, mailings, email updates, projects, tactics, etc.)? Its definitely a good starting point and a coalition of Pittsburghers and Pittsburgh businesses/universities could do a hell of a lot of bridge building.

Bram Reichbaum said...

My first impression: An impressive array of seven very good principals, listed in exactly the wrong order.

Mike Madison said...

1. Work with the principles, if you like them, in any order you wish.

2. There are indeed efforts underway to build out a broader and deeper and more public version of this. Those efforts are not exclusive, however. Anyone who likes this list and wants to publicize it, distribute it, and/or act on it is not just welcome to do that -- they're encouraged to! Ask not what Pittsburgh can do for you; ask what you can do for Pittsburgh.

3. What does this mean in practical terms? I don't have a concrete answer to that question, but lots of smart people are thinking about it, and some of them (unlike me) may have money to contribute and act on. Hopefully, public distribution of the Manifesto will prompt more and more people to get involved in the thinking process.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea, however, all of those things require people in the greater Pittsburgh region to be willing to change how they do things.

In a year of living here, I've heard so many people say there's no way things can change or no point in trying to change things that I start to wonder if they're "just being contrary" as we say back home.

As an example, suggest to someone that the buses in Pittsburgh operate the way they do in most major cities -- pay-on, board forward, exit rear. You will hear the most amazing excuses for why PAT could never change to that model and why it would never work.

Good luck with your proposal, I hope people actually read it and think about what you're suggesting.

Anonymous said...

As a former "burgher" , now living in southern maryland, I am happy to see that progressive ideas and optimistic visions have not rusted away with so much of the past!
Growing up just a few miles from the mid Mon. valley, I saw the devastation caused by the careless industialists of the time when steel and coal were kings!
Indeed the economic prosperity flourished without question, but the land, the rivers, the very air was left lifeless! I remember as a young boy playing in the "dessert", the place we named the hillsides that faced the river valley town of Donora. Barely a blade of grass could be found!
The point to all this is how much has changed! The rivers now support many species of fish and aquatic wildlife.Deer herds,flocks of Turkey, even Black Bear have been seen in and around these same once lifeless hills! We did much to once drive them away. We did nothing and they all came back, nothing but stop killing our environment!
Pittsburghers can once again lead the world in promoting, establishing and flourishing as a Green Giant Industrial City.
It has the ideal geography for this and the cultural awareness and entreprenurial spirit lives on!

Anonymous said...

I love Pittsburgh and I have never even lived there! A few generations back, I had family from the surrounding areas, but this hardly qualifies. I grew up in Philly and have lived in Albuquerque for the past 10 years. The family thought very VERY seriously about relocating to Pittsburgh this summer as I just finished Planning school. We visited and I have educated myself on a lot of key issues facing the City right now.

I think this type of groundswell of grass roots effort is critical. One thing that struck about Pittsburgh potential was the incredible number of younger people dedicating themselves to neighborhood level revitalization. Building this level of dedication into a region-wide force will be quite task, but in my mind, the most effective way to proceed.

With that, I encourage you to take your 7 points and refine, refine refine. And elaborate. Get them to the point of an action plan - what needs to be done to begin actually implementing these concepts? Look at examples in other locales and link to them. Put the tools in peoples' hands so that they have a concrete idea of how to push forward.

With the incredible amount of foundational support you all have, these ideas could be well seeded to make something truly wonderful. Maybe you could start with a website/blog/clearinghouse of info related to the Manifesto.

For now we have decied to stay put in our own burg(h), but ater the kids are older, we make again revisit settling in our favorite industrial city.

Pittsburgh Rocks!

Anonymous said...

We recently visited Pittsburgh for the first time and are relocating. I love the seven principals. I would add an eighth: Paint, paint your houses, tear down your old abandoned warehouses and factories, spruce things up a bit. It looks like a neutron bomb hit the city in 1970. Your taxes are five times higher than where we live now and the place looks like hell. Can't wait to be a part of the revitalization. Will bring a brush.

David Shribman said...

Dear Anonymous:

Saw your suggestion about the Post-Gazette. Am intrigued. Call me at 412-263-1890

David Shribman
executive editor, Post-Gazette

Anonymous said...

New to this blog...you recruited me from Bloglebo. First thing, diaspora- the movement or scattering of people from an established homeland. Now, I can see how this word fits Pittsburgh to a T but I cant put the word in the proper context in your post. Please help. I am guessing you are talking about the population in general when using the word.

The revitalization of Pittsburgh starts with bringing good jobs to the city. Jobs that will benefit all classes of wage earners.

Those jobs bring in more money to individuals that live in the City, hopefully with increased wages, the city of Pittsburgh can begin to lower their wage tax and this will attract many more people to live in the downtown area. Additionally, these jobs will allow for more income in the neighborhoods that 'need a paint brush' as an earlier commenter put it. More jobs makes it so that investors will look at those properties that have been abandoned and see that place as an investment opportunity as opposed to an eyesore.

One company at a time, one job at a time, if we can come up with the right pitch, and the County/City can come up with the right incentives, Pittsburgh can be vibrant again. We can attract companies back here. There are signs all over. With a terrific Theater District, a wondering shopping district in the Strip, new condos going up (on Wood Street and on Ft Duquesne Blvd), there is a real opportunity for change. But that change will not last if new jobs do not come.

Most grants for this State are only made available to companies that are established. It would make more sense to fund companies that want to BECOME established. All those companies that are trying to make it that are located in the incubator building (on River Road on the North Shore- just before the Heinz Lofts) those are the guys that need the attention of the State. They are the ones developing ideas that can change how we define ourselves. They are the ones that want to employ hundreds of people...if only they can make it.

We have a lot going for us. Lots of not just good colleges and universities, but GREAT ones. We have a lower cost of living and a lower than avg wage. These are all things that companies should look at and wonder why they are not here already. Do you want to locate in California and pay $80,000 to a kid just out of college or would you locate in Pittsburgh and pay that same kid half that?

Honestly, what you need is someone working on behalf of the City that has a job of attracting these companies to come here. The mayor and the CE have other things on their minds (like re-election).


PS..thanks for the heads up on this Blog, Mr Madison

kentropic said...

Okay, I'm a "gumbander" -- back in Pgh. with my family after 20+ years' worth of stops nationwide and international. Glad to be back. Just found your blog, and like your manifesto.

Now, two years down the track, can you give your readers an update on where these cool initiatives stand? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

this is off topic...but someone did mention how glum pittsburgh looks. you know, the physical environment.
i cant believe some of the beautiful buildings downtown - Fifth Avenue Place, the one on Liberty that was originally called CNG Tower, etc. but the street levels are dirty, drab, gray, and littered.
this is not just for downtown, but in a lot of the city's commercial strips. even liberty avenue in bloomfield looks old and tired.
i simply think this affects a visitor's perception of the city. furthermore, a resident would take more pride in a cleaner environment.

Anonymous said...

this sounds a lot like what buffalo is doing, only it is already working in buffalo. clearly the economic engine of pgh is different/bigger and wealthier than buffalo, but buffalo is making it happen. i have lived in pa for 17 years now and find that the natives are generally underachievers and relatively apathetic, be it in pgh or philly. buffalo is making it happen because it is in ny. philly has excuse after excuse about why it cant make it. but it is the people here. the state is run by uneducated people with no iota of creativity (the legislature, not necessarily the governor). our state medical school in hershey isn't even in the top 50, the average sat scores are below the national median and guess what? people here don't care. you can't make people care that they are letting the world pass them by. and unfortunately, that is what i have found. i have actively encouraged my kids to leave and will do so myself. the talent pool is incredibly shallow here and outsiders have to be begged to relocate. seriously, do they beat people to death at baseball games in other states? it is a mess.

jbush said...

Living here in Orlando I sometimes feel that I follow the trends in the 'Burgh more than my parents who live there. I have been to each of the last 2 Steeler Super Bowls and enjoyed the enthusiasm that abounds. For 10 days my family and I wore Steeler garb out to dinner here leading up the big game. There was never a night that more than 1 person came up to us and shared a story about Pittsburgh. Indeed there is a sweet spot--can it be turned into something concrete? Time will tell--but if there ever was a post-industrial time, surely this is it.