Harold Miller is on a roll: His latest post features anonymous Diasporans speaking about how they wished the Pittsburgh economy were strong enough to keep them here. One of Harold's commenters is an alum of my law school, and he/she tells a tale that I've heard more than once from my former students. After months or years of trying to scratching out a career locally, they move to DC / New York / Boston / Austin, and the world is their oyster. Or they give up the romance of working independently and entrepreneurially, and retreat to the security of the Big Firm.
All the data in the world about livability doesn't mean a thing if it can't be integrated into a narrative about inclusion and expansion and opportunity. Take a look at Bill Steigerwald's recent Reason column on Pittsburgh's "death spiral" (and this is *after* release of the livability data!). The column is gloomier than it needs to be, but it benefits from an air of plausibility. Pittsburgh sure feels stagnant, doesn't it? Technically, it's sort of stagnant and sort of not, depending on which way you slice the numbers; sure, the outmigration data don't tell the real story about population change in the Pittsburgh region, and the "most polluted" data are skewed by where the data were collected. The problem is this: Where's the synthesizing narrative to back that up? That points to economic Springtime in Pittsburgh?
Please, someone, point me to a Counter to Bill's Point, an essay that talks about how young professionals came to Pittsburgh a few years ago to join or establish a new business, networked seamlessly in the interstices of Pittsburgh's economic establishment and found that no one cared where they went to high school or whether they had ever failed at anything. That talks about how they found enthusiastic mentors steeped in Pittsburgh's ways yet eager to blaze new paths. How they found eager future suppliers, partners, clients, and customers; credit at reasonable cost that bore in mind the inevitability of past failure; a business- and family-friendly regulatory climate (low business taxes, sane real estate taxes); and a political system best characterized as benign.
In short, Pittsburgh needs Harold Miller to post happy endings.
Maybe there's a Manifesto/Diaspora project in here. Can the Diaspora write the story of the New Pittsburgh? Endings both sad and happy; happy is best, but the truth is what everyone needs to hear. For a start, Diasporans need a place to write that's more visible than blog comments. Ideas?