The Manifesto, the Diaspora, and the Second and Third Pittsburgh

Back at the beginning of 2007, or perhaps it was in late 2006, at the first face-to-face gathering of the group that developed the Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh and pushed the idea of the Pittsburgh Diaspora, we talked about the challenges and opportunities that the diaspora could address locally. Naive visionaries that we sometimes are, we talked about how diasporan capital -- financial capital and social capital -- might be capable of reviving the Monongahela Valley.

That's not going to happen, however, if local powers-that-be are determined finally to kill it. I haven't paid close attention to the plan to close Duquesne High School, but Chris Briem's data wrangling, coupled with eloquent posts by Jason Togyer and Jonathan Potts and some timely outrage from Mark Rauterkus, makes the issue unavoidable. There are two Pittsburghs today. There is the city and region that is the object of some guarded optimism courtesy of tech and arts and higher ed and health care that supports emerging economic development. Call that First World Pittsburgh. And there is the fading Steel Valley region with no advocates, but plenty of pure pessimism and worse. Call that Second World Pittsburgh. Our Manifesto is nominally addressed to both, but in reality our limited ability to affect First World Pittsburgh is diminishing rapidly when it comes to Second World Pittsburgh.

Couple those "two Pittsburghs" with these two Pittsburghs. Today's Post-Gazette headline says it all: "Pittsburgh's 'Livable' label called lie for blacks." The story and the meeting that it covers follow on this report from the University of Pittsburgh that describes the bleak condition of Pittsburgh's African-American population. There are clearly not two but three Pittsburghs. Call this Third World Pittsburgh, burdened by poverty and crime and no obvious way out.

Second World Pittsburgh and Third World Pittsburgh, the closing of Duquesne High School and the condition of the African-American community, are symptoms of a single problem. Describing it fully would take volumes, and my relative ignorance of Pittsburgh's history puts me at a disadvantage that is deeper than usual. The core problem, however, is simple: Pittsburgh's industrial economy shifted sharply downward shortly after WWII, at right around the same time that that city's African-American population was swelling with newcomers. Structurally, lots of new people arrived; yet jobs were on the way out. What we see today is the product of long-time systematic inattention to that combination. First World Pittsburgh largely takes care of First World Pittsburgh.

What to do? Here, all I can offer is a bit of additional blogging light -- like Chris, Jonathan, Jason, and Mark (and others whose blogs I haven't picked up yet), and the OneHOOD group featured in the Post-Gazette story, I share the sense that these are critical, even tragic problems. Our Manifesto and Diaspora projects have to include them as part of their agendas, naively optimistic as our group may sometimes be. The Diaspora should be metaphorically as well as literally geographic; the Manifesto needs to address all of Pittsburgh's Worlds. No number of new startups in Oakland will compensate for the disappearance of the Steel Valley, or the inequities described by Larry Davis and Ralph Bangs at Pitt.


8 Responses to "The Manifesto, the Diaspora, and the Second and Third Pittsburgh"

Mark Rauterkus said... 7/20/2007 3:43 PM

Thanks for the pointers.

Yes, you are right.

Pittsburgh, as a region, is too small to allow for pockets of people (and places) to slide so deep into depression. The evil, ills, and hopelessness of some are sure to spill into other areas throughout the region. We are all connected. The fences can't contain the hurt. We all suffer.

So, that is the first message and lesson. We all live in this network. The network is only as strong as its weakest links. Each node needs to be stable.

John Edwards talked about 30-million in poverty. Then another 13-million (check his numbers) in "DEEP Poverty." Perhaps this is 2nd and 3rd world too. ??

On fix approach is to get the rich -- the wealthy -- the First World folks EVERYWHERE. So, build Dave and Busters in Homestead. But, they screwed up and put Homestead's Waterfront within a walled-off island.

But boom towns (Dallas in the past) and gentrification have serious downsides too. Higher values in property, given our tax policies, can jack up taxes and make others move out -- or add to abandoned property. Upheaval isn't welcomed as a fix. It just re-shuffles.

The western neighborhoods of the city now are feeling like a 'dumping grounds' as East Liberty becomes prosperous. Folks are getting displaced and put elsewhere -- almost by design. Hard for me to prove it. Impossible for me to ignore it.

HUD helped with buying 30 new houses at market rates and giving them to the very poor from flooded housing project. That wouldn't happen in Mt. Lebo, but does in Sheridan's section of the city.

Some of us love the land value tax.

But, in the end, the politicians love to get votes. The poor don't vote. They move. They don't donate. They can even follow leaders with pie in the sky fixes (hungry with needs and give-outs). So, the politicans can dump on the poor, keep them isolated. Keep the power base comfortable.

Chatter some more....

Bram Reichbaum said... 7/21/2007 5:46 PM

It wasn't written on your blog, but in at least one of the prior blog posts you link to, the authors suggest that the Main Stream Burghosphere should be less hyperattuned to the Mayor and his follies.

Point taken -- but only to a point.

To the extent that the syndrome can be reduced to "First World Pittsburgh Takes Care of First World Pittsburgh," then the mores and folkways of how Pittsburgh is accustomed to conducting its business, among its different constituencies, is of paramount importance.

If current headlines can be used to shine a light on these unhealthful civic habits -- especially now that we finally have a functioning civic body geared toward considering these thorny issues -- then forward!

EdHeath said... 7/23/2007 7:45 AM

There might be another Pittsburgh, or Pittsburgh region. Call it Colonial or Imperialist Pittsburgh, if you want to stick with the metaphor. When I was out of work, I temped in two suburban offices. They were populated by people who lived and worked in the suburbs, geographically close to attend events in the city, but opening contemptuous of living within city limits. The suburbs relatively close to the city probably still fit into Second World Pittsburgh, they have a lingering neighborhood/township allegiance, and mistrust of both the city and other neighborhoods. The further, usually more affluent suburbanites cheerfully identify which plan they live, but since they have not lived their long there is little sense of community, only a deep distrust of government or anyone who might encroach on their lifestyle. These are imperialists or colonialists, content to live in luxury made possible by the proximity of a city, yet unwilling to assist that city at all. They are far from the twin centers of First World Pittsburgh, Downtown and Oakland, and very far from Third World Pittsburgh. Yet to the extent they still live in the county, they influence the county votes, affecting mass transit and the notion of a city county merger.

Anonymous said... 7/23/2007 2:04 PM

EdHeath makes a good point -- we need to think about the Greater Pittsburgh Area, not just the City of Pittsburgh itself.

Many of us live within a few miles of the city limits in towns that are co-dependent upon Pittsburgh for a financial future. Many of us even have a "Pittsburgh, PA" mailing address and spend the majority of our discretionary funds at restaurants and stores within Pittsburgh.

We are all vital to the long-term future of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh to us. The City needs to work with both the County and all the little surrounding towns on joint economic plans.

We just lost one of two CompUSAs -- did anyone at City or County go to CompUSA and try to figure out a way to get them to stay or relocate? This is the sort of business that Greater Pittsburgh needs in order to support high tech startups and other small tech businesses.

Unknown said... 7/24/2007 12:09 AM

Insightful comments from our host and Rauterkus especially. As an outsider who's moved in, I see hope in Pittsburgh's plight but ultimately see the sad fact of a population that somehow enjoys the status quo. I can't accept a city that has no Downtown after 6pm.

If only people could break out of it. Wake up. Invest in something.

@jet: Not sure your comment re: CompUSA is all true. Yes local biz needs companies like that but the economics behind why places like CompUSA are disappearing lie in between the lines of the manifesto we speak of.

Jonathan Potts said... 7/26/2007 11:38 AM

Around here, "figuring out a way" to get businesses to stay or relocate usually involves throwing money at them. It's not a practice that we should continue. And isn't CompUSA in trouble everywhere?

Anonymous said... 7/27/2007 8:27 AM

It’s interesting to see how the pasts of the various Pittsburghs have influenced how these different groups are viewing their prospects in a new regional economy. Traditional Pittsburghers have for the most part resigned themselves to the fact that the old economy is over, and they are skeptical that anything acceptable can be developed that will help them or bring their kids back to the region. For those that have come to grips with the current economy, especially those in their golden years, prestige is more important than reinvention. Losing the status of major city is more important that developing a competitive economy.

Poor Pittsburgh never really had a shot in the region’s traditional economy, and they’re not expecting much out of the new economy either. In the meantime the social and support networks from which they’ve relied have become frayed, and their communities more fragile. In a region where opportunity is viewed in short supply, there’s always a need for someone to pick up the garbage, make beds, or clean houses and offices, and this will be needed no matter the state of the economy.

Corporate Pittsburgh sees its paternalist role as holding everything together, which mainly means keeping up appearances, keeping a lid on any potential social revolt (many remember the smoke rising from the Hill in 1968), and keeping their corporations in business. They’ve taken on the role of entrepreneurially developing regional assets in order to be economically competitive, and their lack of entrepreneurial skills is telling.

New Pittsburgh is the future, and they, along with their civic boosters, are waiting out the obstructionalists (Traditional and Corporate Pittsburgh) so that they can step forward and redefine the regional economy and its institutions.

The problem with all of this is that there has been very little work to bring these different groups together to negotiate an economic future where opportunity and wealth are expanded and shared. Part of this is because most feel that decisions about the region’s economic future isn’t, and shouldn’t, be in their hands. Economic decision-making is something best left to experts, and outside of the political process. The belief in the public’s right to consent in the region’s economic development investments is almost pre-Enlightenment in its absurdity. But if the region is going to bring these populations together, there must be a shared agenda, and that shared agenda has to be built not from power relationships or a skepticism that change is possible, but from a sense of shared benefit from change.

The institutional infrastructure to broker these kinds of discussions is really not in place. In the forties Lawrence and Mellon could engage the rank and file and the corporate leadership around a strategy to transform the city into a corporate headquarters. They were strong leaders, certainly, but they also needed consent. The plan gained consent because it was felt that this proposed future was in their best interest. When that strategy failed (as did numerous neighborhood redevelopment strategies), and folks learned what is was like to be left on the short end of what was supposed to benefit all, a distrust set in that many consider insurmountable. Absent negotiation, Pittsburgh’s economic future will depend upon endurance built from a sense of scarcity, rather than growth built from the value of contribution. Could the fruits of victory be more bitter?

Anonymous said... 7/27/2007 10:47 AM

it took 100 years for it to get this way, it will take another 100 to be reversed.

Good luck. The ivory towers can speak all they want. Actions speak louder than words.

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Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

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