Putting Pittsburgh Demographics in Perspective

The Post-Gazette reports on the news that Pittsburgh ranks just about last nationwide in population diversity.  The region is, at it has long been, overwhelmingly white.  PG story here.  Brookings Institution study here.

The Brookings report is new, but the news is not.  Pittsburgh has been overwhelmingly white, and overwhelmingly native-born, for a long time.  For an equally long time, the commentariat has been wrestling with what to do about that, if anything.  From 2001:  Chris Briem on the economic impact of low in-migration rates.  From 2003:  Eric Miller at The New Colonist about local attitudes about new immigrants to Pittsburgh.  Gary Rotstein, who wrote today's PG story, tried to put a helpful spin on the issue, quoting the author of the Brookings report to the effect that the slow pace of change in Pittsburgh has given the region time to "prepare."  Prepare for what?  People with different skin colors -- people we go nuts for on local football and baseball teams -- living next door?  I am sure that the Brookings scholar was trying to be kind, but really:  After decades of this stuff, local leaders, at least, should put down the kinder-and-gentler rhetoric.  Pittsburgh's lack of diversity is actively hurting the region.

One:  Pittsburgh's non-white populations are disproportionately poor.  Larry Davis, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, was quoted in Gary R.'s story; he has a benign comment about cultural stagnation.  Not long ago, however, Dean Davis co-authored a scathing report about the economic conditions of Pittsburgh's non-white population.  I blogged about the report, and characterized those populations as defining a Third World Pittsburgh, here.  No region can cure income inequality simply by encouraging more people to move in.  But historically, population churn itself has tended to help people move up the income and class ladder.  Pittsburgh saw that as a benefit of the waves of immigrants who came to the city to work in the coal mines, and later in the mills.  Today, that phenomenon is expressed differently, by different populations.  Specifically:

Two:  Latino immigrant populations tend to have higher rates of entrepreneurship than local populations do.  I blogged about that data here.  If Pittsburgh is serious about innovation and entrepreneurship and about trying to grow its way out of the serious economic hole that the region has dug for itself over the last several decades (I wrote about that here.  And I wrote about it here.), then the region should be trying to import as many potential entrepreneurs as possible.  I expect that some current Pittsburgh entrepreneurs might grouse that this would add to the pool of competitors for the local base of risk capital and other resources.  To which I would reply:  Yes, it would!  Pittsburgh would have what it has long needed more of:  Competition!  Capitalism!  And capitalism would lead, in principle, to ...

Three:  Growth.  A more diverse population can help Pittsburgh re-build a more diverse and more robust economy.  Harold Miller wrote in Sunday's PG about his regular topic:  rebuilding manufacturing in Pittsburgh.  (A slightly more detailed version of Harold's piece is online here.)  On a related theme, I wrote the other day about the resource infrastructure that is required to rebuild what I referred to as "Pittsburgh's Industrial Commons."  Let's tie together these three pieces -- a more diverse population, the interest in rebuilding manufacturing, and the need to develop a robust resource infrastructure.  What you get, I think, is an argument that looks something like this piece from yesterday's New York Times, by a writer for The Economist:  "One Path to Better Jobs: More Density in Cities."  That piece pointed out:

“HELL is other people,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre. He nonetheless spent much of his life in Paris, the better to interact with other French intellectuals. Cities have long been incubators and transmitters of ideas, and, correspondingly, engines of economic growth.
And it goes out to spin out the economic logic of growth, based on labor economics:  larger, denser cities support not just a richer array of producers of products and services, but also a richer array of suppliers and sources for those products and services.  A dense urban economy becomes a virtuous, Chinitz-ian, circle.  Around the world, rural populations are migrating to newly-industrializing cities because of the opportunity and wealth (and opportunities for wealth) that they offer.  In the US, that rural-to-urban migration is mostly complete.  Cities such as Pittsburgh, which are in the process of re-inventing themselves in a post-industrial world, need to offer comparable opportunities.

Four:  Immigrant populations tend to shake up the conceptual status quo.  They make people uncomfortable, psychologically speaking, and that discomfort can be a source of productive innovation.  I blogged about that research here.  Somewhere, long ago, I picked up a fascinating statistic:  that a greater percentage of the Pittsburgh population is living within 50 miles of their birthplace than is the case for any other decent-sized US city.  I looked around this morning but couldn't pin down the precise statistic or its source.  It's one of those statistics that certainly *sounds* true, and it *sounds* like it contributes to the immigration / diversity challenge for the region at least in the sense that a sizable percentage of the Pittsburgh population accepts the region's white-ness as entirely normal.  Except for trips to (just about anywhere outside of Pittsburgh), and excluding the rebounders (gumbanders, some call them), they've never known life in a more colorful place.  I grew up in California and spent a good part of my adult life living in one of the most diverse cities in the US.  That city has a lot of challenges; complacency is rarely one of them.

A city's and a person's need for psychic comfort (or discomfort with discomfort) varies widely.  I tend to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable, but I probably inhabit a far end of the broad spectrum.  Californians often look at life as constant change, for better or for worse.  Pittsburghers as a group, I suspect, cluster around the opposite end.  The region is notoriously smug, at least when talking to outsiders, about the consistency of its virtues, which is one of the reasons that the Pittsburgh Diaspora loves it so -- and that Ravens fans and Browns fans so revile it.

What's my takeaway?  Pittsburgh can embrace demographic change, in some respects more aggressively than it has done so far, or it will have change thrust upon it.  Vibrant Pittsburgh (VP) is a nice little start, but recognize the modesty of its ambition.  VP can recruit "talent"; the region still needs a deeper and broader economic infrastructure.  Other countries (not just other cities, or US regions) have developed labor and capital capacities that Pittsburgh needs to leverage in order to pursue several of the paths that economic revivalists have sketched out.  There is lots of talk today about investing in China and about exporting to China.  The Chinese can be Pittsburgh's partners and customers.  Can they also be Pittsburgh's suppliers?  The US higher education system is about to be swamped by a generation of Chinese college students looking for further education and economic opportunity here.  (Did you know that China now has more students enrolled in its colleges and universities than the US has enrolled here?)  If Pittsburgh can make even a fraction of these people feel comfortable (!) in the region, then it can build a bench of world-beating entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, etc. etc. etc.

Updated (2:45 pm, Sept 05 2011):

This post got picked up on the City Data board, and a commenter there wrote:

I find it annoying that people blame Pittsburghers for the lack of diversity here. It's not like Pittsburghers have blocked people from moving here. This region has simply not been desirable for uneducated immigrants because the economy wasn't appropriate for them.

But that's changing now that Pittsburghers are becoming more educated and the economy is relatively stable. We'll see more immigrants in the coming years.

It's insulting for people to assume that Pittsburghers won't be able to embrace change. For the most part, Pittsburghers are very tollerant [sic] people. I don't see that changing. If anything, I anticipate that diversity will be a much smoother transition here than other parts of the country experienced.
That is an entirely predictable and conventional response to the claim that Pittsburgh is suffering from a lack of diversity.  If you read Eric Miller's column from 2003 (linked above), for example, you will see that he reports, and responds to, very much the same attitude.  Our whiteness is not our problem; it is their problem. 

Should anyone wonder why race relations in Pittsburgh are so poor?

"It's not like Pittsburghers have blocked people from moving here."  That's right in the literal sense there have not been guard stations on the turnpike or toll booths at the airport.  But it's wrong in the larger sense, because it focuses only on the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum.  The insignificance of Pittsburgh's Asian/Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino populations extends across the the full range of income levels.  I remember the mini-firestorm that my former colleague Richard Delgado ignited with this column in the PG in 2005.  It's not just uneducated low-wage populations that haven't moved to Pittsburgh, or that should.  It's highly-educated, well-trained populations, too -- the folks for whom Pittsburgh's new economy is perfectly suited.  It is certainly true that Pittsburghers are not keeping them from moving here.  Live and let live.  If that is Pittsburghers' attitude -- we don't care if you come, and we don't care if you don't -- then they won't.  At any income or education level.

"It's insulting for people to assume that Pittsburghers won't be able to embrace change. For the most part, Pittsburghers are very tollerant [sic] people.  I don't see that changing. If anything, I anticipate that diversity will be a much smoother transition here than other parts of the country experienced."

I can only assume that the author of the comment has never spent much time as a resident of any place other than Pittsburgh, because if there is one thing that Pittsburghers simply cannot abide, as a community, it is change.  (Individual Pittsburghers change all the time, of course, and in the aggregate, all of that individual change adds up to a lot over time.  But collectively, Pittsburghers still mourn the loss of the steel industry, and today are actively resisting the demolition of one of steel's last icons:  The Civic Arena.)  Are Pittsburghers tolerant?  One never knows exactly what message is lurking behind that word.  If "tolerate" means "endure," which it might, then yes -- Pittsburghers can endure a lot, and they have demonstrated their endurance (pun intended).  Pittsburghers tolerate concentrations of African-Americans in Homewood and the Hill District and small African-American communities in other neighborhoods and in a handful of towns outside of the City.  If "tolerate" means "embrace and accept," which it might, then Pittsburghers sometimes do better, and sometimes do worse.  Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Pittsburghers have seen a lot of acceptance around the Pittsburgh community in the last several years.  African-American, Latino, and Asian/Asian-American Pittsburghers -- not so much.  But do not take my word for this!  Talk to your African-American, Latino, and Asian/Asian-American Pittsburgh friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Ask them (I have):  In their day-to-day experience, do they experience tolerance by the broad and full Pittsburgh community?  Acceptance?  I know what they've told me:  No.

Pittsburgh's "transition" to diversity may be smooth because, as the Brookings study author noted, we are so well "prepared."  In my book, "preparation" means that Pittsburghers have had the luxury of postponing the emergence of a truly diverse population here for as long as they have liked, and of not caring about the consequences.


20 Responses to "Putting Pittsburgh Demographics in Perspective"

Anonymous said... 9/05/2011 2:43 PM

My wife and I are both transplants from other places. I am mildly concerned that my daughter is not being adequately prepared for the future because she is exposed to such little diversity in our fair region. Of course, she does have a little friend, also the offspring of transplants, who is 1/2 Brazilian and 1/2 Floridian. Her parents are university professors--probably the most diverse professionals in town next to the medical professionals.

And, don't get me wrong, I long for the creative and economic fires I believe greater immigration would kindle. But . . . Still I pause because I've also never lived anywhere that has such demonstrated diversity within its white population. I acknowledge this is only an observation. But it's also pretty obvious: the P-G reported recently on two groups of Serbian Catholics that continue a bitter feud over what to do with Church property that apparently goes back generations! Or, Kennywood and Idlewild have ethnic days where entire families of "white" ethnic groups turn out and "wear the colors".

Okay, you say, *every* 'burg has its Italian, Irish and Greek festivals. But I'm talking Slovak, Serbian, Scottish and Croatian Days. I'm sure that all these groups ultimately celebrate some kitschy, sepia-toned version of their nationality. I mean, a recent Polish immigrant with whom I spoke was appalled to learn that Polish-Americans continue to celebrate the Polka, which has largely been relegated to the peasant past in the land from whence it came. Nonetheless, 70-80 years after substantial immigration to Pittsburgh largely stopped, these group celebrations continue.

My observation is only that, whatever keeps them going, it seems to me just a little bit disingenuous to say that Pittsburgh is all "white" and not at all "diverse". It also gives me hope that, once we finally figure out how to finally create the jobs or otherwise entice new immigrants here, we can look forward to Mexican, Salvadorean, Dominican, Nigerian, Indian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Chinese Days at Kennywood, too.

Mike Madison said... 9/05/2011 3:23 PM

There is real strength and power in Pittsburgh's long-standing Central and East European, Italian, Irish, and Greek communities -- just to name a few of the legacies of the 19th and 18th centuries. Something like the Brookings report certainly does not capture that.

Yet celebrating those communities is by definition a very inside-Pittsburgh thing to do. The anecdote about the recent Polish immigrant demonstrates pretty quickly that when Pittsburgh distinguishes itself this way -- sets up a metric for itself that differs from the metric that the rest of the world uses -- then there are meaningful costs as well as benefits.

Fortunately, I don't think that Pittsburgh needs to choose one or the other.

Anonymous said... 9/05/2011 3:58 PM

"Fortunately, I don't think that Pittsburgh needs to choose one or the other."
I hope that my comment captured that sentiment. I want Pittsburgh to become more diverse, but I don't want it--nor do I think we should strive--to eliminate what already is unique and frankly special about this place.

Anonymous said... 9/06/2011 9:51 AM

Mere non-sense. It didn't take a long for the lefty establishment to latch on to a rather meaningless study and start pointing fingers at someone (not sure who) about something (not sure what) to suggest that Pittsburgh isn't as good as somewhere (not sure where). Is Pittsburgh less diverse than other major metropolitan areas? Yes, of course. How many places are more diverse? In reality, like five (NY, Chicago, SF, LA and Miami). Ok, I know there are others, but my point is that Pittsburgher's also have this strange sense of inferiority that just because we aren't as diverse as NYC we are somehow inadequate. Does anyone on this blog want Pittsburgh to be NY? What about LA or Houston? The fact that anyone would group all the "white" people together is likewise non-sensical. We hear so much about Pittsburgh's neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods were largely created (and still somewhat driven) by white ethnic communities. Today, we have thriving Asian and Indian populations in Pittsburgh. Maybe the numbers aren't as high as bloggers would like, but for anyone that doesn't live in Mt. Lebanon these populations are not hard to notice in Pittsburgh.

BrianTH said... 9/06/2011 10:24 AM

In my view Madison's City Data critic is much closer to the truth.

First, I don't think there is much need to hypothesize that Pittsburgh intolerance is serving as a barrier to immigration. We know the factors that determine international immigration rates, and there is no explanatory gap when it comes to Pittsburgh's recent low immigration rates. And in fact, I really don't see any basis for the claim that immigrants need to be actively encouraged by the general population in order for a locale to attract immigrants, provided the other known factors are in place (more on this below). In that sense, I strongly suspect indifference to immigration among the general population is perfectly consistent with moderate or even high immigration rates.

Which leads to my second point. Madison uses anecdotal evidence to suggest "the broad and full Pittsburgh community" is not perfectly accepting of non-white people. I'm sure that is accurate, but does that actually distinguish Pittsburgh from other large U.S. metros, including those experiencing much higher immigration rates? Again, I suspect it does not, and in that sense I don't think Madison has offered any meaningful evidence that Pittsburgh is less tolerant and accepting of non-white immigrants than most large U.S. metros.

Generally, I think about the most you can say is that Pittsburgh hasn't really been put to the test in the way a lot of other large U.S. metros have been tested when it comes to much higher rates of immigration of the recent variety. But to the extent Madison is claiming that Pittsburgh is demonstrably less accepting of such immigrants than the metros with much higher recent immigration rates, and that this lack of acceptance is actually serving as a constraint on immigration to Pittsburgh, I just don't see the evidence for those claims.

Mike Madison said... 9/06/2011 10:49 AM

I always enjoy comments that try to disparage my opinions by noting that I live in Mt. Lebanon and am somehow - what? - ignorant of the rest of Pittsburgh? (yet I have worked in the City of Pittsburgh for 13 years) or not capable of recognizing diversity when I see it (didn't read the post, did you?). Pittsburgh's celebrated neighborhood diversity is justly of enormous pride to Pittsburghers -- and largely irrelevant to non-Pittsburghers.

@BrianTH: You raise good questions, which have empirical answers. I've written on the blog before about mid-sized cities elsewhere in the US that have actively reached out to non-white, immigrant populations, in recent years, to bring them in. Minneapolis and Des Moines come to mind immediately; there are probably others. Other mid-sized cities elsewhere in the US have allocated public resources to infrastructures intended to attract non-white, immigrant populations and to make those populations welcome. New Haven comes to mind. Pittsburgh? Neither of those things has been done. Is that a result of a collective attitude of indifference, or a result of resource allocation based on other considerations? I think that the two things cannot be neatly separated. These have not been priorities in Pittsburgh. People will draw their own conclusions. Or they will decide that the issue just isn't that important. That is, they will express indifference.

Do I want Pittsburgh to become New York or Miami or even Chicago? Obviously no. I don't care about Pittsburgh's skewed sense of self-esteem (which, obviously, I don't share; I am not a native Pittsburgher!). The post makes it pretty clear that what I'm after are sources of energy and initiative that can help Pittsburgh grow. The region's Asian (2% of the 2010 population) and Indian (not measured separately in the Brookings report; rather, included in the Asian number) communities are growing, certainly, and that's great, but neither is large enough to be considered "thriving."

MH said... 9/06/2011 11:22 AM

Other mid-sized cities elsewhere in the US have allocated public resources to infrastructures intended to attract non-white, immigrant populations and to make those populations welcome.

Other mid-sized cities elsewhere in the U.S. have public resources to put to infrastructure. Pittsburgh doesn't.

Mike Madison said... 9/06/2011 11:40 AM

True, MH, and I was trying to acknowledge that ("Is that a result of a collective attitude of indifference, or a result of resource allocation based on other considerations? I think that the two things cannot be neatly separated."). For political reasons, economic reasons, historical reasons, and/or other reasons, which resources go to which needs are matters of priorities. Infrastructure of all kinds has rarely been a Pittsburgh priority in recent years. And in many ways, the region is paying a heavy price for that.

Anonymous said... 9/06/2011 11:45 AM

Just a quick response to anonymous about the comments of her Polish friend. Consider that Polish immigrants who came to this area 100 years ago were among the poorest and least educated members of that society. Importantly, these folks brought little "cultural capital" with them. (On a personal note, the manifest for the ship on which my Polish great-great-grandmother traveled to American literally lists her occupation as "peasant" and her country of origin ("Austro-Hungary.") The country of origin information reflects another significant point -- Poland, as we know it today, did not technically exist when my great-great-grandparents immigrated to America. Further, as I'm sure your friend knows, Poland's Prussian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian overseers had sought to suppress Polish culture during the 19th century.

Another factor to consider is that (assuming the experience of my family was fairly typical) there was little contact with relatives remaining in Poland -- especially after the immigrant generation had passed on. Further, even in situations where some contact remaining, the descent of the Iron Curtain after World War II made communication that much more difficult.

In the end, I can understand your friend's frustration with coming to a city that ostensible has a large Polish-American population with which she share's few cultural touchstones. However, when viewed in light of the historical reality, it is clear that these late 19th century/early 20th century Polish immigrants branched off from the mother country over a hundred years ago, and they bear little relation to more recent Polish immigrants.

MH said... 9/06/2011 11:53 AM

I don't know if this is the start of a trend or not, but South Oakland clearly has a few new Hispanic families. That would be one way to reuse the same infrastructure that worked for the old immigrants. Much of it hasn't even been painted since then.

Mike Madison said... 9/06/2011 12:07 PM

Hura! er, Ole!

BrianTH said... 9/06/2011 1:13 PM

I'll admit I am not familiar with the entire Madison oeuvre on this subject, but I'd like to see more details before agreeing other mid-size cities have attracted more international immigrants without the other known factors providing the primary explanation. Minneapolis, for example, has been on a very different economic track from Pittsburgh in recent decades, and also has been building on established immigrant populations (e.g., the Hmong refugees who came over at the end of the Vietnam War era). Different economic tracks and different established immigrant populations can explain an awful lot before you get to any sort of specific outreach efforts.

I think this discussion of "infrastructures intended to attract non-white, immigrant populations and to make those populations welcome" raises the same sort of issue. Without knowing the details, are there really a lot of such infrastructures specifically designed to appeal to non-white immigrants, or are there more a bunch of infrastructures that are appealing to migrants in general, including non-white immigrants?

But I am willing to keep an open mind on whether or not there are specific policies local authorities could adopt to encourage more international immigration to the region. Nonetheless, that is still not the same thing as claiming the general population's attitudes toward non-white immigrants are notably different in Pittsburgh from other large metros, and that this claimed difference in attitudes actually does much work in explaining why there hasn't been much international immigration to Pittsburgh in recent decades. And all that is a serious enough indictment that I think it needs to be well-grounded before being made.

Anonymous said... 9/06/2011 1:20 PM

Hey, Anon, the Polka comment wasn't meant to be a criticism, just an observation. Madison captured my feeling best when he noted that, while such metrics are important barometers of internal regional strength, they are not the metrics the rest of the World is measuring. And we compete against the larger world.

Moreover, for the record, while I am not a native of this Region, my grandfather did emigrate to the US from Warsaw during WWI. The country of origin on his immigration papers: "Russia". I know all about the partitons of Poland, and Poland's glorious past saving Europe from the Sweedish hordes with the "miracle" at Jasna Gora. And, not to justify their occupation, but you might want to cut the Austro-Hungarians some slack. Having been there, I can tell you that Krakow, with the military protection of that empire, flourished as a center of Polish arts and culture after being granted autonomous rights around 1860. Finally, I can dance a (passable) Polka.

MH: Yet we have so far to go. Yes, the new East Liberty Target has a Spanish language greeting card section. However, unlike pretty much every Target I've ever been in outside of this Region (California, Denver, Kansas City, Virginia, Arizona), the internal store signage is not in English and Spanish.

JRoth said... 9/16/2011 11:15 PM

But collectively, Pittsburghers still mourn the loss of the steel industry, and today are actively resisting the demolition of one of steel's last icons: The Civic Arena.

I'm sorry, but this is simply idiotic. 100% of the support for saving the Arena comes from the sort of folks that Richard Florida would gush over. The yinzers - and be honest, that's the group you're complaining about here, not the wealthy East Enders shopping at Whole Foods and eating at Tana - think that saving the old Arena is stupid, and don't give a crap that it is (or could be viewed as) a symbol of Big Steel.

When I see something this absolutely wrongheaded, it makes me question every word you've written, because it's clear that you're happy to polemicize using an example about which you have absolutely no grasp of the facts. It reminds me of right wingers using the current inflation rate to attack Obama.

JRoth said... 9/16/2011 11:18 PM

Incidentally, my LGBT friends told me 15 years ago that Pittsburgh was tolerant in the passive sense but not in the accepting sense. I'm not sure whether governmental infrastructure is what's led to the change that you identify.

Mike Madison said... 9/17/2011 8:20 AM

@JRoth: I'm sorry, but your first comment is simply idiotic. When I see something this absolutely wrongheaded, it makes me question every word you've written, because it's clear that you're happy to polemicize using an example about which you have absolutely no grasp of what I actually wrote.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

I can read the paper as well as the next person; it's clearly not true that 100% of the support for saving the arena comes from so-called "Floridians." Maybe 100% of the *activism* around the arena happens to be upper-class white people (this seems to be true of the public face of the movement, at least), but if the pages of the PG tell us anything (they don't always tell us much), they tell us that there is a great deal of broad-based Pittsburgh nostalgia for the arena. The nostalgia for the arena is not the basis for most of the public activism, but neither are the two things unrelated. I'll stay away from the "yinzer" term; I've gotten in trouble over that word before, and I've learned how misleading, anachronistic, and troublesome it is. "Steel" means different things to different Pittsburhers, whatever their demographic. The so-called "Floridians" who are anti-demolition activists (to be clear, I have little sympathy for Rich F.'s arguments, and I use the word "Floridian" only because the metaphor is bundled with your comment) have used arguments that the building is an icon of Pittsburgh's steel industry. Those arguments don't rely on the specific sense that the word "steel" stands for the communities that steel built up the Steel Valley and out in Beaver County and elsewhere, but the meanings aren't so quickly or neatly separated. The region can't have its futuristic steel cake and eat its nostalgic steel history.

Rob Pfaffman has framed his crusade to save (part of) the arena specifically in terms of Pittsburgh's complex history: the injustices of urban renewal and the mis-guided nature of (some of) Pittsburgh's Renaissance efforts to grow out of its steel past, and the importance of remembering all of that. As I have read his papers and articles and presentations (yes, I have read them!), he appears to agree -- even urges -- that the history of the Hill District can't be treated independently of Pittsburgh's steel history. Both the black population that came to dominate the Hill during the early- and mid-20th century and the Eastern and Southern European populations that settled the Hill in the 19th century were drawn to and based largely in Pittsburgh's mines and mills. No one wants to save the arena because they savor memories of life in the mills, but the 20th century Hill District that was undone by the arena was part and parcel of Pittsburgh's modern industrial history, not independent of it. Pfaffman has been clear that his efforts are intended to a significant degree to recapture the virtuous part of that history. He quotes August Wilson: "One of [the Hill District's] greatest residents, playwright August Wilson, may point the way: 'My plays insist that we should not forget or toss away our history.' While he was referring to his roots in the community and the culture he knew, his words challenge us to ask questions about the many histories and memories that exist—some good, some bad. The question for buildings like the Arena is,
do we delete it from our memories or transform it?"

That's not mourning the loss of the steel industry, but it is wrapping the loss of the steel industry into an argument about Pittsburgh's future. Plenty of Pittsburghers, including plenty of East Enders and 14th Warders, do mourn its loss, and (again, based on what I read in the paper, and have read there and online over the last several years) they link that sense of loss to the loss that they expect if and when the arena is demolished.

Mike Madison said... 9/17/2011 8:21 AM

Regarding the LGBT community, I don't know enough to know all the reasons for what I think has been a change in that community's place in Pittsburgh. When I wrote about infrastructures above, though, I wasn't thinking only or even primarily in terms of government resources. I doubt that public (government) resources in Pittsburgh have had much to do with the changing place of the LGBT community here. Not-for-profit infrastructural resources -- funded, I suspect (hope?) in part by Pittsburgh philanthropy -- have played bigger roles, from what I can tell. The Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Pittsburgh was founded in the mid-1980s(!). The community appeared to get a big boost with the founding of the Delta Foundation in the mid-1990s and the series of initiatives that Delta has supported, including Pittsburgh Pride.

MH said... 9/21/2011 5:08 PM

I'm a resident of the East End who shops at Whole Foods. Speaking only for myself, I find Florida* annoying, I generally like preserving historic things, and I have no intention of watching a play now that nobody can assign me to do so.

After a careful consideration of all the factors, I came to the conclusion that there has to be something less ugly to commemorate the steel industry. Maybe the slag underneath Sommerset?

*the guy or the state.

Tom Mc said... 10/19/2011 2:34 PM

Mike -- I arrived here from NJ in 1998. I located in Manchester neighborhood. Great architecture, access to town, etc... I found my immediate neighbors lovely. I would walk into town for work. On my way home kids would be playing in the street riding bikes, playing ball. When a child needed a hand with his bike chain, I would stop to help. Some adult would yell out of the house to stay away from the child. Keep you kind to yourself. I was a minority in the neighborhood. I worked to start a computer training class for the folks in the neighborhood. None wanted to be taught by whitey. There are a lot of tolerance issues in Pittsburgh. To be an electrician you need a license. To pass the license you need to answer all questions in writing in English. You have to read the warning in English. This in my opinion is part of the protective nature of Pittsburgh. Protect those that elect you. The prominent Republicans do not want change either. They like the Democratic machine have it just the way they want it. The region suffers from the worst of both. Fiscally liberal and socially conservative. The power structure controls the economy and likes to pit one against the other. Both the Trib and the Post are like the Hatfields and McCoys.

I am here to stay. I like the cost of living and try to influence when possible.

Anonymous said... 6/23/2012 5:02 PM

I fail to understand the hue and cry for diversity. A place is a place. It grows, it develops a character and -if lucky- survives and prospers. The quality and character of its people is reflective of the regional economic base and its history. There is no rational reason -other than sheer foolish political correctness... which, actually, is not rational- to suggest that a region needs to be diverse. Large portions of the world are not diverse at all. If the economy and opportunities available in a place create a need for in-migration then diversity occurs naturally. Pittsburgh was, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when in-migration was tremendous due to industrial growth- an amazingly diverse place. However, net out-migration in the late 20th century shut the door to the modern diversity reflected in rapidly growing places of the time, such as Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and others. As Pittsburgh re-establishes its economy and begins to grow again, as it has in recent years, diversity will come naturally. To want it to come any other way is sheer foolishness.

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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 madisonian.net, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

Chris Briem of Null Space drops by Pittsblog from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

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