The Next Big Thing
We can look around and find so many symbols of Pittsburgh's decline, and the folly of its leaders, that it is hard to pick just one. Today, however, the Post-Gazette has chosen for us--Pittsburgh International Airport. Now that the airline for whom it was built teeters on the edge of financial ruin, the airport may be too big for the region's needs. Big surprise.
The airport is typical of how our so-called leaders have gone about trying to revive the region's economy over the past several decades. In fact, it is emblematic of how our political and corporate leaders operated even when the region was a thriving manufacturing center. Instead of trying to develop a diverse economy, we are always placing all our hopes on The Next Big Thing, whether it be a mammoth convention center, a big-box department store, or a state-of-the-art airport that is supposed to spur nearby development. (Which never happened.)
It's not just that the airport is too big; it's that it was built to please a single carrier, US Airways. That's the kind of paternalism that has doomed this region, and it existed even when the region was flush with steel jobs. Civic and corporate fathers in the heyday of the steel age conspired to keep other industries out of Pittsburgh, and tailored the region's economic policies to meet the steel companies' needs. When the industry collapsed, there was thus nothing left to build on but rust.
In the end, the airport can stay afloat, ferrying all those people fleeing Pittsburgh for fairer climes.