A Katrina moment
Pittsburgh had its Katrina moment about two weeks before that hurricane devestated New Orleans and much of the rest of the Gulf Coast. A Downtown water main break flooded office buildings, ruined equipment and forced many of the city's few Downtown residents from their homes.
I'm certainly not drawing a parallel between the actual damage caused by that incident and Katrina. There are, however, other similarities. We now know that local, state and national officials had plenty of warnings that the infrastructure built to keep New Orleans safe was inadequate and in disrepair. In the same way, the water main break was another reminder that Pittsburgh's own basic infrastructure is in decay; some sections of pipe in the city are 150 years old. Water main breaks are fairly commonplace around here, which any casual viewer of local television newscasts knows. A related problem is our aging sewer systems, which during storms send raw sewage into our rivers and streams, a problem that is going to cost homeowners and local goverments millions of dollars to correct.
None of this will destroy the city overnight, of course, but it could render growth impossible and accelerate the region's precipitous decline. We should heed the words of this Post-Gazette editorial from August:
In hindsight, the water main along Fort Duquesne Boulevard should have been replaced when the thoroughfare was rebuilt in 2000. But that's too easy to say five years later. What is more difficult -- and a test of leadership -- is how to expedite the rehabilitation of an aging system now that we've seen the damage, in property and image, that can be done.