Friday, March 03, 2006

Smokestacks and silicon

First, check out this, then read this, and tell me which you think is a more honest assessment of the state of Pittsburgh.


Blogger Sean McDaniel said...


There's plenty to boast about. That's why 300,000 people still live in the city. It's also why close to a couple million people live within an hour's drive or less from downtown.

Sure there are problems. The Golden Triangle is plenty tarnished. But some of the lustre is returning...without a lot of government help. About a half dozen housing projects will bring real residents Downtown. And maybe those city dwellers will attract new business life as well.

In some ways, the city seems like a gravely ill cardiac patient kept alive with an artificial heart. If you don't look to closely, the guy on his deathbed might look good. And if the new ticker arrvies in time, he might even bounce back to health. But that's a big if.

The booster's blinders do block many of the city's obvious problems. But the pessimist's persistent focus on the woes doesn't create a vision of hope. A realistic outlook sees both sides...and can read between the lines.

Let me ask you, which do you think is more accurate? Even more you believe there's a brighter future for Pittsburgh?

10:42 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Let me state something right off the bat. I love this city. I was raised in the region, and much of my family lives here, but I've never felt an obligation to stay just because of that. There is much to boast about.

But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that for nearly 60 years, our leaders have made wrong decisions at every turn, which is why I think Sam's characterization of the city's problems is an apt one. What's more, we have been complicit in these decisions, through our assent.

I appreciate your glass-half-full optimism, and certainly, I can't blame the people who hold elective office now, or the people calling the shots in corporate boardrooms, for the collapse of our manufacturing base, which is responsible for much of that population loss. But to the extent that our decline continues, they are accountable. They--we--seem willfully determined to refuse to learn the lessons of the past, and to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Yes, we have a lot of potential. And that's what makes our failure to capitalize on it so frustrating. Part of the problem is our expectations, which need to be adjusted--not lowered, adjusted. We cannot expect Bob O'Connor or Dan Onorato to reverse 60 years of decline overnight. In fact, we should stop looking to government--city, county and state--to make this a vibrant city again. Governments cannot be engines of growth--they can merely provide the conditions that will allow growth to occur. (Which include the mundane yet vital tasks of maintaining public infrastructure, collecting garbage, keeping the streets safe.)

Our elected officials need a dose of humility--and we need to stop holding them accountable for the things they cannot control, and start holding them accountable for the things they can.

11:40 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

I agree with the attitude adjustment. And that it needs to start from the bottom up. Pittsburghers are a proud bunch. Maybe to the point of hurting themselves. Too often, any change meets resistance because it smacks of "betraying our roots."

Business gurus will tell you that it's much easier to change an ailing, failing corporate culture by instilling new beliefs in new employees than by changing the way old hands think. Obviously, we can't "fire" or "replace" long-time residents who might be stuck in a 1960s frame of mind. But finding a way to lure some new life here would be a start.

By the way, I've never lived more than 20 minutes from Downtown. And I've watched the city, county, state and federal governments destroy two of the neighborhoods (interstates, urban revitalization) that were home to me for nearly half of my life. I look at the South Side and just cringe that my side of town didn't fare as well.

Problem with our elected officials is that they're trying to govern in the image of David Lawrence and Dick Caliguiri, two of the old school guys. We don't need another Renaissance. I'm not sure how much the first one really hurt the city. And the second really couldn't stop the damage caused by the collapse of the steel industry. But driving through East Liberty or the North Side is painful for any old-timer who remembers those places as thriving neighborhoods more than equal to Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield or Carson Street.

I agree that government should pay more attention to its mundane responsibilities. It would be a great start. After the recent wild west spate of shooting, Pittsburgh seems to be turning more into Dodge City instead of one of America's more liveable cities.

12:50 PM


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