Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Unique Pittsburgh: Political Balkanization

What's so special about the Burgh Diaspora? At this stage of the game, I don't have much more than speculation. I do know that whatever informs the place we know as Pittsburgh, informs the characteristics of its Diaspora. I figure that the geography of Pittsburgh is what makes Steelers Nation so strong, and by extension, the Burgh Diaspora.

The political economic landscape is what sets Pittsburgh apart from other American cities. Pittsburgh's prolific and fragmented political geography is remarkable:

If you like government, the Pittsburgh Region is the place to be. We have over 1,000 separate governmental entities in the 10-county region: 10 counties, 286 cities and boroughs, 262 townships, 126 school districts, and 389 “special districts,” i.e., water and sewer authorities, airport authorities, etc.

Over 900 of these governmental units are in the 7-county metropolitan statistical area (MSA). That’s the 5th largest number of governments among the 40 biggest metropolitan areas in the country. On a per capita basis, we’re #1, with more governments per person than any other major region.

While archaic Pennsylvania state laws keep consolidation at bay, Philadelphia is still well behind Pittsburgh when counting governmental entities in a region. The Pittsburgh region is uniquely Balkanized. That's a significant barrier to policy and hurts Pittsburgh's economic competitiveness.

This geographic liability was once an asset and its legacy may be part of what inspires the Burgh Diaspora. Tomorrow, I'll investigate why the region has this strange political geography and how it unleased an industrial Leviathan.


jenna said...

Maybe the political divisions referred to as Balkanized may be part of the continuing strength as well as a weakness, if I understand the references correctly. It may be close to keeping sizes that are similar to town meetings in smaller states and smaller cities. I wonder if this could be turned into an asset, where it has become a perceived liability; such as taking one entity at a time, finding the strengths of that area or finding a center draw that would make the diaspora more responsive or make it more attractive for those choosing to leave, to stay. If one cannot move the whole of it, why not move a smaller more manageable entity and probably more homogenous entity??

Jim Russell said...

I also think this political geography could be an asset today, at least as far as the Diaspora is concerned. At the very least, I think it helps those who leave stay connected to Pittsburgh.