My father, who was from eastern Kentucky, headed with millions of other Appalachian people for the “promised land” after the great depression. The promised land in that day consisted of cities such as Dayton, Detroit, Gary, and Cincinnati, out of which rose great factories that employed thousands on giant “campuses.” ...
... Today the world is different. Many of the workers who left for jobs in other cities are returning home to Appalachia – and not entirely by choice. Many of them are being laid off from the auto factories with little else to turn to but family and ties to “place”.
This creates a new challenge to areas like Appalachia and my region, eastern Kentucky. These are no longer inevitable geographies of distress; certainly they are no more challenged that those of the former dreamscapes up north around the Great Lakes.
The author of the essay goes on to describe a more nuanced landscape that national media often overlooks while latching on to the traditional stereotypes of Appalachia as economically distressed and culturally backward. By and large, this is also the Pittsburgh story.
While Pittsburgh (along with Cincinnati) is one of the "dreamscapes", I consider the city to be part of Appalachia. Lumping Ohio River urbanity in with industrial powerhouses of the Great Lakes region as some sort of Appalachian other is an odd distinction. I might even go so far as to claim that the big cities with a southern mountain flavor are at the front of the economic revitalization wave.
There is a cultural crescent roughly following the Ohio River westward from Pittsburgh and then up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Within that region is the boomerang migration hotbed and the top three domestic urban diasporas (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis). The jury is still out on Louisville, but I've seen evidence of the same potential for that city.
I blog about this geography because it is part of Pittsburgh's impressive sphere of influence. Far from "increasing irrelevancy", Pittsburgh is where the Midwest and Appalachia meet the cosmopolitan Northeast. Pittsburgh's domestic orientation is unique and powerful. So much so that the global connections are tenuous at best. That critique issued, I envision Pittsburgh as the global city of flyover parts of Appalachia and the Midwest. While the rest of America retains its misinformed views about this part of the world, Pittsburgh is in perfect position to drive economic growth.