Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great Recession Pittsburgh

Will the real Pittsburgh please stand up? Our first contestant is Hype Pittsburgh. This is the city hosting the G-20. The latest bit of positive press:

Pittsburgh, the site of the G-20 meetings on September 24 and 25, 2009, ranks among the U.S. metropolitan areas least affected by the recession.

That's for the time period of the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009. Of course, that's the Pittsburgh the local leadership want the world to see. But our second contestant, Depressed Pittsburgh, tells a radically different story:

As far as gatherings go, the starkest contrast in Pittsburgh during the G-20 Summit week will be between the glamour and glitz of the summit; the primped and polished downtown hotels where world leaders and finance ministers will stay on the one hand, and on the other, the Hill--about a mile away from the G-20 Summit convention—where those protesting unemployment will be sleeping in a tent city.

There is no denying the struggling neighborhoods so close to downtown. In fact, Pittsburgh's latest renaissance is highly concentrated. Most of the region is acutely economically depressed, at least as far as the indicators are concerned. The Brookings report linked above celebrates Pittsburgh but also reveals that some of the greatest metro pain in the entire US can be found right across the state border in Ohio.

There aren't enough resources to go around. Pittsburgh's "renaissance" today celebrates the effect of the resources that have been put to work. But there are those communities that go without. At times, the conflict between New and Old (or Traditional and Corporate, City and Suburb) masks the deeper problem that some (many?) former steel communities, and some neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh itself, are sliding more deeply and inexorably into ineradicable poverty.

Whatever Pittsburgh you see, there is plenty of evidence to support your perspective. I tend to think that one can find Depressed Pittsburgh in any US city. But Hype Pittsburgh isn't common, particularly within the Rust Belt. And as the region moves forward in the wake of the G-20 summit, the Hype Pittsburgh narrative will become increasingly dominant.

The "deeper problem" that Mike describes is macroeconomic, not the result of local dysfunction. There is enough variance in political geography that we can conclude that the primary issue is the transition from a manufacturing focus. However, I'm struggling to determine the local influence on the good face that Pittsburgh is presenting.

Could another city replicate Hype Pittsburgh? I'm not so sure.

1 comment:

JRoth said...

Teresa Heinz noted in yesterday's P-G that the city's foundation community has played a big role, and I think she's got a point. A lot of the things we see and like in Pittsburgh (all the LEED buildings, Riverlife Task Force, arts-driven development) have been driven by the foundations, and, in particular, the way that the foundations work together towards larger causes. Heinz is the 500 lb. gorilla, but Buhl, Grable, and others have worked together to create a sort of ecosystem in which nonprofits have a way to find the exact right partners/funders.