Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Raining on Pittsburgh's Parade

In an article at New Geography (full disclosure: I have two pieces published there as well), Bill Steigerwald puts all the recent Burgh boosterism in perspective. Mr. Steigerwald rightly tempers our enthusiasm, remarking upon the boondoggles and crushing civic debt. Indeed, Pittsburgh has plenty of warts. But that's no reason to propogate myths:

So if the place is so great why are people – especially young people – leaving in droves? For one thing pay scales are low and the general populace, though friendly and unassuming, fully embraces not risk-taking but the two unofficial regional religions – unionism and Steelerism.

At this point, the critique transforms into Burgh bashing. I gather that naysayers are dependent on the falsehood that young people are leaving the region "in droves." The City of Pittsburgh isn't above reproach, but invoking the red herring of an exodus some 25 years past is unnecessary. In doing so, Mr. Steigerwald does his city a grave disservice.

For all its problems, Pittsburgh is doing relatively well. We're not talking Seattle-great or Chicago-boom, but the postindustrial transformation is worth celebrating. The successes, as modest as they are, are even more impressive when you consider the drag that Mr. Steigerwald lists. And Pittsburgh is far from alone. Almost every Rust Belt city is afflicted with the same malaise. The common thread is the industrial political geography, which has far more explanatory power than a libertarian lament.

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