Wednesday, January 28, 2009

National Pittsburgh

Wilmington, NC looks to Pittsburgh for redevelopment guidance:

UNCW Management professor Craig Galbreath says area leaders need to craft a vision of the region's quality of life, and then recruit companies that fit that vision. He says if a company doesn't align with the vision, then it could disrupt the local economy.

"Which means that the location of a particular type of plant, particularly low-technology polluting sort of plants, will discourage residents from moving into the area. So actually there may be a decrease in tax revenues. There may be a decrease in rental revenues because people don't want to live by a plant."

Galbreath points to Pittsburgh and San Diego as cities that have turned away from heavy industry and moved toward cleaner, knowledge based economies. There's an entire movement attached to this migration, it's called The City Beautiful and Galbreath says Wilmington has the potential to cash in on this concept.

Roll your eyes if you must. But even if these accolades are ill-deserved, they help recast Pittsburgh in a positive light. Concerning domestic migration, perception is important. However, Pittsburgh still has a lot of image scrubbing to do:

Make no mistake, however: Compared to the rivers of, say, Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh, the water quality of Columbia-area rivers is superior.

While the water quality is undoubtedly relatively poor in the Pittsburgh region, few people would question the assertion given the reputation as a dirty industrial city. The resulting ambivalence is akin to the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The blue collar image cuts both ways. There is the perplexing nostalgia:

When he was writing "In America," his patriotic response to the Iranian hostage crisis, North Carolina-born Charlie Daniels could have chosen any team from a two-syllable town with a two-syllable nickname without messing up his meter. But he went with:

You just go and lay your hand on a
Pittsburgh Steeler fan and I think you're gonna
finally understand.

Daniels would later explain that the people of Pittsburgh are "The salt of the earth, the finest, just the greatest people. The strength of America ... They're steel workers and they're good old guys with blisters or calluses on their hands."

And there is the tale of economic devastation and resulting exodus:

Mom’s earliest Steeler memories go back to her childhood in Wheeling, W.Va.

“I grew up listening to my dad yell at the Steelers on TV,” said Laurie, a clinical resource director at Blake Medical Center. “Everybody in the Ohio valley was like that.”

Including folks in St. Clairsville, Ohio, Jason’s hometown.

“Steeler football is like religion,” he said.

That didn’t change when the couple moved here.

They found out Steeler Nation was alive and well at places like Fanatics Sports Bar & Grill on 47th Street West and Cherry’s on 53rd Avenue West.

“Years ago after the mills closed down, there was nothing left,” Jason said of Pittsburgh’s Rust Belt industry. “Either you had to be related to somebody to get work or you moved away. So here we are.”

I tend to think that the best of Pittsburgh left when the jobs dried up. But those who did stay in Southwestern Pennsylvania have reinvented their city, which now serves as inspiration for other postindustrial urban backwaters. Ironically, now is the time for the Burgh Diaspora to come home. Even if the latest renaissance is all smoke and mirrors, the boomerang migration of talent can make the wishful thinking come true.

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