Friday, October 08, 2010

More Pittsburgh Mythmaking

Pittsburgh continues to bask in the glow of positive press. Ben Schulman one-ups his previous effort, expanding upon the Rust Belt Chic meme in a way I never considered. The supporting evidence marshaled to make the case is familiar:

As Pittsburgh Regional Alliance President Dewitt Peart says, "It used to be people drove just a bit west of Pittsburgh and looked towards Detroit. Now, people are turning around from Detroit and looking towards Pittsburgh."

Instead of following, Pittsburgh is now leading the way. Yet the path that Schulman observes is not the one that other cities are celebrating:

In his piquant paperback The Paris of Appalachia, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill writes "This city is not Midwestern. It's not East Coast. It's just Pittsburgh, and there's no place like it." It's the same overwhelming sense that famed photographer W. Eugene Smith tried to capture in his gigantic and ambitious photo essay The Pittsburgh Project, where he sought out to portray the "equilibriums of paradox" he found there, through the largest ever photographic study of an American city at the time. And it's that same impulse that allows an individual to implement their idea of the city and take ownership of it. Like a tree, steel or otherwise, once those roots are planted, they hold for keeps.

My initial reaction was one of disagreement. I think that Pittsburgh didn't fail enough to create such an urban frontier. The city is not even close to the blank canvass one might find in Youngstown and what is emerging in Detroit.

A second reading of those final words, Brian O'Neill's Pittsburgh stands out. O'Neill is not a Burgh native. Neither am I. But I share his passion for the city. Pittsburgh's ability to inspire outsiders is magical. I have no legitimate claim to the place and I have come to think of it as my own. I'm an unabashed civic booster.

Pittsburgh's uniqueness is inspiring in way I think is similar to the cutthroat competition in New York City. One rises to the occasion. The people that really make the city go aren't from there. As for the hometown pride, it finds greatest expression beyond the pale. That's where Pittsburghers excel. There is no domestic diaspora quite like the Burgh Diaspora.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am gushing over this post. As a native New Yorker I have so much bloody pride and awe of and for this city at times I wonder if I am under a spell.
Thank you for your continued prose. Audrey Russo