Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pittsburgh PR combustion

I think the 'New Pittsburgh' PR machine has clearly reached some kind of self-generating ignition... More and more stuff like this for example: nothing too new in this, but a blurb from Reed Construction Data: Pittsburgh’s economy springing back with less steel, more ‘ed and med’.

It has gotten a bit out of hand. The positive PR has actually taken an odd turn. You sense sort of internal bickering going on among the powers that be to try and take credit for the 'resurgence' of Pittsburgh. Not any debate over whether Pittsburgh has turned a corner or not, but who gets to take credit. What industry, institution or personage is responsible is a question many want to have answered. The region is too big and too complex to really think any one answer would make much sense no matter.

So I worry. Plenty of good things to say about the 'New Pittsburgh' and I point them out here as much as others do. But there have been an awful lot of mistakes made along the way in the region's 'transformation'. As Kotkin's recent article reminded us, there are those here who believe all of the recent positive news is illusion, though I suspect those voices are swamped by the more positive news of late. In the future we will see how it all bears out. I honestly wonder how public sentiment is playing out here. We once tried to get folks interested in starting a consistent quality of life survey for the region, but could never drum up enough interest to get it going. I do wonder if folks perception of Pittsburgh is higher than it has been in decades, and I mean our perceptions of ourselves more than what the rest of the world things. We are, or have been, an awfully pessimistic lot for a long time.

I worry that the glowing media coverage will reinforce even some of the more obvious failures along the way. I don't want to get into them here just now, since they are all debates in themselves. If anything the rebuilding of Pittsburgh is only a story because we ignored the need for change so much longer than we should have. That core failure is something I only alluded to in the few words you can fit in an oped but I tried when I wrote "The G20 is coming here?".

So at the end of the day, whatever success we have now is not an indicator for the future if anyone really believes we have arrived where we want to be. Change will have to be continuous or else we really are just destined for the same path we once followed. There is no single 'replacement' for steel in the local economy. Steel and primary metals supported Pittsburgh longer than any one industry will concentrate in any region ever again... arguably Steel defined Pittsburgh longer than any one industry will even exist in the future. I am a big believer in studying our history, in fact I don't think we do it enough. But learning from the past is not always easy and we don't want to repeat past mistakes even if things look relatively rosy at the moment.

It all means that any fleeting 'credit' is an illusion that says little about the future. Fighting over that credit misses the point. Let's enjoy the ride, but there is a hangover coming once the foreign media departs... at least until the Super Bowl comes around again.


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