Monday, October 28, 2013

Paleofuture Pittsburgh

So the Post-Gazette is summing up its 30 year retrospective of change in Pittsburgh.  What I find most interesting is a very esoteric point, but it is remarkable how the 1980s continues to be a touchstone for Pittsburgh. While the last piece of the PG series looks a bit into the future, the bulk of  whole series has been about how Pittsburgh has changed since the seminal changes of three decades ago. In fact the foil for the series was nominally another PG series from 1983 which the PG was good enough to reprint in large part.

All well and good, but what did we learn about how Pittsburgh has changed?  A button was pushed somewhere and the region was transformed from the dirty manufacturing town of the past to the 'Knowledge Town' of today.  Was not such an easy path I assure you, if you really accept that is what happened in the first place. If you are looking for a more long form version of the story, a good starting point might be Mike Madison's: Contrasts in Agglomeration, then and now. You might get a very different perspective on this Pittsburgh story.

Still, what fascinates me is how for Pittsburgh everything still revolves around the 1980s. The series just concluded really keys off of what Pittsburgh was like in the 1980s. In fact the series was inspired by a similar series the PG ran back in the 80s. That past series was very much about Pittsburgh present, or how the region was dealing with changes at the time, it was not really looking into the future. If you go back and look at 1961 you will find what I think is the most fascinating version of this type of meta-analysis ever done in the region.  Back then the Post-Gazette had a far more extensive look at what Pittsburgh would look like 25 years into the future.  Lots of amazing guest writers pondered the future for city, region, nation and world.    

So for Pittsburgh in 1961, the question was what would it be like here in the 80s.  In the 80s we reflected on what changes were ongoing and now decades later we look back on how we have changed since then. It is like That 80s Show meets Ebenezer's ghosts.  But just to give you a shortcut to all the great prognostications of 1961.Here are just  some of the articles the Post-Gazette compiled for their 25 year look into the future

Look Ahead 25 years, by Mel  Seidenberg.  In a sidebar note the comment on an Aerial Tramway from Mount Washington to Gateway Center Downtown. That idea keeps popping up in various forms even to this day. Old is new again, eh?  But lots of great stuff there in the lead-off piece of the whole section.

The New Technologies, by Carnegie Tech president John Warner

Some of the changes for Downtown.  The bullet of note there is:
"Redevelopment of at least one section - that containing and surrounding the historic and now-cleared Diamond Market Square - into a center of interest and night-life, including: Sidewalk cafes, supper clubs, theaters, playgrounds, art exhibits, outdoor and indoor markets for small enterprise. " 
....  so we are a little slow on some things. Also note the plan for 6-8,000 residential dwellings in the Golden Triangle proper.

Emphasis on Health by Abraham Ribicoff

The American City of the Future by Robert Moses (yes, that Robert Moses)

Teaching Machines, by Herbert Stein

Man and the machine, by Leland Hazard

The War Against Disease, by Jonas Salk

The Sleeping Beauty, (subtitled: Pittsburgh comes of age in cultural activities for those who think all the work was done in just the last few decades)

and a must read: Prophesy as new sport, by sports editor Albert Abrams

If you get through all that, even better than the articles themselves are some of the advertisements that ran at the time alongside all of these.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The single biggest difference between the 80s and now is the fall from 3rd largest corporate center to a city that competes with the likes of Orlando, FL and Virginia Beach, VA (competes very well but . . . )

And despite the Fortune 500 losses of Dravo, Papercraft, Blawnox, HK Porter, Fisher Scientific, the original and larger Koppers, Mellon, the independent multi-national Westinghouse, Mesta Machinery, Cyclops Steel, Rockwell, Sunbeam etc. the by far biggest wound to the city that I think would have made Pittsburgh much different today was its largest corporation by far . . . Gulf Oil and its nearly 4,000 local HQ and lab employees that were almost 90% white collar/advanced degrees/economic impact, the lost philanthropy alone hit the area so hard. Curious too was that after the first wave of corporate raids and relocations WQED almost went broke (especially from the loss of Gulf Oil).

If Gulf Oil stayed here and in the top 10 of the Fortune 500 along with maybe Westinghouse and Rockwell there would be no talk about competing with the 'Charlottes' etc, Pittsburgh would be comparing itself to the Dallas' or even Chicago or Seattle and I feel strongly Mellon & thus Heinz could have stayed independent more recently due to the overlap and strong financial core in the city.

Monday, October 28, 2013 9:42:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Concur that loss of R&D activities at Westinghouse and Gulf is under appreciated in Pittsburgh's history.

I was going to highlight the Gulf Labs advertisement in that 1961 section.

Monday, October 28, 2013 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see Joe Chiodo on the old PP-G article. Miss him and the bar.

Monday, October 28, 2013 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Not Ken said...

While I appreciate on some level the macro point about corporate HQ and loss of R&D activity and some level of corporate donations, does it really mean that much for jobs and innovation?

I'm not suggesting it was a net positive. In particular, the disaster of Westinghouse's foray into finance is a terrible story (and, frankly, could have been repeated at GE due to the near-failure of GE Capital but for the hated TARP). I mean the East End and inner East suburbs (Blackridge in Wilkinsburg, Forest Hills, Churchill, Wilkins Township, East Pittsburg and the whole Turtle Creek Valley) have seen a hollowing out with the loss of Westinghouse. I assume Northeast Allegheny and Northern Westmoreland have seen the same with the closing of Gulf Labs.

But to the game of toting up Fortune 500 HQs is a parlor fame played here too much. How much of the work done in those places led to entrepreneurial endeavors? My guess is "not much". I've always looked at the stuff developed by Westinghouse but never commercialized--induction cooktops come to mind--as Pittsburgh's sort of Xerox PARC, which invented the personal computer, mouse, etc. But which Xerox never found a way to commercialize.

Like Chris, I was disappointed that the P-G series was so focused on the past, and not the future. A real success of the last 30 years, if you ask me, is that Pittsburgh has slowly gotten used to the idea that new, innovative businesses and entrepreneurs fail at a high rate (and is something that happens every day in Silicon Valley)--and that it is not some scarlet letter to have failed. THAT is a sea change. It is also a sea change that we finally have women working here in numbers equal to men. And, the last 30 years have brought about changes in river access and trail construction that have greatly expanded the ability to engage in a host of outdoor activities. That is a real regional asset that we have not exploited yet. Too bad the last 30 years have been uniformly negative regarding similar transit expansion (see, DC, Denver, Salt Lake City, even St. Louis).

And, much has been written about how corporate philanthropy has changed over the last three decades. It is a fallacy to think nothing would have changed had the world never changed.

I am happy that Pittsburgh is moving past the "I coudda been a contendah" stage. As the risk of sounding too much like the Conference: we are a contender; let's continue to get the wins.

Monday, October 28, 2013 1:16:00 PM  
Anonymous 13Q said...

Thanks for the reading list CB. In 1983 I was playing in a bad punk band at the Electric Banana and drinking with the other skinheads at Chief's. Now you pay an arm and a leg for a pasta and sauce at "Zarra's"--although Johnny and Judy are still around--and Chief's is 95 percent African-American, but still cheap and fun. So plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, I guess.

Monday, October 28, 2013 3:33:00 PM  
Blogger JRoth said...

Can't believe you didn't highlight this quote, from the Seidenberg article:

"Therefore, by 1986, barring an unexpected mass exodus, the county population will have surpassed 1,800,000 and be on its way toward the two million mark."

That one hurt.

I wish the illustration in that article, which is clearly of a much more ambitious East Hills than what actually got built, were clearer. Plainly the vision was not to create a slum.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger audrey said...

As I run an organization which has been in existence for 30 years (The Pittsburgh (High) Tech Council, and not a native Pgher, I find this celebration of 30 years and all the orgs that were founded then or thereabouts, actually quite intriguing. There had to be serious desperation abounding with mounds of passion to start all these initiatives. But what's more interesting to me is how quickly we find comfort in staying power and belief in these now "institutions". Change is messy. Institutions whether corporate, non profit or public private partnerships have to reinvent themselves repeatedly and feel the pain and excitement of new forces. In Pgh we tend to recreate institutions or desire the psuedo paternal comfort of them and then pound more and more into them.... Haven't we learned?

Saturday, November 02, 2013 2:10:00 PM  
Blogger audrey said...

I meant: In Pgh we tend to CREATE institutions or desire the psuedo paternal comfort of them and then pound more and more into them.... Haven't we learned?

Sunday, November 03, 2013 3:54:00 PM  
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