#PittsburghsFutures: 2/x

The following was published last month at Postindustrial, in print and online, under the headline “Imagining a future Pittsburgh for all: Creating a thriving postindustrial economy means moving past a region of our imagination.” It is Pittsblog-ish content. What does that mean? I explained earlier, here. There is more Pittsblog-ish content to come.

By Mike Madison

Pittsburgh’s public sphere has no shortage of great, idealistic, ambitious goals for a new, 21st century, now post-pandemic Pittsburgh: equity, inclusion, wealth, happiness, opportunity, effective governance, a clean environment, a sustainable resource base, health and education for all. 

Almost no effort goes into how we’re going to get from here to there, or anywhere else. 

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#PittsburghsFutures: 1/x

“PittsburghsFutures” programming interrupts “Future Law” programming here from time to time.

I’m motivated to do that in part by increasingly urgent questions about the future of cities, with Pittsburgh as prime and local example number one (an interest that goes back at least to 2004, via Pittsblog, and continues very recently in the Tribune Review). Pittsburgh legacy leaders’ endless obsession with making Pittsburgh important again drives me bonkers.

I am all but certain that it irritates Pittsburgh’s emerging next generation leaders no end. Pittsburgh needs to bring different stories, different leadership, and different visions to the fore. “Let’s be as good as we were before” fails as a vision before it takes a single step; “let’s be ambitious and prosperous relative to reality” at least has a chance of success. Still, that’s pretty broad and vague. What does it look like in practice?

I’m also motivated in part by the same questions that drive the “Future Law” material. Legal systems, like cities, are in many ways systems that enable different and diverse groups of people to get along, even thrive, both despite their differences and also because of them. Law, like the city, is a platform. Of a sort. We can’t afford to take for granted either the fact that it exists or the dynamics of how it succeeds, fails, and changes. Again, vagueness. What do we imagine, in practice?

I read Democracy in America many decades ago, and I’m still working through how to translate its themes to modern living. What seemed to work during the 20th century (now speaking both about cities and also about legal systems, the legal profession, and law schools) may not be primed for success, on the same terms and in the same ways, in the next several decades.

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Geeking Out on Post-Industrial Renewal: Back to Pittsburgh

What does it mean for any city or region to transform from a “post-industrial city into an innovation powerhouse”? That phrase is the tagline on a series of stories being developed and posted this month (end of January through February 2018) by Geekwire, which has parachuted from Seattle into Pittsburgh, piggybacking on the media circus surrounding the Amazon competition for its second headquarters, the so-called HQ2. Pittsburgh has submitted a bid; it’s made Amazon’s first cut; the nominal buzz is that Pittsburgh’s post-industrial, CMU-led robotics-and-tech credibility makes it both a plausible Amazon player and a fair stand-in for post-industrial renewal generally. After steel, le déluge, so to speak. In this case, that’s a good thing. Take that, Madame de Pompadeur!

So far, Geekwire hasn’t impressed; the Pittsburgh exotic rather than the Pittsburgh ordinaire has dominated its coverage (“What is this Pittsburgh-ese that they seem to speak?“). But these are early signs. Let us hope that there is better reporting – deeper, more engaged critically – to come. Pittsburgh is no “innovation powerhouse” today – not yet at any rate. The top-down tone of both public and private sectors is too pronounced and too assertive when it comes to Pittsburgh’s hits and misses; C-suites and their agents try to lead the news and are doing their best, I know, to guide what Geekwire sees. The innovation-and-entrepreneurship culture doesn’t yet have the organic inertia of, say, Denver, or Austin, or even Nashville. (Did I hear someone say a thriving city has a vibrant, public, bottom-up arts culture to complement a vibrant, public, bottom-up business culture? Hmmm.) Some readers here may remember that this theme – “what does it take to re-establish a region’s confidence in itself?” – was my topic at an earlier blog, Pittsblog, for nearly 10 years (2003-2011). In the spirit of helping along both Geekwire and observers of a similar cast of mind (“what’s strong and weak about the state of Pittsburgh today?”), both local and national, I’m going to re-post a few of Pittsblog’s proverbial greatest hits.  Right or wrong, I’m mostly sticking by my guns.

The following, for example, is from an April 2011 post titled “Removing Barriers: Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Pittsburgh.” I’ve edited it here and there to remove out-of-date references. In spirit and substance, however, I’m confident that it’s just as true today as it was in 2011. Is that a good thing?

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There Are No Poor People in the Rust Belt


In recent days, I’ve come across not one but two online features that celebrate contemporary Pittsburgh for its economic and cultural sexiness. Largely because of the regional tech economy, the millennials and GenXers who dominate it, and the insistence of Pittsburgh’s Old Guard that what you see today was always the plan for economic recovery after the collapse of steel in the early 1980s, Pittsburgh is back, baby! If this were Southern California and if there were waves on the three rivers, I could imagine Jeff Spicoli saying, “Hey bud! Let’s party!”

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