Trying to revitalize a city is painstaking labor. Not only do you need to have a vision that would see the city flourishing in the next ten, twenty, fifty years but you also need to understand the city's present condition, especially that of its inhabitants.
Pittsburgh tried several times to transform and reinvent itself starting in the 1940s. There were some setbacks along the way and downsides to the changes they made in certain aspects of the city. But now, it seems that it has gained momentum.
The renaissancers kept trying—“Hope in East Liberty,” ran a 1996 headline—but the people kept leaving. By 2010, Pittsburgh’s population was barely 300,000, less than half its size in 1950. Pittsburgh had all the comparative disadvantages of other Rust Belt cities: high taxes, powerful unions, burgeoning pension obligations, inferior public schools, and a decaying infrastructure. East Liberty and the rest of the city seemed a lost cause.
But then, over the past decade, I was stunned to see the ruins come to life. How did this happen? Outside economic forces were partly to thank: the new money flowing into Pittsburgh from fracking, robotics, health care, and other industries. But some credit goes to the same kind of coalition that led the earlier renaissances: business leaders, philanthropists, nonprofit groups, politicians, and developers. They learned from their predecessors’ mistakes, and the lessons are valuable for any city.
(Image credit: Maria Oswalt/Unsplash)