Yes I am biased on this one. I got to Pittsburgh in 1992 (along with other students studying their Master’s at the Heinz School, now Heinz College, at Carnegie Mellon University).
Arrival was an adjustment as it is anywhere. Those of us used to large cities did all our unpacking and moving first looking forward to have a late night leisurely dinner at a local restaurant. Unspoken rule at the time: all kitchens closed at 10pm! Ravenous students cranky and searching for meals gave some pretty tart responses when told we could not eat because the kitchen was closed. Yes, we actually complained vociferously to the university.
Pittsburghers have that quiet Midwestern way to them. They were equally perplexed that we were so upset. No grandiose promises were made just, “this is what you want is it?” We quickly learned that we were called foreigners (i.e. not from Pittsburgh). This made some of us who were already called foreigners elsewhere wonder if we were closer to Martians than human (there is Mars, PA after all). Those of us who stayed after graduation were invited to meetings and asked to share our ideas. We kept talking wondering, when will change truly happen?
Then all of a sudden, my personal note to self says 2005, things were different! There was not a lot of anything but there was just enough of everything. One could invite friends from anywhere in the world and find something to make them feel at home (food, a shop, a community….). Our friends started visiting and asking, why have you been complaining all these years? This place is lovely!
When I moved to San Diego in 2010 I could no longer say it is because there is anything wrong with Pittsburgh. It’s a beautiful city and is increasingly diverse. My reason for moving was something no one can change (weather – cold induced asthma that turns to bronchitis below 50F is not a geographic issue, it’s a personal issue).
I tell this story not to compare Pittsburgh and San Diego (they are two completely different places). I tell this story to give hope. When community development efforts are underway, it is often hard to keep sight of the end game. People get demoralized and wonder, will all the work we are doing ever pay off? Pittsburgh stands as a resounding YES! Regions can rebuild themselves (even after a massive economic collapse).
Pittsburgh survived the collapse of the Steel Industry and has pulled through the global financial crisis well.
The new buzz word might be Thriving but in Pittsburgh, resilience is Vibrant!