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Pittsburgh won't attract fresh faces with stale thinking

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Welcome back. If you're just joining us, we've been considering the latest Forbes.com ranking of America's 40 biggest cities as havens for single people. Pittsburgh finished at No. 40, the bottom of the list, after coming in at No. 39 last year. Next year, who knows? Perhaps we'll have lost enough population to drop out of the survey entirely!

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Survey finds Pittsburgh singularly awful


The interesting thing about this survey is that it is based largely on numbers. You can't blame the results on "talking to the wrong people." How can they say we have a low number of bars, restaurants and nightclubs? They counted them. How can they say this area is aging and losing population? Census figures. Forbes.com, like Dave Barry, is not making this up.

The two least objective components of Forbes.com's ranking system are the "buzz" factor, gleaned from e-mail responses from readers, and the "cool" factor -- which was invented and determined by a CMU professor named Richard Florida.

The "buzz" factor actually gave the city its strongest showing. We had the 17th- best buzz in the survey. Some of that doubtless came from natives, who would rather you dis their own mums than their city, but some of it must have come from people who have lived in other places and appreciate Pittsburgh's many assets and uniqueness.

(Our lowest score came in the category of projected job growth. Come on, city fathers, quit squabbling over territory and sign size and get it in gear before we turn into Providence.)

Richard Florida is attracting a lot of ink because of his new book, "The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life." He claims to have figured out a formula for assessing cities' potential to grow and thrive based on newfangled considerations of arts, science and lifestyle amenities rather than how many huge corporate headquarters and plants there are.

It seems to me there might be something worth thinking about here. Let's face it: The steel mills aren't coming back. And Pittsburgh is remarkably strong in arts and culture. Maybe we should be building on that. Maybe we need to stop thinking of galleries and theaters as pretty baubles for the moneyed class and view them as a serious engine of our regional economy and the foundations of interesting, lively 24-hour neighborhoods.

Without chairs in the streets that keep visitors from parking. Nothing says "we don't want yunz here" like chairs in the streets. Or cops shooing cyclists out of Point State Park, but that's a whole other rant.

The point is, we should look at a survey like Forbes.com's not as an unfair personal attack by snotty outsiders but as a source of potentially useful criticism. Increasingly, Pittsburgh is getting good press. Every few months, someone sends me a travel story from a newspaper in another part of the country about how cool Pittsburgh is. Foreign writers have come here and been impressed.

And why not? We have terrific architecture that wasn't all blown away by lame redevelopment. We have pretty neighborhoods. We're relatively clean and safe. We get more and better restaurants, bike trails and things to do all the time. The Boston Globe just described Pittsburgh as "a visually engaging gem."

We need to pay attention to outside perspectives, both positive and negative, because they help us see our city through fresh eyes.

We need politicians and leaders who want to do the best thing, not just the thing we've always done.

A shoot-the-messenger mentality toward bad news isn't going to keep young people nor attract them. And maybe that doesn't matter to you, if you're older and married and employed. Frankly, I'm not convinced Pittsburgh really wants "outsiders" to move here. I suspect a lot of folks here are quite comfortable without diversity, without new people, without youth. It keeps things familiar and keeps the noise down.

But if you want your children and grandchildren to follow the Pittsburgh tradition of going to college within 50 miles and then buying a house down the street and raising their own families here, maybe things need to change a little.

The world is discovering this isn't the smoky, sooty city anymore. Now we need to work on the economy -- and the welcome mat.

Samantha Bennett can be reached by e-mail a sbennett@post-gazette.com

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