Thursday, January 8, 2009
The New York Times provides us with our first "what's going on in Pittsburgh" story of the new year today. And guess what? We're avoiding the worst of the economic downturn ... in part because of our resistance to change --
The big local bank, PNC, was resolutely unadventurous during the housing frenzy.
-- and the fact that we never enjoyed the good times at their height:
One reason Pittsburgh looks better in the bust is because it never had a real estate boom.
But mostly we're avoiding the economic collapse because ours already happened. We deinudstrialized to a large extent a quarter-century ago -- and as it turns out, the Times argues, our timing couldn't have been better!
Pittsburgh had the luxury of reshaping itself while the rest of the United States economy was relatively strong. Unemployed steel workers could leave for the booming Sun Belt, helping the city and region shrink to a more manageable size.
So that puts a chipper face on the age-old lament about Pittsburghers leaving: One reason we have such a low unemployment rate is that we exported a lot of the people who lost their jobs. There are plenty of unemployed Pittsburghers today, in other words -- they just live somewhere else now.
As the Times points out, though, today's autoworkers don't really have the choice of fleeing to some part of the country where times are better -- the economic downturn is much broader than it was when steel went down for the count. Detroit, then, may furnish us with an example of the path Pittsburgh didn't take 20 years ago -- i.e. what happens when all your unemployed people don't leave town.
Of course, a lot of this stuff was foretold by resident internet genius Chris Briem. (One of Briem's colleagues, Sabina Deitrick, is quoted in the Times piece -- a nice change from the usual suspects who get into these stories.) And just because I'm insecure enough to want to put my name in the same paragraph as Briem's, I'll note the Times piece dovetails with a column I recently wrote. I argued that Pittsburgh offers a vision for the future that, if not exactly hopeful, is at least less dire than a lot of other paths we might choose.
So next time you grumble about Pittsburghers and how slow they are to change ... consider the upside too.