Pittsburgh Hip

February 5, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

A friend/colleague/co-commuter sent a link to this article.

I especially appreciated the gesture since the dude is a diehard fan of all things Seattle (we commiserated about playoff defeats). Although the article was at a Pittsburgh booster Website , the original source was ThrillList, which ranked Pittsburgh in “The next Portland: 8 Cities All the Cool Kids Are Moving To.” The list includes Missoula, Louisville, Boise, etc. ThrillList, after a shoutout to Pittsburgh’s “several expert-vetted breweries” and “superior cocktail bars,” had this to say about my home town.

There is a fake robot repair shop inside the airport, which is a totally, totally reasonable thing to have in an airport, and if you’re after artisan stuff, Handmade Arcade  – “Pittsburgh's first and largest independent craft fair”  – will have all of the trinkets and tchotchkes you definitely don’t need.

I would think that a healthy economy must be prerequisite for hipness. Not that prosperity is any guarantee. Back when Pittsburgh had steel, and the mills were glowing night and day, the city was economically healthy but hardly hip. Now the mills are malls, and the main employer (and owner of real estate) seems to be UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Yes, if your tastes don’t run to craft beer, you can still get Iron City – “a bottle of iron” (pronounced “ahrn”) is what you ask for – and you can wave your terrible towel for the Steelers. But absent tradition and trademarks, the local beer would be a bottle of Imaging, and Mike Tomlin would be coaching the Medics.*

Has Pittsburgh really improved? Brookings has a nifty interactive site that ranks the largest 100 cities on three dimensions
  • Growth (Jobs, GMP (gross metro product), total wages)
  • Prosperity (GMP per job, GMP per capita, average wages)
  • Inclusion (median wage, poverty relative to median wage, employment/population ratio)
Here’s how the former Steel City has changed in the last decade.

It comes off much better in the rankings than do Boise and Louisville.

The Brookings app and data are here. You can check out the other “hipster cities” – Salt Lake (who knew?), Asheville, the other Portland – or your own home town, hip or not.

* According to Wikipedia, Pittsburgh also has “established itself as a technology hub.” And here’s a personal note about that not-always-perfect transition. My father was in the steel business in the good years – the 40s and 50s. In the early 60s, a friend, an engineer at Westinghouse, was quitting the big company, taking a couple of other impatient engineers with him, and forming what we now call a tech start-up, an electronics company, Milletron. My father was persuaded to cash in his steel business and join. He would handle the non-tech business side of things.

The Regional Industrial Development Corporation had recently been formed by private interests who could see the handwriting on the steel-mill walls and wanted to push the local economy towards diversity and modernity. The RIDC provided some financing and helped them secure loans. The company struggled along. The contracts they got never quite paid all the bills, and they had other projects that required a little more time and a little more cash. After  three or four years, the RIDC finally pulled the plug. Milletron was no more. And my father, once well off, was more or less broke. “You lost a lot of money?” I asked him once, a few years later. “Yeah, he said, but the banks lost a lot more.”

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