Pittsburgh’s Renaissance

pgh-technology-centerWhether it’s Extreme Makeover, Oprah, or What Not to Wear, it seems no one can resist a makeover, watching a dud transform into a dazzler.  While the nation has been obsessed by these makeover fantasies, they’ve missed one of the greatest makeovers of all time: Pittsburgh’s!  Over the years our hometown has gone from outdated and dilapidated to positively gleaming and trendy.

When the steel industry collapsed in the 1980s, many wrote Pittsburgh’s obituary, predicting no city could survive after suffering the massive job losses our region experienced.  It is estimated that over 200,000 jobs in the steel industry and related manufacturing disappeared during that dark decade, leaving the city’s riverbanks littered with deserted, rusted-out mills and plants.

Pittsburgh’s Rise to New Fame

During the last 25 years our city has gone from being on life-support to alive and thriving.  The world is starting to take notice.  Recently, Places Rated Almanac designated Pittsburgh as America’s Most Livable City.  BusinessWeek rated Pittsburgh the sixth best place to ride out the recession, while Forbes magazine cited Pittsburgh as one of the cleanest places to live.  Pittsburgh has been named to Relocate America’s 100 Top Places to Live.  Worldwide ERC and Primacy Relocation named it the sixth best metropolitan area for relocating families.

The accolades keep rolling in.  American Style magazine named Pittsburgh The Best Arts Destination in the Country for mid-sized cities.  In a study by Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine, Pittsburgh was rated one of the five best places for the “creative class,” which they defined as the segment of society that generates cultural and economic vitality.  Things look fantastic heading into the future too, with Foreign Direct Land Investment magazine (an affiliate of London’s Financial Times) naming Pittsburgh one of North America’s top three cities of the future.

So how did Pittsburgh do it?

Well, as any fan of a makeover show knows, you accent your assets.  Among the many things Pittsburgh has going for it are its residents, their ingenuity and love for the region.  We have some of the best medical and educational facilities in the country, a great arts tradition, and a magnificent landscape to boot.  Pittsburghers were not about to let their hometown be written off.  They rolled up their collective sleeves, put on their “thinking caps,” inventoried the city’s strengths, and got to work transforming the Pittsburgh region.

How Pittsburgh was Rebuilt

the-oreilly-theaterIn 1984, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust was formed to capitalize on the area’s rich cultural heritage. It is a nonprofit arts agency and economic development catalyst.  It reclaimed a 14-block area of downtown Pittsburgh and turned it into an arts area.  This former “red light’ district is now home to more than 14 cultural facilities, among them the crown jewels of Heinz Hall, The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, The Byham Theater, and The O’Reilly Theatre.  Tens of thousands flock to the Cultural District annually for the finest in entertainment.

Pittsburgh excels in sports, and both the city and our teams have spared no effort in bringing 21st century sports venues to our hometown.  In 2001, two new sports fields opened: PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates; and Heinz Field, home of the championship Steelers.  PNC Park is one of the most beautiful parks in baseball.  Situated on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, it offers incredible views of the city’s skyline.  For years, Mellon Arena (also known as the Igloo and the Civic Arena) had been the home of the Stanley Cup Champions, The Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Pittsburgh Penguins moved from Mellon Arena into their new home, The Consol Energy Center, in 2010.  This state-of-the arena affords visitors spectacular views of the cityscape.

Don’t bet on finding a finer casino than the Rivers Casino, also located on the North Shore.  It opened in 2009.  In addition to its 3,000 slot machines, the Rivers Casino boasts five restaurants and a 1,000-seat amphitheater.  A variety of events including concerts on the river take place there.

The Transformation of Old Steel Mills

eliza-furnaceWhat happened to all those rusting steel plants?  Most of the city’s steel mills were situated along the rivers.  When they closed, blast-furnaces and chimney stacks sat idle, but they weren’t idle for long.  Few cities in the country boast as much waterfront property, and Pittsburgh took advantage of this valuable asset, reclaiming the land for recreation, entertainment, and business.  Biking and hiking trails were developed along the waterways, allowing visitors access to some of the most spectacular views around.

When U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works was shuttered in the late 1980s, a large tract of land was left idle along the banks of the Monongahela River.  Recognizing the value of this location, developers turned this brownfield into a trendy shopping and entertainment Mecca.  Numerous retail stores, restaurants, and a stadium-style, multi-theater cinema opened.   A long line of smokestacks front the complex and hearken back to the area’s industrial past.

At the former site of Jones and Laughlin Steel sits another reclaimed industrial area called the Southside Works.  Shops, restaurants, offices, hotels and apartments are situated around a central square, a site where once steel furnaces burned with incandescent heat.

The Southside Works abut Carson Street, which traverses Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.  Carson Street has become the “Bourbon Street” of Pittsburgh, attracting crowds to the neighborhood’s numerous taverns and eateries.  The row houses of the South Side Flats and South Side Slopes that surround Carson Street used to house the thousands of millworkers and their families.  Today, this area is one of the trendiest places to live.

Another reason Pittsburgh has been able to rise from the ashes is its often underestimated intellectual prowess.  Across the river in lower Oakland sits the Pittsburgh Technology Center.  It is the focus of Pittsburgh’s advanced academic and technology research, conducted by both universities and corporations.  These thriving companies and organizations help connect Pittsburgh’s well-muscled past with its intellectual and high-technology future.

  • University of Pittsburgh Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering
  • Carnegie Mellon Research Institute
  • Union Switch and Signal
  • Metaltech Inc.
  • Aristech Chemical Corporation
  • The Oakland Consortium (comprised of 4 companies)

With so many changes and developments that have happened in the region during the last 25 years, it’s no wonder people who marvel at the city’s transformation often exclaim:  “Wow!  What happened to Pittsburgh?”

 

Written by Jan Palko

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