Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Happened to Pittsburgh

Some blog called Urbanophile, written by Aaron M Renn, seems to know the big story about what happened to Pittsburgh and its environs in the '70s and '80s:
The lesson to be gleamed from Pittsburgh isn’t so much in what steps it’s taken on its way to recovery. Rather, the lesson to be learned from Pittsburgh is what happened to its Great Recession hit in 1983.

It failed. The steel collapse decimated Pittsburgh and its region, taking with it nearly 1 out of every 10 jobs there. Entire towns surrounding the city became obsolete. But it is because of that failure, that absolute bottoming-out, that Pittsburgh has been able to cast aside its past and emerge as a unique showcase of what a small, bustling, connected American city can eventually become.

Via Andrew Sullivan

This is the kind of bullshit I really can't stand, because if you lived anywhere near Pittsburgh in the '70s and '80s you know the truth about what happened and not what some theorist thinks happened.

You know that men in the prime of their lives, their 30s and 40s and 50s, lost their jobs with little understanding of what was going on. These were the men, or the descendants of the men, who, as Bruce Springsteen wrote, "did what Hitler couldn't do."

Yet they were still tossed aside as soon as it was convenient.

I knew these men. They were my father and my uncles. They went to work every morning or every evening on the night shift and labored in front of superhot furnaces and did what they were asked to do. My dad worked in a Pennsylvania steel mill, and I remember after he was promoted to supervisor I once went in to see him at work and to see his office, and was shocked to see that it was a tiny, very dirty glass enclosed space in the middle of a big mill, full of noise and dirt and torn manuals, and not at all like the position I thought my dad held as a "supervisor." I never quite saw him the same way after that.

These guys worked really fucking hard, and they always came home hungry, with dirt on their hands, and they drank Iron City beer on the weekends and never once complained, and when these big corporations were done with them they tossed them out and these guys had to became bar tenders or cut grass or moved thousands of miles away to jobs with less pay, their pride hurt in ways I never imagined until now.

So don't tell me how this was all great part of some big urban renewal. It was not. Pittsburgh isn't now some great center of creativity and rebirth. It is, in fact, a shell of its former self. It is still beneath the boot, the same boot that has always tread over working men in America, always in the apparent name of progress, always leaving broken bones (and broken families) in its wake. Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities and all the hard-working people in southwestern Pennsylvania suffered greatly in its contraction and never again found their previous glory, and never will, and trying to imply that Capitalism and the free market eventually made everything alright is complete bullshit. Capitalism has winners and losers, and it's a great system if you're one of its winners, but if you're one of its losers you're supposed to suffer in silence and think that it's all your fault for not being more ambitious or for not working harder. Which is shit. The only people who like capitalism are its winners. And they're the only ones that you hear about. The rest, and their suffering, are always and forever forgotten, and have forever been expected to remain so. Who speaks for them?

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