Sunday, October 29, 2006

Why Pittsburgh Pulled
Ahead of Cleveland

'Pittsburgh was already established as the nation's premier industrial city and Carnegie's name indelibly associated with it. Just as he was not content to be regarded only as a businessperson, so too did he not want his American hometown to be known only for its smokestacks. His goal, as he would write William Frew in 1897, was that 'not only our own country, but the civilized world will take note of the fact that our Dear Old Smoky Pittsburgh, no longer content to be celebrated as one of the chief manufacturing centres, has entered upon the path to higher things, and is before long, as we thoroughly believe, also to be noted for her preeminence in the arts and sciences.' He would continue to contribute his money and his ideas toward this goal for the rest of his life.'
--from Andrew Carnegie, a magisterial new biography by David Nasaw


At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a transplanted Pittsburgher I am wondering as a region why you think Pittsburgh has "pulled ahead" of Cleveland and why Andrew Carnegie is most influential in this regard.

I actually find the two metros similiar. The main difference seems to be that Pittsburgh - Oakland is more coherent/cohesive/connected than Cleveland - University Circle.

I'm a little ignorant about business matters so perhaps you have knowledge about Pittsburgh's purportedly growing tech. sector? I'm not sure why Carnegie would be of a consequence in this matter.

Thanks for your thoughts. Go Steelers!

At 8:17 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for your good question. It's a fair one. In posing it, you helpfully reminded me that I sometimes, perhaps often, speak in shorthand. So let me fill in my missing pieces. My baseline of comparison was driven by three basic things, I think: a comparison between what the two towns' major Gilded Age figures left as their legacies; some recent writing and research by a leading economic development expert; and a more personal, anecdotal sense I get from having visited Pittsburgh often and observed it closely.

As for the first, we had Rockefeler and Pittsburgh had Carnegie. They're strikingly similar figures, operating at almost precisely the same time frame. While I knew Rockefeller's story intimately, I didn't know Carnegie's nearly as well until reading this book. I was struck by how he always came back to his adopted town, and insisted that the bulk of his philanthropy be spent there, while Rockefeller famously turned his back on Cleveland after himself being mostly spurned by the town's leaders. So he gave relatively little of his wealth to his hometown, instead building a major new university (Univ. of Chicago) elsewhere. If he would have directed that to this region's major research university, CWRU, it would today have a serious lead on the Univ. of Pittsburgh and its various offshoots, including the Univ. of Pittsburgh medical center.

The comparative research I referred to is by Ed Morrison, who documents a distinct divergence in the growth patterns of the two regions that began about 1990, all in Pittsburgh's favor. You'll find some of it here, but by all means look around elsewhere on his excellent blog:

And finally, there's my simple observation of more vitality in Pittsburgh. That's driven by a greater clustering of activity in the downtown area. For many years, I've been influenced by a comparative observation made by a writerly acquaintance of mine in an article she wrote about the two towns a couple years after she moved from Pitts. to Cleveland. She noted that the major difference to her is that the middle class lives downtown in the former though not in the latter. In our case it was driven by tremendous white flight following school desegragation a generation ago. But in any case, I think she was right on target, and her point is only truer now than when she first made it more than a decade ago.

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There doesn't seem to be any question that Carnegie has been much more of a lasting resource than Rockefeller.

It is also easier to identify Pittsburgh's vision and efforts to keep its region vital in this new century vis a vis Cleveland.

The Pittsburgh area is more urban as well. I'm not sure that there is an identifiable downtown population (white flight happened there too) but I know a lot of people who live in urban neighborhoods surrounding that area.

People are also more inclined in Allegheny County to say they are from Pittsburgh than Clevelanders who love their fiefdoms (Lakewood, OH, Lyndhurst, OH, University Heights, OH, Independence, OH etc.)! It's very telling that the Browns practice in Berea and the Steelers on the South Side.

I guess I'm a bit optimistic that we can stay competitive.

Our city and county populations are larger than Pittsburgh's by 150,000 and 120,000 people, respectively.

I hear about investment in downtown living all the time (like in the Flats). I just heard on PBS about this developing Design District they say will be quite sizably significant. Case and The Cleveland Clinic seem to be expanding all the time. You have the Euclid Corridor Project, the Ideastream Center etc.

But maybe much of this is piecemeal and not comparable to what Pittsburgh is doing.

Thanks for the links, especially the one for the book! Now I know what to get during the holidays for my Pittsburgh grandmother who only reads biographies.

At 8:50 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, you're right that the middle class is beginning, in modest ways, to creep back to the downtown Cleveland area. That's partly (maybe largely) driven by a demographic trend affecting every city and inner ring suburb in America--the huge baby boom cohort that's now full of millions of empty nesters with money to spend and kids to no longer educate (thus the Cleveland public schools are no bar). There have also been some smart, aggressive developers (Peter Rubin's Coral and Gordon Priemer's Heartland Group come most quickly to mind) in recent years that are simply far superior to their predecessors in sensing opportunities and knowing how to capitalize on them. And before them, a trailblazer named Keith Brown showed everyone there was a rental market with his sublime Progressive Urban Realty.

As for the Rockefeller-Carnegie comparisons, by the way, let's stipulate this: I was speaking only about their legacy effects on their respective hometowns. Rockefeller had at least as much lasting impact on much larger New York City (Rockefeller Center, built in the depths of the Depression when its giant scale tested the boundaries of even that giant fortune ultimately ignited the move to Midtown) than Carnegie did on Pittsburgh.

Interesting that you used the word piecemeal for what we're doing here. That does seem to be about it, despite the impressive scale of some of these things. And the Clinic, by the way, is so big and so impressive a player that it brings along the rest for the ride. Still, comprehensive urban planning has never been this region's strength, at least not since the famous Group Plan in the very early 1900s.

Finally, glad to hear about your Pittsburgh grandmother's reading tastes. They mirror mine. Next holiday season (or on her birthday) you might give her a new bio of Mellon (Mellon: An American Life), and after that a fascinating book published last year (I've only skimmed it thus far): "Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Partnership that Transformed America." Thanks again for your smart and insightful comments, whomever you may be, Anonymous.

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your comments!

I am always interested in hearing what people who know what they are talking about (compared to my superficial knowledge) share their thoughts and recommendations on the present and future of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and there seems to be a wealth of material on the web (compared to newspapers and the broadcast media).

I grew up in Pittsburgh, graduated from a Cleveland-area college and have lived since in Paris and New York City. I'm back in Cleveland now after 4 years for school and financial reasons and am sizing up both Cleveland and Pittsburgh for the purposes of a long-term living commitment.

By the way Adam Gopnik (of The New Yorker) has written some amazing books on contemporary city life (e.g. From Paris to the Moon and Through The Children's Gate) in case you're interested in an incredibly perceptive writer's take on this subject.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Come on, give yourself credit. Based on what you've written here, you seem quite on the ball. That's a hell of an interesting life progression. I'm fascinated by it. Please keep us posted on your progress in thinking about where you want to live. It'll be something of a laboratory for our larger blog discussions about the region.

And you're about the third person to mention Gopnik recently. That means I should take the dive. I've often thought of delving into his Paris book, but I realize now that I've harbored at least a modest bias against him for what might seem an entirely stupid and obscure reason: because he was a favorite of former New Yorker editor Tina Brown, of whom I wasn't a fan. But I think after all these years, it's time to let that go and just enjoy him, no?

Finally, dear Anonymous, I wish you a profoundly happy holiday and a wondrous new year. If you'd like to meet for coffee sometime in the new year, just drop me an email to that effect.


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