First, the phoenix tale:
Pittsburgh, after decades of trying to remake itself, today really does have a new economy, rooted in the city’s rapidly growing robotic, artificial intelligence, health technology, advanced manufacturing and software industries. (Politico, Glenn Thrush)
But perhaps the most critical factor was recognizing that, beneath the collapse, stagnation and misery, the city’s core assets remained largely intact, in the form of human capital housed in the city’s cultural institutions, foundations, an overlooked industrial research sector and above all its great universities—Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, Duquesne—built and endowed by the 19th century robber barons who gave the city its first golden age. (ibid)
Okay, they’re discussing a certain group of humans. Nice things.
Pittsburgh is all about the creative destructive of capitalism, and… (ibid)
And we’re reading…
Two MIT researchers, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, theorize that rapid technological advances have created a “great decoupling” of productivity and employment, which partially explains the malaise. (ibid)
Mill owners and labor leaders appeared to be dancing long after the music had stopped—pushing for guaranteed-wage pacts that would buy them a few more years of solvency instead of girding for the industry’s eventual decline by focusing on new technologies and retraining their workers. (ibid)
Well, 20/20 hindsight, maybe…
Yet even at rock bottom, the city’s white-marble academic backbone held. (ibid)
Oh, come on.
Yet none of these factors would have added up to a civic resurgence without the collaboration of a surprisingly small circle of interconnected actors—a couple of hundred people at most—who have worked on the city’s rebirth with plodding determination, as if Pittsburgh itself were one of Red Whittaker’s space robots. (ibid)
You don’t say? That’s actually not all that surprising.
Ultimately, the city’s greatest asset might be its memory—the pain and humiliation of the collapse still acts as a goad, and encourages people in positions of authority to bend the rules when they get in the way of good idea. (ibid)
We, uh… we were with them for a second, there! If memory serves.
Finally, the whole song: There and Back Again, is bracketed within a companion piece:
It was the Democratic primary that really mattered, and here… Peduto surged ahead to a double-digit victory. (Politico, Jim O’Toole)
Within that piece that we encounter a sliver of exposition about how the major universities, foundations, nonprofits and cultural institutions which together reinvent and define this town, for better and worse, are in a degree of natural tension with City taxpayers, stakeholders, voters and neighborhoods. That really is the next song, how that tension resolves.