In 1866, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was memorably described as “hell with the lid taken off” in an Atlantic Monthly article that depicted soot-soaked air and a river “streaked with petroleum.” For more than a century, this reputation was not much diminished. But not long after the Obama administration held the 2009 G-20 conference in this rust-belt city that had transformed its economy and weathered the Great Recession impressively, Pittsburgh began popping up on “most livable city” lists and being hailed as an urban success story.
Pittsburgh had watched the bottom drop out of its manufacturing-based economy and its unemployment rate hit 18 percent in the early 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of residents fled the city. So it set about doing many of the things San Antonio (among other cities) has been trying to do: it diversified its economy into health care and research, primarily through Carnegie-Mellon University; it cleaned up its water and air quality; it modernized its manufacturing sector.
But experts on the history of Pittsburgh also point to a robust record of public-private partnerships through a network of community development corporations (CDCs) as a key to Pittsburgh’s transformation into “the jewel of the rust belt.”