29 May 2009

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

The local Pittsburgh media is already awash with G20 hype. The local television stations have been falling all over themselves to bring "team coverage" to the story. Pittsburgh is in reality a small city so this is big news for our crack local reporters to beat to death for the next few months. Every angle is being covered- the economic impact for local hotels and restaurants, political impact for the city's mayor and the prospect of both non-violent and violent protests.

What nobody seems to be saying is why would the G20 be even welcome in this city ? The G20 coming to Pittsburgh is like the serial killer that digs up his victims to play with the remains (Ted Bundy did this, but that's another story in itself.) While the White House is trying to spin this as a reward for Pittsburgh's "recovery" from its industrial past, the numbers just don't bear it out. Pittsburgh has continually lost population over the past 30 years as its industrial base withered away and moved overseas thanks to the same forces of globalization represented by the G20.

Sure, Pittsburgh is now a robotics and healthcare powerhouse but if you're not designing robots or working for UPMC, what do you have left ? I encourage the G20 to take a tour of Hazlewood, Braddock, Duquesne and maybe take a field trip to Brownsville in Fayette County for lunch. Take a look at the ghost towns that straddle the Monongahela River which once buzzed with activity. Take a long look at the silent, rusting industrial hulks that employed entire towns. Their departure has, in turn, led to empty storefronts, declining school districts and even closed and consolidated churches. I work for myself and travel quite extensively around Southwestern Pennsylvania on a daily basis. Some of the areas I drive through seem like something out of movie- little ghost towns, industrial ruins, turkeys and deer running amok as nature reclaims its place.

Pittsburgh's primary exports are no longer industrial- its our young people who, degree in hand, head off to Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix or any of a number of other metropolitan areas looking for educated kids with a good work ethic. Allegheny County (home of Pittsburgh) has the 2nd most geriatric population in the United States. Although many locals would say its because Pittsburghers have such strong roots and never want to leave the area, I would argue that many more would if they could afford to. The police planning for the G20 probably shouldn't worry about young kids spoiling the show- I would worry about platoons of grannies ramming their scooters into the barricades.

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