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Pittsblog



Rebuilding the Pittsburgh economy . . . one blog post at a time!



Updated: 2017-11-09T07:31:53.399-05:00

 



Pittsburgh's Renewal: Myths and Realities

2013-02-18T16:28:19.918-05:00

Because the popular media remain fascinated by stories of Pittsburgh's contemporary "reinvention," "renewal," and/or "renaissance," I'm returning to the blog just this once to post a link to my own published account of what happened in Pittsburgh over the last few decades.  If all goes modestly well, then anyone doing background research on what makes modern Pittsburgh tick will eventually land here.

"Contrasts in Innovation: Pittsburgh Then and Now" puts Pittsburgh's story in context, pointing out not only what about Pittsburgh has changed, mostly for the better, but also what has not changed.  Naturally, I have some detailed theories about why some things have changed and why some things have not, and my view of the whole tale differs in some key respects from the story that usually appears in the mainstream media.

This piece started as a series of long blog posts here at Pittsblog in 2010.  With some refinement and added material about economic history, it was published in 2011 as a chapter in a longer collection about regional economics, titled "Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Evolving Economies: The Role of Law," from Edward Elgar Publishing.

Download it for free.at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1858741





Just One More Thing ...

2011-12-15T19:25:48.267-05:00

I feel like Lieutenant Columbo.  Just one more thing:

I'm on Twitter @profmadison.  Most of the content there will be tweets of posts at my law-and-technology blog, madisonian.net, which continues even as Pittsblog expires.  But Pittsburgh notes and other things may sneak in from time to time.

To paraphrase the words of the classic country song, how can you miss me if I won't go away?



Pittsblog: Eight Years is Enough

2011-12-08T23:13:35.832-05:00

Pittsblog followers -- and a few loyalists are still out there, I believe -- have noticed the steady decline over the last many months in the frequency of posting here.  There are lots of explanations and no excuses.  The reality is that I have simply gotten too busy to give the blog regular attention and too interested and engaged in things going on both outside of Pittsburgh and in my little corners of Pittsburgh to spend energy writing anything more about the place.  This will be the last Pittsblog post.  I promise.

Earlier this Fall, I started a short series called "Fresh Eyes on Pittsburgh," and I promised five posts.  I managed to produce three of them, and you can find them here (on the economy), here (on Pittsburgh society and community), and here (on culture, particularly sports).  I had hoped to write about Pittsburgh politics, and about Pittsburgh's environment (natural resources, I mean), but looking back and looking forward, I just don't have the time or the energy.  For the omitted posts, I throw myself on the proverbial mercy of the blogosphere.  I have long planned to wrap this whole thing up by the new year.  I started Pittsblog way back on December 31, 2003, and I'll end it just shy of the blog's eighth birthday.

I stopped blogging here once before. That turned out to be a false start, as it were.  Then, it turned out that there was more that I wanted to say.  Now, that's not the case.  (Plus, the blogosphere as a whole is steadily being absorbed into the Twitterverse.  How many of the old-time, once-novel Pittsburgh blogs are still around?  Tube City may be the last.)  The blog will stay up, at least as long as Google will have me.  My final word, for what it's worth, will end up in print.  The Pittsblog series known once and for the foreseesable future as "The Story Behind Pittsburgh's Revitalization" is being adapted into a chapter in a forthcoming edited collection on the renewal of American's cities.

Eight years of blogging are too much to wrap up in a single post.  The most important thing to say is thanks.  Thanks to all of you who read, who continued to read, who commented, who disagreed and criticized and told me that I was and am wrong, very wrong (yes - I mean that), and most of all who reached out in one way or another.  Perhaps the most important benefits of my blogging here have been the gifts of friendship that I received from blogging colleagues; media colleagues; law and business colleagues; arts, tech, and culture colleagues; higher education colleagues; and non-colleague colleagues -- individual souls, often named, sometimes anonymous and pseudonymous -- who took time to engage at Pittsblog in the construction of the continuing project that is Pittsburgh.  Many of the people who began as my Pittsblog readers and correspondents have become my Pittsburgh friends. 

True gifts, I have learned, are given again.  They stay in motion.  Pittsblog will close, and it closes now.  But the point is not farewell, let alone a Pittsburgh-ish "Bye now."

The point is this:

Hello.



Adios to Aldo Coffee

2011-11-23T11:14:56.856-05:00

Coffee aficionados in Pittsburgh already know this:  Aldo Coffee in Mt. Lebanon has closed.  New ownership will carry on the practice of high quality coffee in the same venue.

Aldo's valedictory blog post is here.  The store opened in 2004, and at the time it was in the vanguard of a lot of things in Pittsburgh:  High quality coffee as an alternative to Starbucks.  Explicit concern not just for the quality of the beans and the flavor in the cup, but for fair treatment of the people who grow and sell the beans.  Aldo was an early adopter of broad-based social media strategies to support a small business.  Today, outstanding coffee houses are flourishing all over Pittsburgh.  Marketing via social media is the rule, not the exception.

Along the way, Aldo provoked.  It made a lot of friends.  It also alienated a few people.  The real cost of a cup of coffee at Aldo reflected the real costs of making coffee.  Was that honesty, or pretense? 

Above all, and in the face of a lot of locals who thought (and perhaps still think) that Pittsburgh is fine just the way it is, Aldo unsettled the status quo.  In this Pittsblog post, I linked to some Aldo comments about the future of localism and small business. Pittsburghers take enormous pride in their neighborhoods and in their small towns.  They still buy an awful lot of coffee at 7-11 and Sheetz and Dunkin' Donuts, and when they go upscale, they are often spotted at Starbucks. 

Thanks, Rich and Melanie, for giving us the love of your labors over the years.

They named the dog, "Aldo."



Pittsburgh's Decline v. The Decline of Steel

2011-11-22T23:38:38.409-05:00

Chris B. appears to be running out of patience with the conventional history of modern Pittsburgh, which blames the losses of jobs and wealth in steel towns such as Braddock squarely on the shoulders of the decline of the steel industry.  As the data shows, and as Chris repeats over and over, the decline of places like Braddock is a complex tale.  It got started long before steel started to slide, and it has all kinds of causes, some steel-related, some not.

Relevant posts:

The Blame Game (Nov. 22 2011)

Braddock mythos redux (Oct. 18 2009)

Speaking of real estate - Braddock (Dec. 1 2008)



"The Cruel Lesson of Penn State"

2011-11-19T08:53:51.848-05:00

This post is off-topic for Pittsblog.  I am posting it -- a link to a piece at Slate about the sources and costs of childhood sexual abuse, written in the wake of the disclosures coming out of the Penn State football program -- because it is brilliant, moving, humbling, chilling, and in my opinion absolutely essential reading.   The author is my friend, and I am moved beyond words by his courage.

Read "The Cruel Lesson of Penn State:  How what happened in State College forced me to confront my own abuse."



Innovation Practice Institute at Pop City

2011-11-16T13:36:06.880-05:00

In connection with Global Entrepreneurship Week, now underway, Pop City has a nice feature on Pitt Law's Innovation Practice Institute, where I am the Faculty Director.  Under the leadership of our Executive Director, Justine Kasznica, who is the focus of the piece, the IPI has really blossomed over the last ten months.

The Pop City story has links to current IPI events in Pittsburgh.  The IPI's home page is here.  Justine and I have big plans for additional IPI programming, including new courses for law students and a research program to complement the teaching and community engagement.



Fresh Eyes on Pittsburgh, Part 3

2011-11-15T08:13:59.156-05:00

Here is the next, overdue, installment on my brief “Fresh Eyes on Pittsburgh” series. Read the first installment for the background and the premise.Today's topic: arts and sports in Pittsburgh.Well, sports. There's quite a bit going on in Pittsburgh's arts world - music, visual art, dance and theater and other performing arts, craft, writing and publishing -- but sports knit Pittsburgh together in public ways that the arts world, at least today, just can't. As to arts, there are the big public institutions: the Cultural District, the Carnegie Museums, the big performance stages Downtown and elsewhere. There is Pittsburgh's still-in-rediscovery arts history: jazz and blues, Teenie Harris, August Wilson, Andy Warhol, Hollywood legends like Gene Kelly and Shirley Jones, more recent they-come-and-then-they-go performance spaces (the Oakland Beehive, Club Laga), and undoubtedly other things that don't come immediately to my mind as I sit here typing. And there is Pittsburgh's emerging and increasingly robust contemporary avant-garde: hip hop stars Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, Girl Talk, the gallery "scene" in Lawrenceville and whatever you call the cool stuff that's happening in East Liberty in and around the Waffle Shop and the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. Pittsburgh is no New York and never will be, but there is a growing amount to be proud of and to be challenged by in Pittsburgh, and that's a great thing.But I digress.Sports are the undisputed kings of Pittsburgh's cultural life. And when I say "sports," today I mean "football," and when I say "football," for almost all intents and purposes, I mean the Steelers. High school football rules Friday night social life in Western Pennsylvania to a degree that's matched only in Texas and parts of Ohio, I am told, and college teams in the region elicit passions of their own. I'm looking at you, Pitt and Duquesne, as well as programs like RMU, CMU, and smaller regional programs like Cal U., W&J, Slippery Rock, and IUP, among others. Moreover, Penn State and its alumni are massive presences in Pittsburgh, which is something that surprised me when I moved to Pittsburgh more than a decade ago. But today the PSU presence here makes sense -- Penn State counts several hundred thousand living alumni -- making it all the more disappointing that Pitt and Penn State haven't played each other in football in many, many years. I'll venture only one other comment here about Penn State: I have never encountered any other university anywhere where the identities of so many alumni and students are so directly bound up with the image and influence of one person -- Joe Paterno -- and the school's football program. That observation regarding Penn State might be scaled up and over and applied to Pittsburgh's relationship with the Steelers:The Steelers are Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh is the Steelers.  More than a handful of people in Pittsburgh are not Steelers fans, or don't care about football at all, or don't pay attention to when and where the games are played. But it is impossible to live in Pittsburgh and not have a sense of the role that the team and its history occupy both in community culture and in defining the world-wide Pittsburgh "diaspora" of ex-pats and those who fancy themselves Pittsburghers just because they have that kind of imagination. Stuck in Reykavik on a Sunday afternoon? They have a Steelers bar for you. The place is called Bjarni Fel. Walk in wearing your Steelers jersey, and you'll be greeted like a hero. When I first moved to town, a colleague who had recently joined the Pitt faculty -- a woman, and an athlete but not a football fan -- told me that she had quickly decided to pick up a bit of Steelers trivia solely because she wanted to be able to keep up at parties. The line that she mastered, in 1998, was this: "How about that Immaculate Reception?" I grew[...]



Lawyers for Innovators

2011-11-15T07:04:19.183-05:00

When Pittsburgh tech incubator Alpha Lab announced last Spring its "Alpha Law" partnership with local lawyers Cohen & Grigsby, I cheered, here. The region desperately needs more high quality, reasonably-priced legal services for entrepreneurs.  What's more, I said, I hoped that other lawyers would challenge Cohen & Grigsby's lead:

The announcement at C&G's site doesn't say whether or not the arrangement is exclusive; I hope that it is not. Pittsburgh not only needs more of this sort of thing, but Pittsburgh -- and the client companies and employees that ultimately benefit from these and related professional services -- also needs some lively competition.

Last week, the sharp-eyed Malia Spencer at the Pittsburgh Business Times wrote that the Lynch Weis law firm is rolling out a menu of low-cost, fixed-fee legal services for entrepreneurs.

In the immortal words of my long-ago Geometry teacher, Mr. Rupinder Sekhon, "we're cooking on the front burner now, baby!"

You can find Cohen & Grigsby here.

You can find Lynch Weis here.



New to the Blogosphere

2011-11-09T10:04:21.080-05:00

Welcome to the blogosphere to a new blog from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (ACCD), titled "Imagine Pittsburgh Online."  Six years have passed since I caused a very minor stir with this post about the ACCD's future (later reprinted, in modified form, in the Post-Gazette), and more or less five years have passed since the ACCD responded to that post and others by sending someone to ask me to write positive things at Pittsblog about the ACCD and its good works.  Finally, the Conference has decided to take its own advice, and mine (I said:  If the ACCD doesn't like what I write, then it should write its own news), and now offers its own echo chamber for all things positive about Pittsburgh -- and only things positive about Pittsburgh.  In a region that doesn't lack for upbeat news about business, Pop City Media has been covering that beat for some time.  It isn't clear whether the so-called "IPO" blog has any value to add. 

For a new-ish blog that conveys a much better sense of the good local news on the small company / entrepreneurship front, take a look at Babs Carryer's New Venturist.  Babs includes a lot of upbeat stuff and perhaps not enough about just how difficult it is to start and grow a business in Pittsburgh, but she does avoid the self-congratulatory, celebratory tone that is the curse of all things that come out of the Conference and its affiliates.  Babs is writing the stories of successful entrepreneurs.  Those often make for inspirational reading.  Once in a while, at the very least, I'd like to read a story about a new venture in Pittsburgh that crashed and burned.   Like, say, this one.



Newsy News

2011-11-02T12:11:38.904-04:00

The idea of PublicSource, the Pittsburgh "community journalism" initiative modeled (sort of) on Pro Publica, got its first public airing last Summer in the wake of the end of "News.Jazz.NPR" WDUQ and the beginning of its successor, "Essential Public Media."  We'll lose the broadcast jazz, went the argument, but we'll get a new robust resource for publicly-minded journalism about Western Pennsylvania.   Pittsburgh Filmmakers honcho Charlie Humphreys and two major foundations, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, teamed up with local a murderer's row of local print and broadcast publishers, including both Essential Public Media and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to launch PublicSource.  (The full list is here.  Among many other things, Public Source is all about transparency.)  PublicSource goes live this coming Saturday.Anyone interested in the retrenchment of journalism in Pittsburgh and elsewhere over the last five years (and counting) has to be pleased by this.  Thoughtful journalism is part of the lifeblood of the community, yet no single publication or broadcaster in Pittsburgh has the resources these days to it both well and consistently.  The editorial roster of the Post-Gazette is so thin that the paper is consistently adequate (maybe) and great only once in a while.  Even the PG's sports pages, long among its strongest departments, are looking pretty long in the tooth these days.  And don't get me started on the Editorial Board.  How will PublicSource improve the PG, or anyone or anything else?  It's hard to know, exactly, but that's no reason to be skeptical.  Something must be done to liven things up and bring more spotlights to bear.  So PublicSource is ... something.Yet deep in the background there is a modest voice that should be heard, and its lessons remembered.  That voice is the shadow of the Pittsburgh Press. If you're young enough or new enough to Pittsburgh that my recent "Fresh Eyes" series appeals to you, then you may not know anything about the Pittsburgh Press.  But for many years the Pittsburgh Press was the big, dominant paper in Pittsburgh.  Many of the senior members of what's left of the Post-Gazette's editorial side are, in fact, veterans of the Press.  What happened to the Press? In the early 1960s, during the first great wave of public hand-wringing over the future of daily print journalism (yes, that was more than 40 years ago!), the Press and its junior rival, the Post-Gazette, entered into a Joint Operating Agreement, or JOA.  The Pittsburgh JOA was one of more than two dozen of these deals around the US.  Rival newspapers combined parts or all of their business and distribution sides, yet maintained separate newsrooms and published separate papers.  Fifty years ago, the labor costs associated with newspaper independence in multi-newspaper towns were eating journalism alive.  JOAs were the solution of that era, and they were so popular, at least among the men who owned newspapers, that Congress even passed a special law just to ensure that JOAs would not be ruled illegal antitrust conspiracies.  JOA supporters in Congress and in the newspaper business crowed that the JOA solution preserved editorially independent "voices" -- rival newspapers -- while giving the relevant papers a form of Congressionally-blessed economic stability.Well.  The solution was less than it seemed, because as economists taught us long ago, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  In Pittsburgh, a crippling newspaper strike in the early 1990s eventually put an end to the JOA here.  When the dust from the strike settled, the Press was gone.  Only the Post-Gazette survived.  [...]



The Ancient Inhabitants of Pitt's Burg

2011-10-31T12:33:35.451-04:00

WASHINGTON—A team of leading archaeologists announced Monday they had uncovered the remains of an ancient job-creating race that, at the peak of its civilization, may have provided occupations for hundreds of thousands of humans in the American Northeast and Midwest.

...

With his team having so far cataloged the decaying ruins of more than 400 edifices believed to have been used solely for human employment, Mueller said he now believes the inhabitants of mid-20th-century North America may have built their territory—in particular, the Great Lakes region and northern Appalachia—into one of the most advanced and prosperous civilizations in the world.

Numerous scholars told reporters the findings have challenged everything they thought they knew about the fundamental organization of human societies, calling it "staggering" and "almost unbelievable" that a culture predating our own had been able to provide work to nearly every person who sought it.

"By today's standards, the job creators' society was highly unusual," anthropologist Carla Delgado of the Smithsonian Institution said. "One of its more bizarre customs involved workers being employed at the same job at the same location day in and day out for their entire adult lives. It was grueling, perhaps, but astonishingly, some of these individuals were able to set aside part of their earnings for the future, slowly saving money with the hope of improving the prospects of their offspring."

"The amazing part is, this bafflingly high level of economic security went on for generations," Delgado added.

Archaeologists who participated in digs on the sites described ghostly scenes of intact but empty homes, halted conveyor belts, and crumbling storehouses still full of the lost people's signature "auto parts."

By examining recovered artifacts, they have reportedly been able to decipher the names of what they speculate must have been the grandest settlements from the height of the job creators' empire: cities known among the ancients as Gary, Lansing, Cleve-Land, Sandusky, and Pitt's Burg.

Link to the full story.



Fresh Eyes on Pittsburgh, Part 2

2011-10-31T12:27:56.078-04:00

Here is the next installment on my brief “Fresh Eyes on Pittsburgh” series. Read the first installment for the background and the premise.Today’s topic: Pittsburgh’s social and culture climate. I’m pretty sure that if I were coming fresh to Pittsburgh today, I would react very much as I reacted when I arrived in 1998. This place is full of warm and friendly people. The core decency of Pittsburgh, its communal and communitarian spirit, its family-friendliness, its respect for history and tradition (which good things in my book, all things considered), its presumptively accepting nature – or at least its tolerant spirit – come through pretty quickly in social settings across a broad range of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and the towns of the region. Fred Rogers was still alive and active in the late 1990s, and I like to think that his “neighborly” spirit, so evident in his life as well as in his work, continues to pervade Pittsburgh. There aren’t a lot of decent-sized cities in the US, I think, where it’s expected that you will know your neighbors, and that they will know you.That’s the great news.As with any portrait like this, there is some less-than-great news. And it took me a little while to figure this out, but it comes through as clearly to a sharp-eyed newcomer as Pittsburgh’s friendliness does.All of that neighborliness, all of that friendliness, all of that know-your-community spirit is descended from generations of Pittsburghers living in an essentially static place. Thousands and thousands of people emigrated to Pittsburgh over the course of the 19th century and built rich communities and neighborhoods. (Culturally rich, if not always financially rich.) In the 20th century, they stayed. And their children stayed. And their children’s children stayed. And so on. And then a lot of people left. What’s missing in that lightning-quick account of Pittsburgh demographics is a story of thousands and thousands of people moving to Pittsburgh over the course of the 20th century, bringing the topsy-turviness of modern urbanity to Western PA as it came to bigger places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, and New York. That didn’t happen, at least not on a broad scale. Over the course of the 20th century, Pittsburgh became (or remained) a massive collection of small towns, masquerading as neighborhoods. Today, you get that small town neighborliness, and you also get that small town insularity, nosiness, and exclusion – even in, or perhaps especially in, the upper echelons of Pittsburgh “society.” Business networks, status hierarchies, and community politics are built on participation in and knowledge of decades of living in the same town. At its worst, Pittsburgh’s friendliness comes at the price of submission and acceptance of neighborhood orthodoxy, where neighborhoods exist at different and overlapping scales, and exist both physically and conceptually. In the late Spring, you may see people walking the streets of Pittsburgh wearing Philadelphia Flyers sweaters. Pay them no mind; friendly Pittsburghers know better than to engage with such wrong-headedness. Instead, recite “Let’s Go Pens!” at every available opportunity, until the slogan becomes trivial – a statement of belonging, rather than belief. To live in Pittsburgh and question loyalty to the Penguins or the Steelers is to acknowledge that you are somehow not a “real” Pittsburgher.Is that too grim (and unfair to hockey fans in particular)? Maybe. Some of the nastier edges of these things have been sanded off over the last decade, at least in some parts of Allegheny County, as population flows have stabilized – somewhat, as the “not born here” community has gotten more traction a[...]



Pittsburgh's Mind Bank

2011-10-29T13:15:07.360-04:00

A profile of East Liberty in the upscale British travel/culture/lifestyle magazine "Monocle" (paywalled here; an expat friend sent me the full text) asks:

Is East Liberty America's Next Silicon Valley?

The answer: a qualified "maybe." Ah, the Fourth Estate.

The piece includes a fabulous quote at the end of the following paragraph, from the Warhol's Eric Shiner. The excerpt is an accurate and pithy rejoinder to the misleading "Pittsburgh rebuilt itself!" narrative.

Buoyed by vibrant medical and academic sectors, and propped-up by well-financed family foundations, a leaner and increasingly greener Pittsburgh has emerged as a low cost/high quality of life location for knowledge industry start-ups and venture capital. As Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner explains of his home town, “Although my generation all left after college, the universities and rich cultural institutions helped keep the city’s mind bank alive.



Master Gardening Pittsburgh

2011-10-31T14:09:07.134-04:00

Having blogged in Pittsburgh for a long time, I get press releases.  Lots of press releases.  Most of them go into the spam file; that way I don't have to read two releases from the same agency.  But I usually glance at the subject line, and once in a while there is something interesting.  I found something interesting today:Pittsburgh's Phipps Conservatory, by any measure one of the true jewels of the region, hired top-drawer South Side PR pros Red House to distribute this press release:FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2011 Phipps Now Accepting Applications for 2012 Master Gardener ProgramOne of Pennsylvania’s oldest and most respected training courses open to new participants. Pittsburgh, Pa.—“What is wrong with my tomatoes?”; “Why are my pine trees losing their needles?”; “When and how do I plant flower bulbs?”: These are just a few of the questions answered daily by Master Gardeners, a group of horticulture volunteers who share their knowledge and experience as volunteers for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. As a new year approaches, Pittsburgh’s premier public garden is now pleased to announce that it is accepting applications for its 2012 training course. Conceived in 1972 by a Cooperative Extension Service agent in Washington state, the Master Gardener Program was developed to train volunteer gardeners to assist professional horticulturists in meeting the increasing public demand for gardening help. The program held at the Phipps Garden Center in historic Mellon Park—one of the oldest and most respected in the state—is not only tailored to Pittsburgh’s changing horticultural needs, but also helps the Conservatory carry out its educational mission. “Whether they are answering horticultural questions for members of the public, teaching classes, or working in our greenhouses, Master Gardeners are integral to the work that we do here at Phipps,” says Director of Horticulture Margie Radebaugh. “By helping members of our community learn new skills, find solutions to problems, and achieve success in their landscapes and gardens, they are not only connecting others with nature, but also making our city a greener and more beautiful place to live.” Phipps Master Gardener Program classes, covering topics from plant problem diagnosis and pruning to botany and entomology, start in January 2012 and run for 23 weeks on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Those interested in applying are asked to contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442, ext. 3925 or sbertovich@phipps.conservatory.org. The application deadline is November 10, 2011.Whatever the reasons for the renewed interest in urban gardening, the renewal is great. Fortunately for local gardeners, Allegheny County has an abundance of resources -- in addition to Phipps.Master Gardener-wannabes in Allegheny County should know that there are *two* Master Gardener programs here, one (above) run by Phipps, and the other run through the Penn State University Cooperative Extension. The latter group -- the Penn State Master Gardeners -- is the volunteer education and training group that is trained by and affiliated with the national Master Gardener movement. That movement is connected in every state (well, 48 out of 50) to that state's public agricultural extension service, provided through public land grant universities. In other words: these volunteers are part-and-parcel of your tax dollars at work! Penn State launched its Master Gardener program in 1982, and well north of 1,000 volunteer Penn State Master Gardeners now provide services to the public in 58 Pennsylvania counties. To the best of my knowledge, the Phipps program is not part of the[...]



Fresh Eyes on Pittsburgh, Part 1

2011-12-04T13:16:07.754-05:00

Some time back I promised to take a look at Pittsburgh with Fresh Eyes. When I wrote that post I was inspired by what turns out to have been an all-too-brief run of great play by the Pitt Panthers football team. But I’ll follow through anyway. Who knows? With the right players, the spread offense may have a future at Pitt. My Fresh Eyes series is intended to be similarly open to the proverbial possibilities.Here is my premise: What if I put myself today in the position that I was in during the late Summer of 1998: fresh to Pittsburgh, with young kids and just about zero knowledge of the city and region? Well, not me, but someone in more or less that position. What does Pittsburgh look like to a newcomer in 2011?I’ll skip over answers to some important, interesting questions, such as where would this person be coming from, and what that person’s backgrounds and interests would be, and why that person is coming to Pittsburgh? In 1998 the “why Pittsburgh?” question might have been asked – both here and elsewhere – with a serious look: What sane person would give up a life in (New York) (Boston) (Washington DC) (Chicago) (Seattle) (San Francisco) (Los Angeles) (Denver) (Topeka) (Memphis) (Pierre) and move to the heart of the Rust Belt? I had a good job waiting for me in 1998, but I had my doubts about Pittsburgh. I knew that Pittsburgh had a hub airport for USAir, a football team that was an arch-rival of the Oakland Raiders (and I was something of a Raiders fan when I was young), some surprisingly cheap if relentlessly grey real estate, and an extraordinary small-town chip on its collective shoulder. I figured out a couple of things pretty quickly. I learned about the essential family-friendliness of Pittsburgh and its community-based sensibility. I noticed that Pittsburgh is home to some extraordinary economic and cultural resources. And I puzzled over the continuing stagnation. I remember an early lunch with a colleague at Pitt, who arrived in the early 1990s, where I expressed some wonder at an obvious disconnect. Why did Pittsburgh, a city with so many things going for it, beat itself up in public? Why wasn’t Pittsburgh leveraging those resources? Why wasn’t it a proud economic powerhouse?I spent many thousands of words a couple of years ago reviewing my answers to those last questions, as the tides came in and Pittsburgh's fortunes slowly turned. I won’t repeat all of that here. Instead, the question now is: What would my impressions be today? I’ll take things in a series of posts: the economic climate, the social/cultural climate, arts and sports, politics and government, and the environment.Today: The economic climate.Economically, there is living, and there is working.On both fronts, Pittsburgh today suffers from a collective boosterism that is difficult to avoid or ignore. The Allegheny Conference and its affiliates focus relentlessly on the Pittsburgh’s silly “most livable city” status. And it's not just the ACCD; somewhere, there is a giant vat of Pittsburgh Kool-Aid, and folks like the well--intentioned staff of the National Geographic are drinking it.  Set the livability rankings aside; any newcomer to the region would have to do the same thing. Look at where people are living, and what they are doing there. First, on the living front, the good news: A new generation of developers and urban homesteaders have revived residential real estate markets Downtown, in the Strip, across to the North Side, up into Lawrenceville and Highland Park, past the 14th Ward and the East End, across to Greenfield, and down into the South Side. My best guess is that Uptown is poised for a mov[...]



Jobs Story

2011-10-13T11:34:06.669-04:00

[Cross-posted, with some changes, from my other blog.]  Much of the media blitz surrounding the death of Steve Jobs focused not only on amazing Apple products (AAP) that he shepherded to the market, and not only on what an inspirational, visionary leader he became, but also on How Can We Find More People Like Steve?Carl Kurlander's piece is representative of this view:  What Pittsburgh needs is more outliers willing to be different!  We just have to find them.Steve Jobs, visionary leader that he was, thought about this problem. It’s an innovation problem, and more or less like the innovation problems that IP systems wrestle with all the time. Once we innovate, how do we ensure that the innovation thrives, and takes hold, and propagates (or is propagated) for the benefit of different communities and future generations? Jobs seems to have convinced himself that the way to do this was not just by ensuring the survival of Apple itself, or Pixar. The key was more Steves, or simulcra of Steve.“More Steves” suggests that more Steves could be made, not just found. Is that true? Can Steve-like leadership (vision, innovation, iconoclasm, persistence) be taught — and if it can be taught, can it be learned?  Is the problem not "finding Steve" but "teaching Steve"?  Or at least a good bit of the first, given that the second is really, really hard?Apple has built Apple University on the premise that the answers are “yes.” The existence of Apple U. has been openly talked about for a while, but the program of Apple U. has not been clear. Jobs’s death and that LA Times story in the link bring it out into the open for the first time that I’ve seen. For several years, the Apple U. initiative has been led by former Yale School of Management dean Joel Podolney. Back in 2006, I wrote here about Podolney’s record at Yale, which was, in a way that must have appealed to Steve Jobs, transformative.Analysts say Jobs drew inspiration for the university from Bill Hewlett and David Packard, whose greatest creation was not the pocket calculator or the minicomputer, but Hewlett-Packard itself. Hewlett and Packard famously set out their company’s core values in “The HP Way.”With Apple University, Jobs was trying to achieve something similar, people familiar with the project say. He identified tenets that he believes unleash innovation and sustain success at Apple — accountability, attention to detail, perfectionism, simplicity, secrecy. And he oversaw the creation of university-caliber courses that demonstrate how those principles translate into business strategies and operating practices.The idea of building an ivory tower on a corporate campus goes back decades with the best-known — and oldest — run by General Electric. Corporate universities fell out of favor in the 1990s, considered too expensive, bureaucratic and out of touch with the companies they were supposed to serve. Even Apple shut down its corporate university.But Jobs’ interest in a corporate university never wavered, former employees say. For years he pressed for a way to study the success of Apple’s executive team as well as Apple’s culture and history. His model was Pixar. The animation studio that Jobs sold to Disney for $7.5 billion in 2006 runs Pixar University, a professional development program that offers courses in fine arts and filmmaking as well as leadership and management to steep employees in the company’s culture, history and values as well as its craft.The HP Way could become the Apple Way. Or (a la Pixar) Jobs Story. When I was practicing law in Palo Alto years ago, I was fort[...]



Pitt Law IPI: Google Event Coming

2011-10-12T11:40:21.134-04:00

It's been awhile since I posted anything about the Innovation Practice Institute (IPI) at my home institution, Pitt's law school.  We've been programming up a storm, but our social media presence has, let us say, lagged.

Coming next is an event that is too interesting to let slip:

The Innovation Practice Institute (IPI) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law cordially invites you to our second Investing in Innovation event on Thursday, October 20th, 2011, at 4:30 pm, at Google Pittsburgh (Bakery Square).

The IPI’s Investing in Innovation series promotes innovation and economic development by showcasing a new or developing industry in the region, and by introducing local innovators and start-ups within that industry to the regional civic, business, and investment communities. Our next Investing in Innovation event – Above the Cloud: Pittsburgh and the Data Revolution -- celebrates Pittsburgh as an emerging global center for cutting-edge big data and cloud computing research and innovation.

The event is hosted by the Innovation Practice Institute (Pitt Law) and Google Pittsburgh, and will be held on October 20th at Google Pittsburgh’s Bakery Square Office. The evening will commence at 4:30pm with welcoming remarks by Congressman Mike Doyle, and a keynote address by Andrew Moore, the Engineering Director of Google Pittsburgh, followed by a moderated panel discussion featuring regional innovators Pat Scanlon (Post-Gazette), John Dick (Civic Science), Jerome Pesenti (Vivisimo), Kevin Perkey (3RC), and Robert Namestka (Screaming Data).

Refreshments will be served.

This event is made possible through the generosity of Google Pittsburgh, Alpern Rosenthal and Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, LLP.

It's free, but advance registration is required.  Register here.



The first "Investing in Innovation" event was held last May, at Carnegie Mellon:  "Astrobotic Technology and Pittsburgh’s Quest for the Moon."  There are more on the way.

[Updated 10/12/11:  Pitt Law now has an event announcement up on its "Events" listing.]



Powering Up Pittsburgh

2011-10-12T10:27:50.232-04:00

There is another new "innovation task force" on the runway:  "PowerUp Pittsburgh."From the Mayor's Office:The purpose of PowerUp Pittsburgh is to accelerate the commercialization of tech innovation activities to create jobs, particularly in underserved neighborhoods around Pittsburgh. It is a collaborative strategy that will bring together a wide range of participants to ensure that community resources – research and innovation, grant funding, government policies, corporate and philanthropic dollars – are aligned to take commercialization activities from the Oakland hub to spokes across the city.The strategy will include:The creation of PowerUp Pittsburgh, including a university-funded director position to coordinate the broad regional effort;The creation of a dedicated Director of Innovation position at the URA to serve as a liaison to innovation, technology, and new economy based companies;The formation of the Pittsburgh Innovation Economic Panel;Efforts to enhance tech transfer at the Universities;Coordinated regional applications to numerous federal programs;And an effort to leverage the Oakland technology economy with numerous physical incubation spokes in Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including a major spoke in Hazelwood.From the Post-Gazette:Mr. Ravenstahl said he envisions a "hub-and-spoke" system with research and entrepreneurship in Oakland -- the city's university and hospital corridor -- spilling into other neighborhoods. The initiative complements his efforts to extend a spate of residential and commercial development and other improvements, the so-called Third Renaissance, from Downtown into the neighborhoods.From Essential Public Radio (formerly WDUQ):William Generett, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone, said Pittsburgh has done well recently. “One thing that disturbs me is how bad our African American population is doing here”, said Generett. “African Americans make up about 27% of the city’s population and our data shows this group is one of the poorest African American groups in the country. So a lot of our work today needs to be connecting the group to the benefits of the innovation economy.”It's my nature to be skeptical of things like this.  I was skeptical of the Mayor's tech task force, launched with a lot of fanfare last December.  I think that the last ten months -- even the launch of "PowerUp Pittsburgh" -- confirms that the skepticism was warranted.  I won't be quite as critical here.  I hope that something good comes out of PUP.  But here are reasons to be skeptical -- again:1.  The name.  It sounds like a sports drink.2.  The players.  Pittsburgh loves to appoint the usual C-level suspects to run task forces.  The leaders of this one?  Ravenstahl, Nordenberg, Cohon, Yablonsky.  Heard of these guys before, have you?  Where are the new folks?3.   The strategy.  In the innovation economy, you can't pick winners.  You've got to create fertile territory, make lots of resources available (money, innovation talent, and management talent) and place a lot of bets.  And the "you" in that equation is rarely "the government."  "The government" should mostly make the place attractive to the money, innovation talent, and management talent, which means having a public services infrastructure that is robust, well-managed, and not - er - essentially bankrupt.  (That's a hugely simplified picture, but this is a blog, not a policy paper.)  Once the table is set, let the econom[...]



A New Pittsburgh Survey

2011-10-05T12:07:17.229-04:00

In the current issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine, publisher Doug Heuck puts on both of his hats at once (Doug is also director of the Regional Indicators project at pittsburghtoday.org) to describe a forthcoming Pittsburgh Today project:  an updated "Pittsburgh Survey."

The original Pittsburgh Survey, published in several volumes roughly 100 years ago, was a pioneering sociological study of living and working conditions in an urban, industrial community.  (The Wikipedia entry is here.)  The research was prompted by and was part and parcel of the Progressive Era reforms of the early 20th century.  Its data supported decades of further research; the researchers who worked on it went on in many cases to influential careers. 

Still, and despite the Progressive ambition, the results were revelatory.  For the first time it became clear just how wealthy the Pittsburgh wealthy were -- and just how hard the rest of Pittsburghers, especially Pittsburgh's women and children, had it.  I've written at Pittsblog before about what I call today's First World Pittsburgh, Second World Pittsburgh, and Third World Pittsburgh.  It should come as no surprise to most people, but it may surprise them anyway, that Pittsburgh's current "tale of two [or three] cities" has its roots in the steel industry of a century ago.  It is probably not an understatement to say that the Pittsburgh Survey changed not just how Pittsburgh was viewed, but how cities were viewed, and how they were studied, and how they were approached for public policy purposes.  I want to look at Pittsburgh with fresh eyes, but doing that requires a supreme effort.  And I've only been here for little more than a decade.

Doug's story about the new study is itself titled, "A Tale of two Pittsburghs."  That headline refers, I'll bet, to "old Pittsburgh" and "new Pittsburgh," but it also should be understood to refer to the rich and to everyone else, revealed in all of their detail in the original Pittsburgh Study and waiting, one suspects, for revisiting, renewing, and updating today.  The Pittsburgh Today study is a fantastic but daunting proposition.  No one should assume that it reveal only good or even middling news.  There is much to celebrate in modern Pittsburgh, but much of the Progressive agenda remains unfulfilled.



Fresh Eyes at Pittsblog

2011-10-03T14:48:02.051-04:00

Save for a couple of months at the end of 2008, I have been writing Pittsblog more or less regularly since the start of 2004.  That's close to eight years.  Yikes.

That's the thought that occurred to me late last week in the wake of Pitt's demolition of the University of South Florida at Heinz Field.  That's not the first thought that occurred to me, of course.  I watched the latter part of that game on TV.  The first thought that occurred to me was this:  This is entertaining.  Pitt football is entertaining.    I don't want to get ahead of myself; this was just one game.  But in the more than dozen years that I've now lived in the Pittsburgh region, I can't once remember thinking to myself that Pitt football is entertaining.

That led to the second thought -- above.  The point is that I've been doing this (blogging here) for a long time, and along the way I've acquired habits and things that keep me seeing things in the same old way.  (And I've only been here since '98!)  Maybe Pitt football was entertaining before (at least, before Dave Wannstedt took over) - but I never saw it that way.  I couldn't.

So:

In some posts to come -- and to come infrequently; since the middle of last Spring, I have been away from Pittsburgh almost as much as I have been in Pittsburgh -- I'll venture some thoughts about Pittsblog themes (economic development in Pittsburgh, entrepreneurship, arts and culture) from the imagined perspective of a newcomer.  What does Pittsburgh look, feel, and sound like to someone who is just moving to town in late 2011, someone who is likely to have lived in a number of places previously, some smaller and more insular than Pittsburgh, and some larger on more cosmopolitan?  What are the opportunities and challenges facing the region today?



Look East

2011-10-03T14:36:38.522-04:00

From the Economist (Sept. 1):

At the new Museum of Liverpool (above), a sleek limestone affair of Danish design, the city’s Chinese community, which began with an influx of sailors at the start of the 19th century, gets an exhibit to itself. The emphasis seems a little odd, until you consider the city’s regeneration strategy, which rests on a characteristically 21st-century mix of the local and the global. The aim is to use Liverpool’s storied past to attract investment from around the world—and from China in particular.

These little Economist columns often obscure as much as they reveal (what's the real story in Liverpool?), and Pittsburgh and Liverpool are more "unlike" than "alike."  So it is not quite fair to point to a story about Liverpool and say to Pittsburgh, "try this."  Still, the local-meets-global story and the explicit outreach to China seem ... interesting.  Hmmm.



MJ Tocci Wins 2011 Athena Award

2011-09-19T16:57:24.332-04:00

I am thrilled to learn that my friend MJ Tocci has been named the winner of the 2011 Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award.  The Pgh Business Times reports here.

The ATHENA Award Program of Pittsburgh is online here.  According to the website:

The ATHENA Award recognizes women in our community who:

  • Demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business profession
  • Contribute time and energy to improving the quality of life for others in the community
  • Actively assist women in realizing their full leadership potential
  • It is the program's explicit focus on the importance of mentorship that distinguishes the ATHENA Award among other honors for women in business.
According to the Business Times, MJ "was recognized for her professional excellence, mentorship and contributions to Greater Pittsburgh. Her company coaches attorneys on communications skills. She is also the founder of Fulcrum Advisors and is on the faculty of the Women's Executive Leadership Program at the Beard Institute at Duquesne University. She is on the boards of the Women and Girls Foundation, Strong Women, Strong Girls; and Carnegie Mellon University's PROGRESS."  And don't forget her next chapter -- which the PG wrote up just the other day.

The Pittsburgh program is part of ATHENA International.

I love it when great people are recognized for doing great things.  This is great news for MJ -- who built her professional career as a prosecutor in the San Francisco area (to be specific, because this matters:  Oakland) before moving to Pittsburgh -- and for Pittsburgh! 



Sowing Golden Seeds in Pittsburgh

2011-10-05T11:45:14.803-04:00

Did everyone notice the little PG item the other day about Golden Seeds, an angel investor network that is "dedicated to investing in early stage companies founded and/or led by women."  (Quotation borrowed from the Golden Seeds website)

The website also makes this excellent point:

Golden Seeds is dedicated to empowering women financially, based on a commitment that diversity in business ownership and management improves corporate performance and creates a stronger economy.

My related post last Summer, on resources for Pittsburgh women and particularly for women who are entrepreneurs, attracted few public comments but -- based on private feedback -- raised some local eyebrows.  Golden Seeds is now investing here and may have local investors but is -- dare I say it? -- led by non-Pittsburghers and based outside of Pittsburgh.  We can argue endlessly over the presence or absence of local barriers to entry, but I take GS as evidence to support the proposition that diversity -- of many kinds, not just demographic diversitiy -- brings to Pittsburgh much-needed opportunities for growth.

Updated Oct. 5, 2011:  Pop City sees the same thing, in an item today about Golden Seeds.



Run First, Pass Second?

2011-09-06T14:13:12.453-04:00

In years past, for the benefit of outsiders and newcomers I would reduce the culture of Pittsburgh to a single line that captured the region's ethos in terms familiar to any long-time Steelers fan:

This is a run-first, pass-second kind of town. 

If that was ever true, then it certainly isn't true any longer.  The Steelers are hardly a finesse team -- this isn't San Francisco in the 1980s (truth be told, that wasn't a finesse team, either) -- but anyone questioning the region's willingness to embrace change (like me) need look no further than Heinz Field.