Transformation worth copying

More often than not, we Canadians reject copying any ideas from south of the border.

It may seem strange, however, that we should emulate any lessons from Pittsburgh’s development. Hitherto, that city was the centre of the steel industry that entailed factories with all the usual unpleasant effects surrounding those factories. Here, we have similar industrial complexes, particularly Hamilton and Windsor in Ontario.

Pittsburgh has been rebuilt from its past to a diverse, 21st century metropolis. Previously, its air was so clouded by smoke billowing from its factory chimneys that it has been said one could not see anything down the streets. Fortunately the situation has so changed that the health centre of the University of Pittsburgh has moved its headquarters to an old steel tower.

Pittsburgh nowadays does not rely solely on any single industry the way it once leaned on steel. When the steel industry collapsed in the early 1980s, the city and the surrounding region lost about half of its manufacturing jobs. For that reason, about 50,000 people left the city each year.

Subsequently, Pittsburgh started to revive; good long-term planning began. Government officials, both local and state, met and developed an investment program. Furthermore, together with universities and community leaders, a business strategy was worked out for the region. Then employment responded to this ingenious plan.

Members of the European Union and large companies are invited to Pittsburgh to work out a comprehensive program for this and other run down cities. As a consequence, Pittsburgh was transformed from a city dependent on steel to a centre for high-tech innovation, including green technology, education, training and research and development.

Health care and education are doing extraordinarily well. The University of Pittsburgh has expanded health care and Carnegie Mellon University has become a leading hub for computer technology, thereby attracting students from far and wide. These moves have generated 100,000 jobs and tens of thousands are currently involved in research and development ventures at the universities. Corporate research centres have sprung up in response to the programs started at the universities. Pharmaceutical companies have moved to Pittsburgh to take advantage of those activities and have become important employers. All kinds of seed money has been lured to capitalize on ideas that are being developed.

In addition, Pittsburgh has transformed itself physically. The waterfront, once lined with factories, has been given over to parks. In view of the attractive sites, a convention centre has moved here. All that has led to the building of hotels and service industries. Then the city’s revenues increased dramatically, providing new sources of jobs and city-wide improvements.

This impressive transformation very well could be copied by our cities.


Bruce Whitestone