There's a notion, held by displaced Pittsburghers, that the connection between the Pittsburgh Diaspora and the Old Country is more visceral in our case than elsewhere. (Is it true? Who knows. Maybe Pitt could do a study.) And there's a vague sense, nurtured by bloggers in various corners of the Internet, that the Pittsburgh Diaspora could be a potent force, if only we could find a way to tap it, connect it, organize it. The decades of out-migration could lead to a delayed influx of capital, both the human and green kinds, from across the country.
Bully for that. But how?
Bloggers Mike Madison, Jim Russell and Jim Morris have been working on a "Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh" (See pittsblog.blogspot.com). The word "manifesto" gives off an odor of communism, which is just fine in this case, since what we're talking about here is a giant community that benefits its members. From each (Pittsburgher) according to his means and ability, to each (Pittsburgher) according to his needs, or something:
1: Connect and reconnect with the virtual Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh must replicate its famous bridges by building metaphoric bridges to other countries, states, companies and groups, and above all to the diaspora of people and institutions with historic ties to Western Pennsylvania. We must build a global Pittsburgh.
2: Bring new resources. Pittsburgh needs to use its metaphoric bridges to broaden the sources of that [social] capital and convey it back to Western Pennsylvania in the form of intellectual and economic capital. The diaspora can contribute time, money and ideas to the rebirth of the region.
3:Energize Pittsburgh's culture and community. Pittsburgh's position as a world leader in science, art and culture should extend across populations both young and old and across virtual and material media. Building the global Pittsburgh means extending excellence in computing, music and sport, and embracing the economic and social value of global community.
4: Listen for new voices. For too long, Pittsburgh has heard the same voices in public political, cultural and economic conversations. Pittsburgh must enfranchise new and marginalized voices.
5:Change the face of Pittsburgh. With new people come new opportunities. [Building] bridges to the diaspora means reaching out to a 21st-century global Pittsburgh of many colors, nationalities and ethnicities.
6:Build on the best of Pittsburgh's past. A connected Pittsburgh brings change, and change and novelty must respect the strengths of the old. Pittsburgh has a rich heritage of industrial and human success to be blended with the capital contributed by the diaspora.
7:Recognize the geopolitics of the neighborhood. The traditional localism of Pittsburgh politics should give way to an accommodation of that localism in the context of 21st-century globalization. The global Pittsburgh should exist at many scales, from the region to the city to the neighborhood.
Sounds great, in a goal-less, grass-roots, amorphous, nostalgic, lawyer-speak kind of way. But what does that all mean? Can emotional energy from There be translated into economic energy Here?
Donald Bonk believes it can. He's been hired, through a grant from the Heinz Endowments, to herd the CMU diaspora. (It's like the Pittsburgh Diaspora, except with higher SAT scores and more Asian-born members.)
"If you put people's goodwill in proximity, [good] things will happen," he said. His mission is to follow all threads leading from Carnegie Mellon University -- former students young and old; intellectual property that was birthed here, then taken elsewhere; corporate clients -- then weave those threads together.
Sewing analogy doesn't work for you? "It's like a multilayered chess game," he said, revealing his inner Trekkie. The trick is to get everybody playing on the same level at some point. Right? Or maybe the trick is to get everybody to use the Sicilian Defense. Never saw that episode.
The hope, said Mr. Bonk -- Pittsburgh by way of Washington, D.C., by way of Johnstown, in case you were wondering -- is that this seamless "circle of activity" will behave like an alumni association on amphetamines. The sorts of relationships that might have developed serendipitously, over time, are created that much sooner, then are given the tools to prosper, under a single umbrella.
The Heinz Endowments mandates that "Pittsburgh benefit from the connectivity," not just Carnegie Mellon. Nice words, but can the effort really spill into greater Pittsburgh? Could any tide rise powerfully enough to lift Old Ironsides, taking on water as she is?
Can't say. It's all quite meta right now -- or is it beta? -- and certainly it's not unique, as plenty of universities, cities and states try to keep track of alumni and business ex-pats, putting them in touch with each other. What is unique -- they think, they hope -- is the depth and vitality of that Pittsburgh connection, the vision that this city has the bones to be something more, and the straits in which Pittsburgh finds itself. (As compared to, say, the Harvard endowment account.)
So if the effort isn't unique, at least maybe the results could be. Far and wide, the Pittsburgh Diaspora awaits its summons.
Have a story about the Pittsburgh diaspora? Are you a member? Bill Toland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2625.