Rise from rust : Pittsburgh transformed itself over 30 years

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Thirty years ago, the Post-Gazette's editor, John G. Craig Jr., commissioned a special section that took stock of a Pittsburgh that was reeling from the collapse of the steel industry. The tone of the report was not despairing -- after all, it was meant to be a beacon lighting the way forward -- but the context was undeniably gloomy.

For the last four Sundays, the Post-Gazette took that benchmark report and posed the same question asked in the spring of 1983: How's Pittsburgh? The verdict is that it's better, not perfect, but progress has been made on a broad front.

How did that happen? That, too, was an inquiry made by the four-part series titled "30 Years, 30 Changes." Pittsburgh's success had many authors. Some of it lies rooted in its natural advantages, such as the three rivers, the city's location near the markets of the northeast, its neighborhoods and its people. As early as 1985, Rand McNally recognized those advantages and dubbed the city the nation's most livable.

Pittsburgh grew almost organically, sometimes as the result of political leadership, sometimes corporate vision -- and one success fed upon the other. The great transformation from steel production to education and medicine -- "eds and meds" -- took advantage of existing strengths and made them grander. Carnegie Mellon University quickly embraced the new computer age. The medical institutions, led by UPMC, today the region's biggest employer, went from strength to strength with inspired leadership.

These successes complemented other improvements: reclamation of the city's riverfronts for recreational purposes, the tapping of residential possibilities Downtown, a new highway to the north, a new subway system, new sports stadiums, a new airport, a Cultural District where once there had been sleaze. Taken together, these changes arrested population loss and brought young people to the city at last. How did Pittsburgh become so cool? All the above.

Congratulations, Pittsburgh, but don't stop there. A new age calls for new leadership in politics and business. Thirty years on, there's now confidence and hope to propel us forward.

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