Sunday Forum / After the G-20: What now?
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The world's leaders and their delegates left town more than a week ago. We and our neighbors have gone back to work, back to our routines. What now? Did the G-20 summit make a difference for our community?
A theme embedded in Pittsburgh's DNA is one we rarely recall: "To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success."
H.J. Heinz gave us this great quote after he put tomato paste in a glass bottle so it could not be infected by bacteria or ruined by wooden splinters.
Without the financial power of a New York City or the political power of a Washington, D.C., we in Pittsburgh still find people beating a path to our doorway because they want to find out how we do common things uncommonly well.
We can be rightly proud of our evolution from an industrial- to a service-based economy with strengths in high technology, health care and education. We can feel good about our transition from a land of dust and smoke to one of green hills and blue skies. These are the reasons President Barack Obama cited in bringing the G-20 to Pittsburgh.
But sometimes it seems as though we have become too taken with our story, and too complacent about our future. It is time to re-invent ourselves again.
We know Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have fewer people than we had a couple of decades ago. We have debated our so-called brain drain long enough.
Now we must expand our businesses and provide attractive jobs for our university graduates. We must welcome diversity, tapping the talents of all those who live here and all those who might like to.
We have transformed brown fields to green. Now we must change the complexion of our region by attracting immigrants, just as we did during our industrial revolution. We need all sources of intellectual capital.
We should ask such questions as why we have not attracted our share of America's Latinos. Why members of the Indian community have too seldom been invited into positions of regional influence. Why we have not provided more opportunity to more African Americans?
I believe the G-20 summit was a wake-up call. Is it too presumptuous to think of ours as a world-class city? Have we not created a model of city life that bears emulation elsewhere?
Pittsburgh is no longer one of the world's best-kept secrets. During G-20 week, international media spread our story near and far. The world has noticed what we've done, and we need to capture the moment before it passes. This cannot just be Pittsburgh's 15 minutes of fame, even if it is Andy Warhol's hometown.
If one of our major advantages is "location, location, location," then one of our top priorities should be "people, people, people." We need to exploit every possible resource to enhance the lives and lifestyle of the people of Pittsburgh.
We can do this only by assuring at least a high school education for every citizen and by doubling the percentage of local residents who have either two- or four-year college degrees. We must invest more in new enterprises and new jobs. We must strengthen our families and deepen our faith-based and nonprofit endeavors. Outsiders should be welcomed as if they were our next best friends. It is incumbent on our political, government and religious leaders to create an atmosphere where these things can happen.
Young people today are becoming known as the "global generation." They are growing up without the same sense of borders that we had in our youth. They think of the world as small and contracting, with a burgeoning population and declining resources. They know climate change is real, while our generation still debates the issue. They don't want economic systems that saddle them with debt or spew pollution and greenhouse gases. Their home is the world, and Pittsburgh will just be a city where they might choose to live.
In the competition among large U.S. metro areas, we have done well because we have re-invented ourselves more often and more effectively than most others. But the next Pittsburgh Renaissance is not about buildings or institutions or clean air, but rather about people. It is about diversity. It is about recognizing and nurturing a globally conscious citizenry.
If we imagine Pittsburgh as one of the finest places on the planet and are confident that we can do common things uncommonly well, we will succeed where others fail, simply because there are more common things to do.
First Published October 4, 2009 12:00 am