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City of Pittsburgh Enjoys Its Days in the Sun

The former steel center in Pennsylvania has cleaned up its pollution. Now it is getting attention for its livability and healthy economy as it prepares to host a Group of 20 summit. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. This week on our program, we look at how times have changed for the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A writer once called it hell. Now Pittsburgh is hot, but in a good way.



Sixty years ago, Pittsburgh was known mainly for one thing. It was the capital of the American steel industry, then the world's mightiest. But then, one by one, the steel works closed as the industry shrank. Today two steel factories remain in Allegheny County; both are outside the city.

Pittsburgh has worked hard to rebuild itself -- and the world is taking notice.


President Obama will host a Group of Twenty summit in Pittsburgh on September twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth. The G-20 brings together nineteen countries and the European Union.

The leaders will discuss progress in efforts to deal with the world economic crisis. Earlier meetings took place in Washington and London.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced the Pittsburgh summit at the end of May. Reporters asked, why Pittsburgh?

ROBERT GIBBS: "I think it's an area that has seen its share of economic woes in the past, but because of foresight and investment is now renewed -- giving birth to renewed industries that are creating the jobs of the future. And I think the president believes it'd be a good place to highlight some of that stuff."

For example, the White House praised the city's use of environmentally friendly technology in its economic development. The summit will take place at a convention center recognized for leadership in energy and environmental design.

But that is not the only recognition Pittsburgh has received.


Last October, BusinessWeek magazine named Pittsburgh one of best places to live during a recession.

And, last month, the Brookings Institution in Washington listed the city among the twenty economically strongest in America. Pittsburgh earned eighteenth place as researchers pointed to a relatively stable economy based on higher education and health care.

Researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts recently looked at how thirteen American cities are trying to balance budgets in a time of recession. Pittsburgh was the only one not predicting a deficit for two thousand nine or ten. In fact, the city has a surplus.


Yet not long ago, in two thousand three, Pittsburgh was in financial crisis. The city came close to declaring bankruptcy. The report says Pittsburgh was forced to make many of the difficult decisions that other cities are facing now.

Over the last five years, the city has reduced its public workforce and taken other steps like closing fire stations and swimming pools. The Pew report said the city is in better financial health today as a result of the actions it took.

But the report noted that opinion is divided about who should get credit for the recovery. Some say local leaders. Others point to measures recommended by a state-appointed committee.

In any case, Britain's Economist magazine recently named Pittsburgh the most livable city in the United States. As for the world, that honor went to the Canadian city of Vancouver.



Pittsburgh city leaders are understandably happy about all this good publicity. But they are protesting one recent listing that is not so good.

The American Lung Association said Pittsburgh was last in the nation in one of three measures of air quality. The group's recent "State of the Air" report said Pittsburgh has the worst short-term fine particle pollution in the country.

City officials say the report is misleading and unfair. They point out that the finding was based on one air measurement taken in an industrial town that is not even in Pittsburgh.

A spokeswoman for the mayor's office, Joanna Dovan, says the Pittsburgh area has been working to improve its air quality. The number of particles in the air has been reduced. But experts say it is still too high and Pittsburgh has more work to do.


Pittsburgh is located in western Pennsylvania in the area where three rivers meet -- the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio. More than two million people live in the Pittsburgh area. Three hundred ten thousand live in the city itself.

The most recent numbers show that Pittsburgh lost almost two thousand people between two thousand seven and two thousand eight.

City officials hope the G-20 meeting in September will attract more people to Pittsburgh. Joanna Dovan from the mayor's office says it is true that the city now has its lowest population of the past ten years. But she notes that the losses have slowed. As many as five thousand people left the city each year between two thousand and two thousand six.

Special efforts are being made to keep young families. For example, a program called Pittsburgh Promise offers college scholarships for graduates of the city public schools.

The city has many colleges and universities. The best known include Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.



Pittsburgh is led by America's youngest big-city mayor. Luke Ravenstahl was just twenty-seven when he won a special election in two thousand seven. The former mayor had died in office.

In Pittsburgh, Democrats such as Mayor Ravenstahl heavily outnumber Republicans. In fact, Pittsburgh has not had a Republican mayor in more than seventy years.

Like many American cities, Pittsburgh was built on the hard work of immigrants. The ancestors of many of today's Pittsburghers came from all over Europe to work in the iron and steel factories.

Pittsburgh produced huge amounts of steel in factories built near the rivers. But these steel mills also produced huge amounts of pollution. Brown and green liquid flowed into the water and black smoke filled the sky.

The nineteenth-century English writer Anthony Trollope called Pittsburgh the blackest city he ever saw. In eighteen sixty-eight, the American writer James Parton called it "hell with the lid off."


One reason Pittsburgh became the world's leading producer of steel was Andrew Carnegie. He came to Pittsburgh from Scotland in eighteen forty-eight at the age of just thirteen. In time, he started the Carnegie Steel Company and built it into the biggest in the world.

Andrew Carnegie became one of the wealthiest men in history. The steel industry made other Pittsburgh citizens rich, too. One was another Andrew -- Andrew Mellon, a banker who provided money for the industry.

But not everyone became rich. In eighteen ninety-two, workers at a Carnegie Steel mill in the nearby town of Homestead went on strike. They objected when management tried to lower their pay.

The strikers battled with private guards hired by the company. Several people were killed. Finally the state governor sent National Guard troops who took control in Homestead. The end of the strike was a big setback for the steelworkers union.


For years, even as other industries moved to Pittsburgh, steel mills continued to poison the air. During one week in nineteen forty-eight, poisonous air in a nearby town killed twenty people and sickened six thousand others.

City leaders recognized that the situation could not continue. So they began a clean-up campaign. They called it the Renaissance Project. A second redevelopment project was launched in the nineteen seventies. Much of the downtown area was rebuilt. And there was another strong period of building in the nineties and beyond.


Over the years, when its sports teams have done well, Pittsburgh has been called the "City of Champions." Two of its major teams are the current champions of their leagues. The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in the National Football League. And the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League.

The city is also known for its arts tradition. Veronica Corpuz is public relations director for Pittsburgh's Cultural District. She says the arts in Pittsburgh have generally done well even in the recession. The Cultural District is a fourteen block area of downtown that includes public spaces, art galleries and six major theaters.

One of these, the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, is home to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Pittsburgh Opera. Another, Heinz Hall, is where the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performs.

Pittsburgh even has a well-known dinosaur collection. It is housed at the Carnegie Museum, which has both an art museum and a museum of natural history.

Now, looking to the future and the upcoming G-20 summit, Pittsburgh is preparing for a chance to show the world how much the city has changed.



Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.