Feb 10, 2008

PGH: Culturally sophisticated or provincial backwater? (Both.)

Ø This tacit question was posed by Patricia Lowry in her op-ed article in today's Post-Gazette, entitled "Lost Art." She writes about the dilemma surrounding public art that was commissioned for the PGH International Airport in the early 1990s. Most of it has been eliminated or compromised in some way. One piece left untouched, "Silver Grid Wall" by Peter Calaboyias, was on the verge of being replaced with advertising, the powers that be deeming that move necessary to offset the huge drop in revenue (and 50% drop in air traffic since 1992) due primarily to US Airways major withdrawal from the airport in the past few years-- a virtual economic Katrina for the PGH area.

Oh, and none of the artists are in or from PGH.

Whether or not any conclusions can be drawn about PGH's level of sophistication as is indicated by the situation at the airport, the question of sophistication vs. provincialism could be extrapolated to the city and surrounding area. As a native recently returned to the area, I have been wrestling with the notion of what PGH has become during my 30-year absence. The progress it has made and the evolution that has occurred, coupled with setbacks and deterioration, is by turns enthralling and dispiriting, accompanied by lump-in-the-throat pride and how-could-they-let-this-happen bewilderment.

I see it everywhere.

Ø The Good, the Bad and the Casino - Two incomplete lists:

First, the Bad: The dreaded casino that will soon sully the North Shore; the new transit tunnel under the river, in practice really only to serve the casino and the two sports facilities that really could have been one facility doing double duty like Three Rivers easily did; the transit bus route cutbacks; the raping of Uptown and the Hill for yet another superfluous sports facility; the recent, laughable "Paris to Pittsburgh" cha-cha that sounds like a subplot in a Christopher Guest movie; the limping "Cultural District" that is akin to running a gauntlet between parking garages and the handful of theaters it comprises and then driving back to the 'burbs; the Parkway; downtown's parking rates that drain what little appeal the area has left in it.

The Good: Carnegie Museum (although overpriced when compared to other cities and the corresponding depth of their collection;) the Strip District; Squirrel Hill and its amazing ability to not allow Murray and Forward Avenues to become the charmless bore that Walnut St. in Shadyside has become; Bloomfield for its unshakable ability to remain a small town with a big heart; the State Stores in Monroeville and Fox Chapel and their extensive selection of wines that can calm the increasingly vocal criticism of the rightfully pilloried PLCB for even existing; Kennywood (jury convening to ascertain nuevo owners actions after the next season;) the rivers for their potential to enliven the area, this time from the points of view of recreation and natural beauty instead of their advantages of transport in service to industries of past eras; the potential of downtown to rise again and thrive (probably a generation away;) the music clubs of the Southside (special kudos to Club Cafe.)

As I've written before, PGH doesn't need to become like another city. All of the needed components are here. What has to take place must be in the form of leadership, vision, commitment and self-confidence as a city. These are the elements that shaped the area in the past, enabling it to grow into the mighty metropolis it once was. It can happen again.