Stocks & Pedestal, Fall 2007
In the stocks: Polluted air
When we recall Pittsburgh’s old nickname, “The Smoky City,” we think of it as a pejorative description of a dirty, industrial place. But when Pittsburgh first got that appellation, in the still agrarian 19th century, it was a badge of honor. Smoke meant factories, and factories meant progress and wealth.
It wasn’t until decades later that too much smoke became a problem. Last summer, almost in the same week that Pittsburgh was again named “America’s Most Livable City,” the region was tagged by the American Lung Association as having the second-worst air in the nation. Only Los Angeles is worse.
For the past 15 years, the mantra around here has been that it’s not our fault — it’s the power plants west of us in the Ohio Valley. It’s the coke plant in Clairton. It’s always been this way. It’s not as bad as it used to be. Blah, blah, blah.
That is dead wrong. It is our problem. It is our hearts and lungs that are being damaged by asthma, heart disease and cancer — our lives that are being shortened.
Here’s an idea: Instead of collectively wasting our conversational energy on the misdirected and false “our young people are leaving” hysteria, let’s start demanding better air. You want a reason why young people or old people wouldn’t want to live here? Try bad air.
The situation’s unacceptable — get on the phone or stick your head out the window and yell: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
And then let’s follow up and change things.
On a pedestal: Festival of lights
A city becomes great when people do what’s necessary to make it great.
A few years ago, a family from Lyon, France, moved into Mt. Lebanon. Rich Sieber, head of communications and marketing at Duquesne Light, started talking with his new neighbors, and they told him about the lighting festival they have in Lyon. Hmm. Why not do it in Pittsburgh? Sieber wondered.
And he took it a step further. He contacted French lighting artist Lucette de Rugy. She came to Pittsburgh, and the ball was rolling. Sieber and Duquesne Light talked with the gang from Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass, and people started saying “Yes.”
The result was the summer’s exciting and fabulous project in which de Rugy and local lighting artist Rob Long lit facades on half a dozen Downtown edifices. We have one of the most beautiful Downtowns in America. Lighting our great buildings and architecture is a natural.
And it gets better. People asked, “Why not do it again?” More people said “Yes!” And now the Pittsburgh Festival of Lights is going to happen next summer too. And next year, the idea is for shop owners, restaurateurs and anyone who’s interested to get involved. Light your building. Light your awning. Go wild!
Our hats are off to Sieber, Duquesne Light, the Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass people and the foundations for getting this project going. Now, let’s see how far we can take it from here.