When it was announced that the G-20 summit would be held in Pittsburgh, some in the national press corps chuckled; others raised their brows. It’s the first time the summit has not been held in a capital city. Why?
On one hand, with the world’s economy in turmoil, it would seem to make perfect sense for its leaders to come here. Outside of New York and Boston, our federal government relies on few other cities as much as Pittsburgh for top-level economic insight, the kind found in abundance at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.
The real reason for the choice of Pittsburgh can be traced to the Pennsylvania primary, usually a meaningless tally of delegates after the nominations are well in hand. Last year, however, Pennsylvania mattered, and the ultimate winner, Barack Obama, spent a great deal of time here.
He got to know the region, and he got to know our people. Among them was Dan Rooney, who not only made a Steelers fan of the would-be president, he pointed out our green Convention Center, which became a key factor in the G-20 decision.
Pittsburgh’s green reputation is growing and destined to continue. In September, construction begins on the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscape, the project to build the world’s first living building. The chief catalyst for the greening of Pittsburgh has been the Heinz Endowments, among the nation’s earliest leaders in promoting sustainability.
There’s no denying that the G-20 is the capstone of a tremendous year for Pittsburgh. The Steelers and the Penguins brought home world championships. The region is hailed during these tough times as an international model of how to rebuild a vital, diversified economy. Pittsburgh was again ranked the nation’s Most Livable City by Rand McNally. And in its ranking of the world’s best places to live, The Economist magazine chose Pittsburgh as the top American city. In the view of the great ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the ideal city had a number of attributes. One was that it had to be of a manageable size. And while Pittsburgh is much larger than any in Plato’s time, it is Pittsburgh’s relatively small size that gets to the heart of why it is what it is.
In Pittsburgh, people feel responsible for their city. They’re involved, and they see the fruits of their efforts. In Pittsburgh, the social fabric is intact. Pittsburghers know each other and treat each other accordingly.
Is Pittsburgh perfect? Hardly, but it has always been a place of striving. And unlike the largest U.S. cities, it is a place that is perfectable. It is a place of tremendous assets in education, medicine, arts, philanthropy and business. And it is a place where the people identify with the city and build its future.
So in the final analysis, the real credit for bringing the G-20 to Pittsburgh lies with a countless number of Pittsburghers. For the past 30 years, they—we—have believed in and worked toward building our own ideal city, a new Pittsburgh.