Connect to share and comment

The world arrives in the 'city of bridges'

G20 leaders look to cross troubled waters of the global economy.

PITTSBURGH — This city is not London, Berlin, Beijing or Sao Paolo. But Pittsburgh is a quintessential American city that has come back stunningly from the ashes of steel mills and heavy industry.

So, it is an apt place for President Obama to have picked for the meeting of the G20, an assemblage of some of the world’s most sophisticated leaders who bunked in the above-mentioned cities for previous G20 gatherings, taking in the international style and flavor of those places.

“Pittsburgh stands as a bold example of how to create new jobs and industries while transitioning to a 21st-century economy,” said President Barack Obama in a statement issued Sept. 8, thanking the “city of bridges” for opening itself to the upcoming influx of diplomats, press and protesters.

“As a city that has transformed itself from the city of steel to a center for high-tech innovation— including green technology, education and training, and research and development — Pittsburgh will provide both a beautiful backdrop and a powerful example of our work.”

It also will offer what is known hereabouts as an “authentic,” local experience, where an emphasis on sports, prodigious amounts of food, and streets that are as gritty as the city itself will greet visitors. This is a place that could have been left for dead like Detroit or Youngstown. It had been described as "hell with the lid off" because of the smoke, soot, and brimstone coming from the steel mills that lined its riverbanks. But over the past 30 years, there has been an economic rebirth of Pittsburgh built around health care, technology, and education.

It has built shiny new houses and parks atop slag heaps. It has put a glittery shopping pavilion in a place where there were once smokestacks. It houses a medical behemoth that has hospitals and research centers strung throughout western Pennsylvania and the world. It has enough arts and culture to keep the average resident busy every night of the week. It has preserved breathtaking commercial architecture that rivals some European cities. It cares as much about bike trails as it does about its cityscape ballpark. It is also true, however, that Pittsburgh is above all a place where the priorities are threefold: the Pittsburgh Steelers (six-time Super Bowl champions); the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey club (three-time winners of the Stanley Cup in the last two decades); and University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball (a perennial top-20 team).These teams form the heart of civic conversation and, in some respects, drive development for good or bad.

This is why when delegates hit the streets downtown after those mind-bendingly serious sessions on world finance, they will see a city dressed cheerfully in uniform. This is not the uniform of commerce — suit, tie, wingtips — but the wardrobe of whatever team is playing that day, week or, for that matter, season.

It might be the blue and gold of the Pitt basketball team, the distinctive yellow and gold of the Steelers football team, or the crisp power blue and white of the Penguins’ special uniform. This is to show solidarity with these winning teams and, not so incidentally, to avoid wearing proper work clothes.

So be forewarned, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Berlusconi: When you emerge from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center you will see hordes of locals wearing replica uniforms of Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger. That’s because the G20 wraps up only 48 hours before the Steelers are to play the Minnesota Vikings.