- Historic Sites
Iron Man Meets Mr. Clean
What Rust Belt? Pittsburgh shows how a city can lose its industry but retain its soul.
September 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 5
Such constant striving for improvement is what Pittsburgh has always been about. As early as the 1850s a traveler wrote: “There is a perfect mania here for improvements. Every day somebody commences to tear down an old house and put up a new one with an iron front.” By the 1880s civic leaders were trying, with mixed success, “to correct architectural formlessness, to abate the smoke nuisance, and to improve housing and traffic conditions.” During its long industrial heyday the city’s discoveries and innovations in technology and finance were copied around the globe.
Today, having achieved a successful balance of urban bustle and smalltown intimacy, Pittsburgh continues its restless pursuit of livability. Through it all, the region’s eternal verities—family, church, the Steelers—have retained their hold on the populace, making for the sort of stability that quality-of-life surveys love. Yet stable as it is, Pittsburgh is a safe bet to keep on changing. The city’s history illustrates a basic truth that Andy Warhoi knew and the steel industry forgot: To be a success, you have to keep redefining yourself.