It has been oft-reported that when the White House announced that the upcoming G20 Summit would be held in Pittsburgh in September, some in the White House press corps snickered. The snickering was news in Pittsburgh for several print and TV news cycles. Maybe that small town, smoky city feeling is tough to overcome here.
Perhaps it’s surprising that some here in Pittsburgh, the City of Champions, home of the Super Bowl Steelers and the Stanley Cup Penguins, are a bit insecure about our city’s current place in the world. We are prone to perceive insults, and to detect snobbery of Big City press, like working class kids at a prep school party. We try to impress too hard sometimes, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s deputy chief of staff, Kristen Baginski, seemed a bit like that to me in her opening remarks at the International Bridge Conference, held last week in Pittsburgh.
She waxed about the opportunity presented by the upcoming G-20 Summit. “The G-20 is Pittsburgh’s opportunity to show itself to the world…Pittsburgh’s a city that’s been able to reinvent itself,” she said.
Which is in fact the point of the G-20 being held in Pittsburgh, and in a way, the same point was being made by the International Bridge Conference being held Here. Held in the award-winning, LEED-certified David L. Lawrence Convention Center, in the former industrial powerhouse Steel City (which could be the unofficial capital of the Rust Belt), the very presence of the engineers underscored Pittsburgh's success in transcending its past, and making the most of it. Indeed, that’s why the Obama administration chose Pittsburgh as the meeting place for some of the world’s most powerful leaders. The idea is to showcase the turnaround that Pittsburgh has been able accomplish since the dark days of mass layoffs in the early and mid-1980s.
The International Bridge Conference was being held in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the second time. It’s not hard to see why—the center staff caters to the needs of each conference, tailoring offerings for each group, with a warm Pittsburgh friendliness that echoes the welcoming nature of this neighborly city. Another obvious reason for the convention being held in Pittsburgh—also known as the City of Bridges for the thousands of bridges that traverse rivers, streams, creeks and hollows in the area—is the city’s pivotal and historic role in the bridge building and engineering industries.
It doesn’t hurt that the David L. Lawrence Convention Center provides sweeping views of both the cityscape and river-scape, giving the feeling, with its huge, sail-like windows, of a ship on the edge of the water. It is impressive, no doubt, and it also is the structure that led me to be a stringer for ENR magazine. Several years ago, in the wake of the collapse of the 13th truss being erected for the new convention center, ENR senior editor Richard Korman contacted me by phone to enlist me to cover the coroner’s inquest into the truss collapse, which killed ironworker Paul Corsi, Jr., 38, and injured two of his co-workers.
Covering part of the bridge conference (I have covered several conventions in the building for various publications over the years), it struck me how far our city has come. Now, we are no longer America’s best kept secret; The Economist says we’re simply the best place to be. The President says we’re a place to emulate, and a place study on how it rebounded from tough economic times.
More than 100 multiglobal companies are headquartered here or have a base here, Baginski said. “We’re a world-class city whose future is bright,” she said.