by Alexis Madrigal
Pittsburgh has proven fertile soil for new companies, but the startup mentality may meet its match in a real town’s legacy problems.
Pittsburgh is a great place to investigate the possibilities of a start-up led urban resurgence because of all the cities between the coast and Chicago, it’s the one that’s farthest along the path towards techdom. It’s got a world-leading research institution that focuses on artificial intelligence. Because the steel mills collapsed so quickly and so thoroughly, its leaders were forced to put together a long-term plan for the city’s future.
The mentality that dominates startup culture is all about efficiency. Finding better, cheaper, faster ways of doing things. There’s nothing lean, though, about providing mental health services or soup kitchens for starving people. I wonder how well such a worldview can deal with the legacy problems of big cities. I think the jury is out. But judging from the sheer magnitude of startup experiments across the whole Rust Belt, we’re going to have a lot more data soon. I’m rooting for Pittsburgh to become that model of development. Because if they can’t do it, I’m not sure anybody can.