Pittsburgh, A city in Transition

2013-2014 | Academic Conference Paper
3rd Think Space Unconference, Zagreb, Croatia

Money and space are tightly intertwined in a continuous loop of cause and effect. Urbanization and creation of space serve as medium of absorption of capital surplus and on the counter flow, urban development create more surplus value while changing spaces and increasing land value. David Harvey in his book Rebel Cities describes how the forces of capital accumulation, along with structures of class status and state power, continuously look for creation of new urban space as a way to absorb the surplus capital. That is prominent during times of economic crisis, when urbanization and construction booms come to place to create a new target of capital absorption, particularly in places in transition, like Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh went from producing as much as half of the US needs in steel in 1900s to a declining post-industrial city with great environmental issues. Over the last decades, the city’s economic base has shifted to education and health care, with investments from private corporations. At the same time, Pittsburgh neighborhoods thrive in bottom up initiatives that transform the urban space in the micro-scale of local communities.

Therefore we need to understand who are the ones in charge of the changes and development in cities? Who is handling the “urban growth machine”? Harvey presents the alliance of bankers, developers and construction industry to be pulling the strings of how, when, where, and under which terms urban development happens. Basically, the “urban growth machine” consists of those who have the money to invest in the “urban factory”. To comprehend the proportions, in 2007, the poorest bottom 40% of the American citizens, a little less than half the U.S population, possessed only 0.2% of the country’s total wealth. On the flip side, the top 20% possessed the 85% of the total wealth. That means that at most 20% of the citizens in US, decide how the urban spaces and cities are being formed in the country. In other words, those few define the everyday urban life as we know it today.


So, the question is how do people reclaim their “right to the city”? Lefebvre introduces the term of the right to the city in 1968, as the citizens’ “demand for a transformed and renewed access to urban life”. Harvey on the other hand describes it as the human right to transform our cities and ourselves. So how can this urban regeneration and transformation happen by the citizens for themselves and not for serving the market? What are the social structures that need to be formed to promote the citizens’ and communities’ welfare instead of the financial benefits of the few? This paper will review the main concepts presented in the book Rebel Cities, and test them within the context of Pittsburgh. The paper will present the community structures and trends that are currently transforming Pittsburgh and will indent to identify areas for change.

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