Pittsburgh: A Brief History
Originally occupied by the Shawnee and Delaware tribes, Pittsburgh had become the center of a contest between the British and French empires for control of North America by the mid 18th century. Each nation built forts at the Pittsburgh Point where the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela forms the Ohio.
Developing initially as a commercial city in the 19th century, Pittsburgh became one of the nation's greatest industrial cities, notable for its glass, iron, steel, aluminum, and railroad equipment production. Cheap energy from local deposits of bituminous coal and river and rail transportation were essential elements in its rise. Pittsburgh entrepreneurs such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew W. Mellon supplied the business acumen that drove its progress. Labor conditions in the city's industries, however, were often brutal, and the city suffered from some of the nation's most severe labor disturbances. By the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s, steel markets and production had shifted westward and Pittsburgh had begun a long decline as an industrial leader. While wartime demands boosted Pittsburgh industry temporarily, at the end of World War II the city suffered from industrial decline, heavy smoke pollution, deteriorated housing and infrastructure, and poor municipal services.
In 1945, business and political leaders, led by banker Richard King Mellon and Democratic Mayor David L. Lawrence, launched what became known as the Pittsburgh "Renaissance," the world's first attempt to renew a major industrial city. The Renaissance was the product of a unique public-private partnership that combined public power with private funding. The movement focused on the goals of environmental improvement, downtown renewal, and transportation revitalization. The city conducted significant urban renewal projects in the Lower Hill and elsewhere, removing slums but also causing major social dislocations.
Renaissance I lasted approximately two decades, followed by a period of limited development, as the public-private coalition fell apart. In 1977, however, newly-elected Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri restored the partnership and launched Renaissance II which aided the neighborhoods and continued downtown renewal. Even though the steel industry collapsed during Caliguiri's administration, wiping out more than 125,000 manufacturing jobs, Pittsburgh's downtown remained viable, and service employment grew during the 1980s.
Since the 1980s, public and private leadership have struggled to reduce urban decline, stem population loss, and revitalize both city and region through high tech, education, and medical initiatives. In addition, old industrial sites, or brownfields, especially along the rivers, are being developed for various purposes, including shopping malls, technology parks, and combined commercial/retail/ residential districts. Especially notable are Washington's Landing, a redeveloped industrial island with residential and commercial clusters and excellent public spaces, Nine Mile Run ("Summerset"), a New Urbanism residential development with a major "green corridor" built on an old slag heap, and the Pittsburgh Technology Center and the South Side Works (a retail/restaurant cluster), each constructed on space formerly occupied by the Jones & Laughlin Iron & Steel Company on opposite sides of the Monongahela River.
City and county government, along with Pittsburgh area foundations and non-profit special-purpose organizations, have been focusing their efforts on constructing recreational facilities along the rivers, creating a regional trail network, building new stadiums, and expanding and redesigning the convention center. Manufacturing in the region continues to decline; today, the city's largest employers are the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the institutions of higher education. Promising, however, is the existence of a number of high-tech initiatives, primarily stimulated by CMU and Pitt's expertise in computer science, robotics, tissue engineering, and biotechnology. In addition, a vigorous movement is underway to construct "green buildings" and install green roofs, and today Pittsburgh has more LEED-certified buildings than any other city in the nation.