Pittsburgh and the G-20
U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of the rest of the G-20 won't arrive in Pittsburgh for the summit until Thursday, but there's plenty of excitement in the air already. A flurry of last-minute road resurfacing projects wrapped up over the weekend. The first protest marches on Sunday went off without a serious hitch. For me, a native Pittsburgher, the sign that everything would be all right came Friday, when I saw the city's iconic fountain spouting again. The fountain at the Point, where the city's three rivers meet, has been shut down for renovations for many months, and will be again once the week is over. But showing off our city without its signature ornament is akin to wearing sweatpants to the plenary session, so the powers that be got it running again temporarily. The same can't be said for Market Square, a pleasant lunchtime gathering spot that was bulldozed two weeks ago. The official reason is a redesign that will be unveiled next year, but that seems an insufficient explanation to tear up one of the few places downtown where you can eat lunch under a tree. Some suspicious folks wonder if Market Square's transformation from park to construction zone is really a measure to deprive potential protesters of a natural congregating space in the heart of the central business district. Of course, nobody relishes the idea of rampaging hordes and smashed windows. There are understandable measures needed for security, not to mention expediting the arrival of 20 motorcades. We're still digesting the announcement last week that the entire downtown will be essentially closed to traffic for Thursday and Friday. But it's ultimately a fair trade for the good press Pittsburgh stands to garner. The city has become something of an adopted home base for Barack Obama. While the president has no ties to the city, he utterly captivated longtime Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a lifelong Republican, during the primaries. When the Steelers won the Super Bowl in early February, the normally taciturn Rooney praised Obama from the 50-yard line while holding up the Lombardi trophy. Rooney is now ambassador to Ireland. When Obama's spokesman announced Pittsburgh would host the G-20, the White House press corps broke out in guffaws. Pittsburghers are used to being the butt of jokes. The city, which visitors have often called one of the most stunning in North America, built such a reputation as an industrial giant in the early 20th century that its complete transformation in the last several decades is still news to people on the coasts. Something I do sense in Pittsburgh over the last decade, and the G-20 caps it beautifully, is that residents have finally shed an inferiority complex. Ten years ago, the thought of holding a major world summit in town would have struck many of us as bizarre. But today we get what those reporters at the White House still don't.
Mark Houser, a 2002 alum of GMF's American Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF), is the MMF coordinator in Pittsburgh and is assisting with the official media center downtown during the G-20.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.