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Businesses The Almighty Buck Technology

Pittsburgh Gets a Tech Makeover (nytimes.com) 40

An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2015, Monocle magazine, a favorite read of the global hipsterati, published an enthusiastic report on Lawrenceville, the former blue-collar neighborhood here filled with cafes, hyped restaurants and brick rowhouses being renovated by flippers. Last year, in a much-publicized development, Uber began testing self-driving cars on the streets, putting this city at the forefront of the autonomous-vehicle revolution. Also last year, in a less publicized development, Jean Yang, 30, returned to this city after more than a decade of living in Boston, finding a Pittsburgh she hardly recognized from her 1990s childhood. And four months ago, Caesar Wirth, a 28-year-old software engineer, moved from Tokyo to work for a local tech start-up, Duolingo. These seemingly unrelated events have one thing in common: Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science. Much has been made of the "food boom" in Pittsburgh, and the city has long had a thriving arts scene. But perhaps the secret, underlying driver for both the economy and the cool factor -- the reason Pittsburgh now gets mentioned alongside Brooklyn and Portland, Ore., as an urban hot spot for millennials -- isn't chefs or artists but geeks. In a 2014 article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mayor Bill Peduto compared Carnegie Mellon, along with the University of Pittsburgh, to the iron ore factories that made this city an industrial power in the 19th century. The schools are the local resource "churning out that talent" from which the city is fueled. Because of the top students and research professors at Carnegie Mellon, tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Uber have opened offices here. The big tech firms, along with their highly skilled, highly paid workers, have made Pittsburgh younger and more international and helped to transform once-derelict neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and East Liberty. Indeed, East Liberty has become something of a tech hub, said Luis von Ahn, the co-founder and chief executive of Duolingo, a language-learning platform company with its headquarters in that neighborhood. Google Pittsburgh, with its more than 500 employees, also has part of its offices in East Liberty, as does AlphaLab, a start-up accelerator.
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Pittsburgh Gets a Tech Makeover

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  • ...and it's generally tech-heavy audience, probably can't hurt, either.
    • I"m waiting for someone to start bitching about all the displaced poor folks due to gentrification and all costs of living going up in the city....

      Economic driven disenfranchisement....did I just come up with a new term??

      I dunno why folks get so upset about this, moving those types of people and their poverty stricken, derelict neighborhoods, rids cities of crime....you can't have both in the same place.

      Waiting for the SJW's complaints on this in 10...9...8...7...6....

      • You'd think the the SJW types would applaud these neighborhoods becoming more diverse.

        • You'd think the the SJW types would applaud these neighborhoods becoming more diverse.

          Nah..they only like it when white neighborhoods get darker.....not the other way around.

  • by fadethepolice ( 689344 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @01:01PM (#54867869) Journal
    Got sucked into Pittsburgh during the great recession. First time I heard of an Uber self driving car, I saw it drive by me. Read about it on the internet a week later. It's not just the tech startups either, there are some large legacy sites like the BAE campus that is hiring all kind of talent, and the pressure on the shale gas / oil industry has forced them to automate the shit out of everything in order to compete with the OPEC export cuts. Which have failed. LOL They tried to out capitalism the USA.
  • The tech resurgence has also brought work for a lot of older tech talent that had concentrated in contract engineering and such here after the heavy manufacturing closed down. Lots of the sort of engineering support work such as in construction and indi=ustrial engineering stuck around here, just working for out of town contracts are being rejuvenated by the re-use and reconstruction happening here! Yes, it's hilly, yes, the streets are cramped, yes, it's cloudy and rainy a lot, even perhaps more than Seat
  • They have authentic Chinese cuisine and the most delightful people. Totally undiscovered too. There is a tattoo parlor run by authentic locals that offers a free jar of mustache wax with every tattoo!

  • Good for Pittsburgh (Score:4, Informative)

    by enjar ( 249223 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @01:42PM (#54868173) Homepage
    My mother's family is extensive in the Pittsburgh area. My grandfather and uncle worked in the mills, my grandmother worked in the mills during WWII. After the steel industry collapsed, the town was largely written off for dead, but there are some people who love the town and its history and have worked hard to get it back on track. Good to see their efforts paying off. On the plus side, Pittsburgh has a lot of things that people like in a city: major sports franchises, good universities (CMU has a looooong history!), local color. Pittsburgh also has four seasons and the surrounding area has a lot going for people who like four season outdoor pursuits -- hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing, etc. There's some unique mixing from all the people who worked in the mills over the years. Housing can be very reasonable versus other cities. There is an international airport there, too. Of course, there are downsides: there is still a lot of straight up poverty, the winter can suck if you don't like snow/cold, the city is still is very much in "recovery" mode, PA has weird liquor laws. But as someone who works in tech, I'd not just turn down an offer from there any more outright given the better press it's been getting and reports from people who have lived there in the last few years.
  • Stanford had Silicon Valey. MIT had Rt 128. But CMU largely missed the bus. Some flickerings (Fore Systems) but nothing took hold.

    But CMU's steady investment in robotics is paying off. All those autonomous vehicle projects of the 1990s and 2000s looked like castles in the air. But now it has become hot.

    It also coincides with "return to urban centers" movement. All those 100 year old neighborhoods are designed for living before the proliferation of automobiles, designed mostly for walking and for street cars. These youngsters love them, bidding up prices of dilapidated 100 year old ammunition dumps and garment factory warehouses beyond 400,000. You know you have arrived when you see a vegan restaurant specializing in Eastern European cuisine housed in a 120 year old street house.

    • It also coincides with "return to urban centers" movement.

      It's more than that. It's a general trends for cities with a certain mix of ingredients (universities, trade, enough mass) that are getting the big winz. Check Enrico Moretti The New Geography of Jobs [amazon.com].

      These trends have been occurring everywhere on the planet, even in poor countries. We have just been slow to recognize it (and thus capitalize on the advantages and to deal with the human cost in cities and towns that cannot make the transition.)

    • CMU -- and Pitt, the other side of Panther Hollow -- has had their own backyard for decades. Issue is it's finally getting connected with the current growing industries. What was keeping this from happening? All you need to do is look at the name of the university. The old money descendants of both the Carnegie and Mellon families have been accused of holding back local business growth for fear of new money overshadowing these old steel mill families in local politics and sheer wealth. IMO, it is not a
  • by Topwiz ( 1470979 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:12PM (#54868953)

    The Pirates are the ones in need of a makeover.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @03:57PM (#54869307) Journal

    Although it apparently ended in 2001, Pittsburgh may still be benefiting from land value tax. Improvements were taxed less than land, which encourages development in the city. Even with that tax regime no longer in place, the building it encouraged will be there for decades. At some point, you have a glut of buildings perhaps; but then people find that attractive and move in. People have rediscovered the value of cities, and that helps too. Yes, the geeks and artists are there; but *why* did they start coming in the first place? Having CMU as an anchor certainly helps; but Boston has great universities... and housing that's way too expensive.

  • Big difference (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PeeAitchPee ( 712652 ) on Monday July 24, 2017 @05:20PM (#54869965)

    My grandfather worked the famous Jones & Laughlin Steel open hearth furnaces across the river from what is now CMU's technology park. He worked there for over forty years until he was laid off in the 1970s. In those days, the big steel mills employed many thousands of workers and paid them well -- these were dangerous jobs that required hard physical work every day, and indeed J & L and others like it provided blue-collar, middle class Americans with a career and long term job security. He put five kids thru college working there. I grew up hearing stories of the sky being red all night every night because of the mills, and that was a great thing because "men are working." And it was -- at its peak, about 15% of US domestic steel production traveled over the Hot Metal Bridge. Most of us cannot even comprehend the magnitude of a manufacturing facility like that.

    I love Pittsburgh, but as cool as it is, the tech rebirth on the river won't create the same number of jobs as back in the day, and certainly not for ordinary Americans like my ancestors. The steel jobs are all gone -- outsourced and out-regulated (for better or for worse). In J & L's case, as with many others, when the US rebuilt Europe and Japan after WWII, our former enemies ended up with better technology than we had domestically -- and that was the beginning of the end. That work is not coming back to the US, regardless of what anyone -- politicians, unions, or anyone else -- says, does, or hopes. Mainstream, normal people aren't going to put five kids thru college because of CMU's new ventures -- only those select few who actually get to work there (and good for them -- talent and hard work should be rewarded). Don't get me wrong -- I think it is fantastic that the Burgh is reinventing itself as a technology center -- but it's not the same, and never will be the same, as it was at its peak of industry.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "... hyped restaurants and brick rowhouses being renovated by flippers."

    Damn, as an old fart, now I can't get that picture of an annoying, real-estate selling dolphin out of my head.

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