America's "Most Livable City"?

This spring, the 25th Anniversary Edition of the Place Rated Almanac, by David Savageau, heralded Pittsburgh as the best metropolitan area in the United States. Each of the metro areas, according to Savageau, “is rated and ranked on nine factors that influence the quality of a place: ambiance, housing, the local economy, transportation, education, health care, crime, recreation and climate.”

While the book is only in it’s seventh edition, this is not the first time Pittsburgh was touted as America’s “Most Livable City.” Savageau also ranked the city number one in 1985. While city officials are ecstatic about the return to the top, local community and academic organizations offer a few words of caution.

Among these is Ralph Bangs, associate director of University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems, which this June published a study entitled Pittsburgh's Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities. The Center begs the question: America’s most livable city for whom?

The Center does many studies comparing the quality of life in Pittsburgh to that of other urban areas in the country. According to Bangs, “what we know about Pittsburgh is that the quality of life of Whites who live here is somewhat below average compared to Whites in other urban areas. And the quality of life for Blacks is far below average compared to the quality of life of Blacks in other urban areas.”

Bangs noted that the poor economy explains the below average life quality for Whites. However, more severe disparities affect Blacks in Pittsburgh who are hit with discrimination and other social problems on top of the local economy.

Ironically, it is the same poor economy that results in a low-general quality of life that is in part responsible for Pittsburgh’s ranking as the “most livable city” in America. According to Bangs, Pittsburgh gives off a “false sense that this is the most livable city” because negative factors like “the lack of jobs and the slow growth in the economy…are producing a couple of positive factors, low crime rate and low housing cost.”

A coalition of churches and community groups held a press conference on July 19, at the Kingsley Association in Wilkinsburg, to address the disparities in the so-called “most livable city in America.”

Nate Brown of OneHOOD welcomed the crowd to “Clipsburgh, Pistolvania.” Brown said this is what the youth in the cities lower-income, black neighborhoods are calling Pittsburgh, and with good reason.

Brown contrasted the economic disparities of the lower-income, Black neighborhood where he grew up with a nearby middle/upper-income, white neighborhood. Brown explained that while the latter may be America’s “most livable city,” the former is “Clipsburgh, Pistolvania.”

Noting that poor neighborhoods bring about poor schools, and poor schools bring about poor education, and a poor education brings about poor jobs, Brown pointed out the cycle of institutional and systemic problems affecting Pittsburgh’s Black and lower-income neighborhoods that work to keep those neighborhoods poor.

Pittsburgh Independent Media Center’s Rustbelt Radio contributed to this report.

(First published in The NewPeople, September 2007)