Hidden Mt. Lebanon thought number six is this:
In almost every significant respect, culturally Mt. Lebanon is a microcosm of Pittsburgh.
To a lot of people both living in Lebo and living elsewhere in the region, that's counterintuitive. What about Lebo's high average household income? (It is clearly higher than the regional average.) What about the great schools? (They are very, very good.) What about the leafy streets and the friendly neighbors? (Not uniquely Mt. Lebanon, however.) What about the stereotypical Mt. Lebanite holier-than-thou attitude and the stereotypical Dad-works-Downtown-while-Mom-manages-PTA family unit? (Stereotypes are made to be broken down.)
Set those things aside.
Mt. Lebanon shares two key things -- very important things -- with the City of Pittsburgh and with the Pittsburgh region.
One is a collection of extraordinary cultural assets. Mt. Lebanon has the people, the money, and the other raw materials needed to make itself into a sparkling jewel of a little town. It's a very nice town right now, but it's on the sleepy side. Lots of folks like the fact that it's on the sleepy side. Some folks would like a bit more blood pumping through those arteries. There's an interesting dialogue going on between groups invested in those two points of view, and I can't predict the outcome. But that dialogue is going to get increasingly public (on this blog, among other places), and while the tone is likely to remain respectful (I hope), not everyone is going to be comfortable with everything that gets said. Some of the dialogue has been and will be about the future of commerce in Lebo; some of it has been and will be about art and other culture, education and recreation.
The City of Pittsburgh and the region as a whole likewise benefit from some extraordinarly assets. Compared to metro areas of roughly the same size, not to mention larger ones, it's dirt cheap to live here. "Livability," even on recent surveys of dubious validity, is high. We have high quality institutions of higher education turning out the raw materials of the businesses of the future -- technology, art, people -- and we have a well-educated and hard-working population waiting to assemble them and move forward. There is lots of (private) money locally to be invested.
Two is a paralyzing anxiety about the future, even while everyone recognizes that it has to happen. This is reflected in at least two ways, both of which show up in Mt. Lebanon as well as in broader Pittsburgh. There is the "glass-half-empty" mentality, which keeps people from taking risks and initiating change. Pittsburgh doesn't make it easy to start and grow and finance new businesses and other new enterprises. Pittsburgh doesn't welcome the critique of the status quo that begins, "This would be better if . . . " (In fact, Pittsburgh doesn't handle criticism well under any circumstances!) Pittsburgh doesn't deal well with provocation, or with risk. All of this is true of Mt. Lebanon. And there is simple though innocent ignorance of the skill set that is required to move past or around or through that fear. Living in the Bay Area and then living near Boston, I arrived in Pittsburgh armed with the naive assumption that anyone with more than a year or two in business would understand that to start and grow a new business, and to energize the beginning and growth of related businesses, you have to construct a not-very-elaborate network: Innovators and entrepreneurs. Idea people (inventors, artists, others). Real estate people. Investors. Accountants. Lawyers who understand how to link them together. There are lots of each of those in Pittsburgh -- and in Mt. Lebanon. Yet my naive assumption was entirely wrong. I've had countless conversations both in Lebo and in Pittsburgh with successful individuals in each of these groups: If you want to get the community up and moving, this is who you have to talk to; this is what you have to do. It's an Introductory course in getting-a-city-moving.
I'm optimistic that anxiety about the future of Pittsburgh is receding, that fear is being slowly replaced by hope, and that local networks -- both in Pittsburgh and in Mt. Lebanon -- are forming and getting traction. I mention my piece of getting-a-city-moving only as an example; others do this much more than I do and, I hope, do it much more effectively. I just write about it from time to time. At a meeting in the City last night, a group of us concluded that the way to stop worrying about Pittsburgh's famous insecurity was to stop worrying about Pittsburgh's famous insecurity.
If things are nice now, just wait until they get better. Because they can, and I hope that they will.
[For the first post in this series -- on the centrality of children and dogs in Mt. Lebanon -- click here
[For the second post in this series -- on the Fourth of July celebration in Mt. Lebanon -- click here
[For the third post in this series -- on the status economy -- click here
[For the fourth post in this series -- on high school football -- click here
[For the fifth post in this series -- on the Lebo Bubble -- click here
Labels: hidden Mt. Lebanon