In the nineties, Pittsburgh was the quintessential post-industrial rudderless rust belt city. A defining era of iron and steel production ended, taking 100,000 jobs with it, and pushing the unemployment rate to 18%. But the city managed to reinvent itself, and the Associated Press is giving regional grantmakers a lot of the credit (8/17/09 story here). In 1991, Teresa Heinz (chairwoman of the Heinz Endowments and Heinz Family Philanthropies) organized regional grantmakers around a concerted, comprehensive, and bold campaign to transform the city. The priorities were education reform, job creation in the healthcare and higher education sectors, and green technology. And today, according to the AP:
“Pittsburgh has more jobs than when steel peaked in 1979. The environment is cleaner; the economy is diverse; at 7.7 percent, poverty rates are nearly 2 percentage points lower than the nation’s and lower than the region’s 9.5 percent rate in 1990; construction is booming and it appears the population decline is stabilizing.”
Private philanthropy will never be a substitute for the public sector or private enterprise, but it is uniquely positioned to provoke new and bold thinking.