Pennsylvania 14th District
The Golden Triangle is the inevitable focus of Pittsburgh, the tip of land where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers come together to form the Ohio. It has been a strategic site for more than 200 years. During the French and Indian War, British Gen. Edward Braddock’s army was heading to Fort Duquesne, with George Washington helping lead the way, when it was ambushed and famously defeated in 1754. A few years later, the first American city west of the Appalachian chain was carved out of the wilderness and named after the English statesman William Pitt. Pittsburgh grew rapidly in the days when most of the nation’s commerce moved over water. When railroads became ascendant, Pittsburgh still did nicely, since rail lines tend to run along the riverside rather than scaling mountains. Then came Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant working as a telegrapher for the Pennsylvania Railroad who foresaw that steel would replace iron for railroad bridges. He built a steel factory in Pittsburgh, which was then not much more than a rail junction but one blessed with ready deposits of coal and access to iron ore from the Great Lakes. With associates like Henry Clay Frick and Henry Phipps, Carnegie built his capacity to the point that when he sold out in 1901, the resulting U.S. Steel Corporation held a near-monopoly.
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The Pittsburgh that Carnegie and his steel men built was one of giant mills in the bottomlands along the rivers and massive buildings downtown, such as H.H. Richardson’s classic stone City-County Building. There were once 12 cable cars going up the Duquesne Incline and other routes connecting mills with the neighborhoods above. Back then, the smog—a word used here long before it was a problem in Los Angeles—was so bad that street lights had to stay on all day downtown. A famous 1947 photograph shows a midnight-like darkness at nine in the morning. But then, an alliance of local elected officials and corporate titans, including the leaders of such local Fortune 500 companies as USX, Heinz, Alcoa, and PPG, pushed through a series of forceful and visionary projects designed to improve the city’s quality of life. Early on, this model produced tremendous successes. In the 1950s, Mayor David Lawrence and financier Richard King Mellon led efforts to cut air pollution, control river flooding, and construct an advanced network of highways and tunnels. They also turned a derelict industrial zone at the three-rivers confluence into Point State Park, a triangular gem that remains popular with office workers. But as the steel industry and other blue-collar industries contracted over the years, so did Pittsburgh. In 1940, it was the nation’s 10th largest city, with 672,000 people. In 2007, it was the 59th largest, with 296,000 people, which represents a population decline of 38,000 since 2000.
Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, built on or beneath vertiginous hills, with more bridges, it is often said, than any other city in the world except Venice. Neighborhoods that are situated right next to each other on the map are in fact quite separate and distinct. There is the uptown neighborhood around Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, with its neo-Gothic “cathedral of learning.” These institutions have helped to spur robust high-technology and medical sectors that have replaced some of the lost manufacturing jobs. The city also has become a banking center. Local universities and hospitals now have far more workers than the downsized U.S. Steel Corporation, which, with the economic downturn in 2008, suspended plans for a new $1 billion coke plant in Clairton. Among and atop the hills are neighborhoods as different as the predominantly black Hill District, where the famed Pittsburgh Crawfords of baseball’s Negro Leagues once played and playwright August Wilson set most of his chronicles. There are WASPy Shady Side and Jewish Squirrel Hill, with fine mansions and fashionable shops. Along the Monongahela River are small industrial neighborhoods and towns, like Clairton, where the classic movie The Deer Hunter was set and filmed. Although the city boasts that it has fared better than Cleveland or Detroit, its poverty rate far exceeds the national average and its population is aging.
The 14th Congressional District of Pennsylvania includes all of Pittsburgh and the mostly working class suburbs to the east, south and west. There is some suburbia here, but much of the district is in the Monongahela (or Mon) Valley, where the old steel mills stand or once stood, and the hills above. More affluent suburbs to the north and south are in the 4th and 18th Districts. This is a heavily Democratic district.