John Schmitz walked me around the block yesterday. That is the block where the G-20 Summit will be played out in just two months from now. He had warned me in advance of what he wanted. He wanted the dirty, devily details for his story. He wanted to focus on things that we normally don’t focus on, and so we did.
We noted the thousands of black round dirty gum splotches stuck to the sidewalk and the once red brick pavers now grey with dirt. We noted dead trees with long forgotten christmas lights strung through them. We noted muddy fire hydrants and badly patched roads. We noted asphalt sidewalks where brick is the standard; contractor parking in a lane that ought to be open to vehicles; and poorly sign-posted street works. And we noted enough signs that if they were collected and stacked, they’d fill Heinz Field.
As I mouthed the dirty little details, the voice in my head became stronger until I had to say it out loud. Pittsburgh has good bones. It is rich with a remarkable downtown, historic architecture, amazing river trails and beautiful neighborhoods. We should not forget that the film of dirt can be washed away.
The remarkable by-product of the G-20 summit is the energy that it has harnessed. In just nine weeks since the announcement was made, over 1,600 people have volunteered to assist and that number is growing. This is for an event that is just two days long.
And so I must wonder. What if that energy were harnessed for something more than spiffing things up? What if the energy continued beyond those two days? Could 1,600 people rebrand Pittsburgh? Could 1,600 people bring new businesses here? Could 1,600 people craft a strategic vision for Pittsburgh and the region? Could 1,600 people finish the last 11 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage?
Do we have the courage to let 1,600 people loose?