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Pittsburgh Fifty Years Hence

A. L. Humphrey. Excerpt from Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Spirit, Chamber of Commerce of Pittsburgh, 1927.

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Perhaps some one will say that our anticipations of Pittsburgh's future take on too much of the color of our own desires. That is to say, the wish may be regarded as the father of the thought. It is well to note, under the circumstances, that predictions of gigantic growth here have been made by people who cannot for a moment be suspected of prophesying from self interest.

The world is moving so fast that the manufacture and sale of airplanes at lower prices than automobiles may come in five or ten years hence. At the same time, our inventive genius may produce a control which will enable the planes to land more advantageously than at present. It will then be possible for people of even the most moderate means to live without inconvenience thirty, forty, sixty, even one hundred miles from the place of their employment. The barriers which now limit the geographical extent of cities will then have disappeared. There is accordingly nothing unreasonable in the expectation that cities covering an area equal to that of a half dozen of our present counties will be evolved. They will, of course, be free from the acute congestion which now afflicts our large cities in their central business areas.

The cities of the airplane era, when practically all able-bodied men will be fliers, will extend over vast areas and will have many shopping and marketing centers instead of merely one or two such centers as now. They may even be so large that city governments will more and more take on what may be described as the federal form, with the subsidiary or local centers (call them boroughs or what you will) retaining and exercising a large measure of self government in purely local affairs. Even with this qualification we can hardly be accused of rashness if we forecast cities with populations of 25,000,000 and we are warranted in supposing that Pittsburgh will be among the largest of these huge aggregations of human beings, for reasons to which we have already referred.

Whatever the future may hold for this America of ours it seems inevitable that Pittsburgh will gain rather than lose eminence.

The fact that the territory for 200 or 300 miles on every side is the most highly industrialized territory in this or any other country gives us another ground. This wonderful industrialization is not the product of whim but of inherent and inalienable natural advantages, which are the assurance that it will continue.

A third ground for our faith is found in the traditional character of our population. It is a blessing, not a curse, that Pittsburgh has become a synonym for industry. It is a fashion here for even the richest to work. That fashion and that example have had their effect upon our people as a whole. Nowhere in the United States is there more industry or thrift.

The spirit of 1877 has fortunately passed. Our labor is given, to a greater degree than in almost any other of our great industrial centers, to cheerful production rather than discontented agitation. The result is what one might have foreseen -- namely, we have the best paid and most prosperous labor in America and per capita wealth of the people of the Pittsburgh district is higher than that of the people of any other section of the country. Metropolitan Pittsburgh, as may be proved by reference to the reports of the federal census, is the fourth metropolitan area of the United States in point of population while it leads all in individual buying power.

If Pittsburgh fifty years hence were ten times as large as it is today, and I believe it will be; if it were several times as rich and powerful as it is today, and I believe it will be; if its commerce found a dozen outlets, and great fleets of vessels come from both the Gulf and the Great Lakes were entering our harbor, as I believe they will be; if the vast factory power which has enabled us to hold our present ratio enables us to do likewise in the America of 200,000,000 people which in another generation is to be -- if all this came to pass, but nothing more, we might yet be disappointed in the Pittsburgh of 1977.

We desire all this magnifying of our population, our trade, and our financial power, but we desire just as much that this shall be a better as well as a greater Pittsburgh. There are happy omens that this higher heritage also shall be ours. We are thinking seriously of our human obligations. We are cultivating good-will and mutual understanding between employer and employee. We are building great temples and cathedrals of learning to which our young men and women are pressing in a multitude that brings within sight the day when Pittsburgh will be looked to by hundreds of thousands of youth in all part sof the land for the gifts of mind and spirit as eagerly as Israel in the desert looked to the Promised Land. Our industry and our wealth must be transformed in constantly increasing measure into spiritual enlargement and social light and beauty, after the manner of the parable of industry which that great Pittsburgh artist, John W. Alexander, has left so beautifully painted in the Carnegie Institute upon the spacious walls of Alexander Hall. Our wealth and our industry are in vain unless they gain a richer life and a deeper joy in even the lowliest work for us all. In those masterly murals Mr. Alexander not only fondly indulged a lofty dream for his city of Pittsburgh, but dared to make a glowing prophecy, and I take his prophecy for my prophecy, for I believe the Pittsburgh of fifty years hence will have made it come true.

 

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