Synopsis: Bourdain travels to Pittsburgh and environs to witness the site of the East Coast’s newest tech hub, built on the ruins of traditional American industries like steel. Community stalwarts tell him how policy has worked to level their homes in favor of entertainment for community outsiders. Here in the ’Burgh, a town where communities are physically divided by the bodies of water intersecting them, racial disparities are astounding. Black households take home half the income of their white counterparts and, as in much of the nation, are several times more likely to be arrested by police. Outside Pittsburgh, Bourdain witnesses towns grappling with the fall of America’s production sector. Some of these towns, unlike Pittsburgh, are dealing with the opposite of gentrification: the flight of former industrial workers and, with them, a tax base.
America’s heartland, redefined
“If you head east 30 miles from Pittsburgh, you’ll find yourself here, in New Alexandria. It’s a whole other world. No tech incubators or fears of gentrification. Just good heartland fun on a Friday night: family, fried dough, demolition.”
- Pittsburgh could have been another company town gone to beautiful ruin. But something happened: The city started to pop up on lists of America’s most livable cities. It became attractive to a new wave of people from elsewhere, looking to reinvent themselves, make a new world. And so we find ourselves asking the same questions we ask in other cities in transition: Are the new arrivals—new money, new ideas—saving the city or cannibalizing it?
- “The countryside around Pittsburgh is beautiful—another world.”
“Bow down to your new masters, your new future: the techie overlords of a shiny, new Pittsburgh.”
- “Pittsburgh’s Deutschtown is home to one of the oldest German clubs in the U.S. Immigrants founded it in 1854 to preserve a link to their motherland. Today a new generation is leaving their mark on the city.”
- “People are talking a lot about the food scene. It was not always so.”
- “All over western Pennsylvania, from small towns like this to the largest city, Pittsburgh, people face the same struggles as beleaguered, deindustrialized areas across the country. How do you move into the future and hold onto what you love about the past?”
America’s heartland, divided
“Black homes take in half the income of their white neighbors, and African-American youth are six times as likely to be arrested, go through the system from which many can never break free.”
- “A lot of people in this country are angry. They feel their anger is not being acknowledged in any way. And frankly, I think they’re right. There was a sense, particularly in rural, white America, of aggrievement that nobody’s listening, nobody’s caring about them.”
- “Everybody’s talking now about a Pittsburgh renaissance. There are artists coming. There are new restaurants. Somebody’s making money.”
- “In the 1950, the city came up with a plan to revitalize the Hill District by leveling large swaths of it. Eight thousand residents, including [Hill District community activist] Sala [Udin], were displaced. And instead of new housing, the land was used to build a hockey arena.”
- “And God himself appears to align himself against me, hurling all that beautiful salsiccia (sausage) and meatballs onto the cold, wet ground. … Well, I’m glad I got to eat.”
- “Bocce—the ancient game of kings. Throw the little ball, try and get the other balls close, closer than the other guys.”