Every city has an environmental story, perhaps none so dramatic as Pittsburgh's. Founded in a river valley blessed with enormous resources-three strong waterways, abundant forests, rich seams of coal-the city experienced a century of exploitation and industrialization that degraded and obscured the natural environment to a horrific degree. Pittsburgh came to be known as “the Smoky City,” or, as James Parton famously declared in 1866, “hell with the lid taken off.”
Then came the storied Renaissance in the years following World War II, when the city's public and private elites, abetted by technological advances, came together to improve the air and renew the built environment. Equally dramatic was the sweeping deindustrialization of Pittsburgh in the 1980s, when the collapse of the steel industry brought down the smokestacks, leaving vast tracks of brownfields and riverfront. Today Pittsburgh faces unprecedented opportunities to reverse the environmental degradation of its history.
In Devastation and Renewal, scholars of the urban environment post questions that both complicate and enrich this story. Working from deep archival research, they ask not only what happened to Pittsburgh's environment, but why. What forces-economic, political, and cultural-were at work? In exploring the disturbing history of pollution in Pittsburgh, they consider not only the sooty skies, but also the poisoned rivers and creeks, the mined hills, and scarred land. Who profited and who paid for such “progress”? How did the environment Pittsburghers live in come to be, and how it can be managed for the future?
In a provocative concluding essay, Samuel P. Hays explores Pittsburgh's “environmental culture,” the attitudes and institutions that interpret a city's story and work to create change. Comparing Pittsburgh to other cities and regions, he exposes exaggerations of Pittsburgh's environmental achievement and challenges the community to make real progress for the future.
A landmark contribution to the emerging field of urban environmental history, Devastation and Renewal will be important to all students of cities, of cultures, and of the natural world.
A first-rate volume that clearly explains how Pittsburgh has attempted to overcome the severe environmental pressures of industrialization in coping with land, water, and air pollution.
Helps us better understand how this former frontier outpost became an industrial powerhouse, and how that explosive transformation complicated human life and the landscapes on which it depended.
The tremendous debt that the Pittsburgh region owes Joel Tarr and Sam Hays is not likely to be repaid. They have not merely written about Pittsburgh's environmental history—they have helped to forge it.
Conveys important lessons for environmentalists. . . an important contribution to the growing field of environmental history. . . demonstrates how the study of complex phenomena can benefit from an interdisciplinary approach.
An original and interesting piece of scholarship . . . has many strengths and much to offer both academic and popular audiences. All of the contributors are to be commended on the depth and originality of their research . . . a mighty contribution to the history of Pittsburgh and its surrounding region.
Pittsburgh's environmental history and revitalization provide valuable lessons for industrial cities throughout the world which are seeking to improve environmental quality.
This work links together technology, geography, politics, and society. Unlike most collections of essays the pieces in this work hold together. . . . Tarr provides a readable text that encompasses a coherent environmental story."
There is no greater expert [Tarr] on Pittsburgh's environmental history or the history of the nation's built environment. The result is a book that should be of great interest to students of urban and environmental history, as well as history of technology.
Joel A. Tarr is the Caliguiri University Professor of History and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University where he has taught for over fifty years. He is the recipient of CMU’s Robert Doherty Prize for “substantial and sustained contributions to excellence in education” (1992), the Leonardo da Vinci Medal of the Society of the History of Technology (2008), the American Environmental History Association Distinguished Service Award (2015), and the Founders Award, National Council on Public History (2018).learn more