Monday, September 14, 2009

Campaign focuses on plight of Rust Belt

'I will stay if ...' party to be held here
Monday, September 14, 2009

By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two friends in their 20s, after working together on a political campaign in Manhattan, decide to leave in favor of their hometowns: Pittsburgh and Detroit.

If you're expecting a punch line, you're a step behind. Sarah Szurpicki and Abby Wilson -- the founders the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, or GLUE -- can make you believe the Rust Belt is the place to be, not the place to leave.

A loose network of people in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toledo, Ohio, and Buffalo, N.Y., GLUE started two years ago after Ms. Szurpicki, a Detroit native, and Ms. Wilson, a Pittsburgher, left New York to take their enthusiasm for urban living to their own hometowns.

In the spring, they launched the first GLUE campaign -- a series of "I Will Stay If ..." parties that kicked off in Detroit in June. The second party, reframed with the theme "Why Pittsburgh?" is from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Shadow Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty.

One need not be affiliated with GLUE or of a certain age to participate.

Carrie Hagan, a graduate student in history and policy at Carnegie Mellon University, met Ms. Wilson through the League of Young Voters and joined the party committee "and the next thing I know I am throwing the party," said Ms. Hagan. "I couldn't stand the idea of not being part of something like this."

She said East Liberty was chosen because of its convergence of economic development and minority population.

"We want a comprehensive conversation," she said. "A lot of people are feeling pride in being here right now, but for a lot of people, Pittsburgh has not been the most livable city, and we want feedback from them. We want to know what has made people stay, but we realize quality of life varies."

Ms. Szurpicki said GLUE is an experiment in driving urban policy from the roots up. Every party results in photographs of participants holding signs that tell what it is about their city that would make them stick with it. The photos will be data for GLUE to play a part in reviving and setting urban policy.

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