Old US Manufacturing Town Prepares for Coming-Out Party With G20 Summit


For the third time in less than one year, international leaders will gather to discuss the global economic crisis. The first G20 summit was in Washington. The second was in London. But this time, the leaders are taking a different route, forgoing the glamour of a world capital to meet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an old American manufacturing town that has changed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is preparing to welcome the world.

When White House spokesman Robert Gibbs announced the site for the G20 summit, there was laughter from the press corps.

"The United States will host the next G20 summit, September 24th through the 25th, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania," he said.


Lifelong residents of Pittsburgh, like Joe Sabino Mistick, just shrugged it off.

"We get some chuckles and we get used to it," he said. "My response generally is, 'Well, what do they know?'"

Pittsburghers say they are ready to prove the doubters wrong and show off their city.

Dan Onorato is the Allegheny County Executive, the highest elected official in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. He says the G20 is a big opportunity.

"It is amazing the number of calls I get on a daily basis from CEOs to schoolchildren who are offering to volunteer, to do whatever they can to sell this region, to tell their story," he said.

There is, of course, a downside to hosting a big summit. Traffic will be a mess. Schools will close.

But Pittsburghers are taking it in stride.

"I know they are planning on closing down all of those roads," said Joe Valentri, who works near the summit site. "I personally will not be here those days at work. I will work from home on those days they are here."

He sits with his morning eggs and coffee at Pamela's Diner in a part of town known simply as "The Strip."

It is an old produce warehouse district that has grown into an international bazaar.

Local resident Lyn Parkinson says the G20 leaders should come for a stroll.

"I hope they come down to the Strip District and see how we work together, how we enjoy each others' cultures and how everything can work together," she said.

It is a place where Pittsburgh's ethnic diversity is on display. An Italian grocery store sits next to a shop selling delicacies from Greece. Shoppers buy Korean kimchee near a spice merchant from the Middle East.

An old man sells raffle tickets for a Polish Church in front of a vendor filling tortillas at a taco stand.    

But if there is a heart of the Strip, it is Primanti's - a sandwich shop with working class roots where everything - including the French fries - is packed between slices of bread.

A man named Pete pushes away the paper wrapping a sandwich, and surveys the crowd.

"There are always people in the restaurant," he said. "And they come from all over town and all over the area around town, just to come down, get a bite to eat, and you never know who you are going to run into. It is just part of the soul of the city."

Primanti's is a microcosm of Pittsburgh - boisterous and welcoming.

Jacob Roman, 15, says the spirit is contagious.

"No matter where you come from, people just, they get excited - like when the prime ministers and the kings are going to come, they are going to feel like they are at home," he said.

It is a home decorated in black and gold - the colors of the local sports teams. And if Jacob had his way, the first stop for the G20 guests would be Heinz Field, where the National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers play.

The Steelers are a metaphor for the city - a team with 40 losing seasons that would not give in and began to win.

Rocky Bleier played on the Steelers first championship team.

"It is kind of what this city is about," he said. "The city is about hope. The city is more about perseverance."

Pittsburgh is known around the globe as a city of champions. But Bleier says the world's leaders may find they are meeting in a city of resilience.

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