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G20 Pittsburgh: The Latest News And Analysis

First Posted: 09/23/09 11:01 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:25 PM ET

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G20 Pittsburgh: US Hosting September Summit

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh is known for steel. For sports. For smoke and smog. For a spectacular downfall. But not often for recovery.

For years, political leaders, community activists and ordinary residents tried to convince the world beyond its three rivers that this former industrial powerhouse was on the rise with an economy built on higher education, medicine and new technology.

From Sept. 24 to 25, it will get a chance to prove its point to the world leaders representing 85 percent of the world's economy. On Thursday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama decided to host the next Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh as a way of illustrating what success can look like.

"This is Pittsburgh's chance to show visitors the world over a first-class time in our first-class city," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said in a statement.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama recommended Pittsburgh at the end of the group's April meeting in London, because the city "has seen its share of economic woes in the past, but because of foresight and investment is now renewed, giving birth to renewed industries that are creating the jobs of the future."

Once the American frontier, Pittsburgh emerged from the battles of the French and Indian War 2 1/2 centuries ago.

Strategically located to move goods from east to west, the city at the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers became an industrial superpower, leaving a permanent stamp on steel, coal, glass and aluminum. Money followed, with industrialists from Andrew Carnegie to Henry Clay Frick pouring millions into the city, attracting bankers and culture.

Quaint neighborhoods grew along the rivers for the immigrants who poured into the area to work in the steel mills. Carnegie built museums and universities. Frick planted the seeds for a 561-acre park in his name.

The city's rise was followed by a just-as-spectacular fall.

Beginning in the 1970s and lasting through the 1980s, steel mills in the city and across western Pennsylvania shut down. Businesses and shops that fed off the industries followed suit.

The region lost 150,000 jobs in a decade. Residents fled, and the city's population shrank from 424,000 in 1980 to just over 311,000 today.

Neighborhoods deteriorated. Schools shut down. The city's confidence burst.

But with small, careful steps, the city began to climb out of the abyss in the early 1990s, investing in its universities and health centers.

Pittsburgh is not entirely in the clear _ in 2003, the state declared it financially distressed and two quasi-governmental boards oversee its finances _ but signs of improvement abound.

Smoke and smog are a thing of the past. The rivers have fish in them again and boats zip along the water, beneath bright, yellow bridges that attract the attention of tourists. An old rail line is now a bike trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. A riverfront trail is rapidly developing.

The city's young waterfront convention center, one of the largest environmentally friendly buildings in the United States, will be the spot to showcase it all.

"Perceptions die hard. They really do. Unless people have actually been here and seen it for themselves, the image they have is probably of steel mills," said Dennis Yablonsky, executive director of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and a 56-year-old Pittsburgh native. "The decades of investments ... are starting to pay off."

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Associated Press Writer Dan Nephin in Pittsburgh and Jennifer Loven in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

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Filed by Stuart Whatley  |