Surfing the yinzernet: Exploring the complexities of place branding in post-industrial Pittsburgh
Recent years have seen a proliferation of independent urban representations in the media. From hipster sketch shows such as ‘Portlandia’ to place ‘demarketing’ Websites poking fun at low-profile cities, these portrayals often combine parody and pride in their representation of local quirks. This trend can be seen as a form of do it yourself (‘DIY’), place branding, which both reflects and reacts against the growth of urban branding in recent decades. This article investigates this trend through an examination of two online webseries that parody and celebrate the perceived eccentricities of Pittsburgh’s yinzer (working-class) culture. Adopting an interdisciplinary lens, we consider a range of cultural phenomena related to these online representations, including place character, nostalgia and diaspora. Pittsburgh has undergone a significant economic transition over the past half-century, with a decline in heavy industry and growth in ‘post-industrial’ sectors such as education, technology and health. Accompanying this economic transition has been a social shift, as white-collar workers supplement the traditional working-class base, and an image shift, as officials rebrand the city to highlight new clean, green, high tech and high-culture developments. In this context, we argue that online representations of yinzer culture – the ‘yinzernet’ – function as both DIY urban branding and as a reflection of local reactions to Pittsburgh’s economic, social and brand transition.
KeywordsPittsburgh post-industrial place branding culture DIY place character
- Anthony, T. (2012) Edges of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Magazine, http://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/Pittsburgh-Magazine/August-2012/Edges-of-Pittsburgh/, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Ashworth, G.J. (1990) Selling the City: Marketing Approaches in Public Sector Urban Planning. London: Belhaven Press.Google Scholar
- Braun, E., Kavaratzis, M. and Zenker, S. (2010) My city – My brand: The role of residents in place branding. Paper presented at the 50th European Regional Science Association Congress, Jönköping, Sweden, http://www.ekf.vsb.cz/projekty/cs/okruhy/weby/esf-0116/databaze-prispevku/clanky_ERSA_2010/ERSA2010finalpaper262.pdf, accessed 26 June 2013.
- Campelo, A., Aitken, R., Gnoth, J. and Thyne, M. (2009) Place branding: Representing sense of place. Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference, Melbourne, Australia, http://www.duplication.net.au/ANZMAC09/papers/ANZMAC2009-087.pdf, accessed 26 June 2013.
- Colomb, C. (2012) Staging the New Berlin: Place Marketing and the Politics of Urban Reinvention. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Crawley, D. (2012) Pittsburgh Dad Creators Talk about New Kennywood Video, http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2012/10/09/pittsburgh-dad-creators-talk-about-new-kennywood-video/, accessed 19 August 2013.
- Details. (2012) No author given. The Rust Belt revival: What’s happening in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, http://www.details.com/culture-trends/critical-eye/201204/rust-belt-revival-pittsburgh-pennsylvania, accessed 8 September 2012.
- The Economist. (2009) No author given. The revival of Pittsburgh: Lessons for the G20, http://www.economist.com/node/14460542, accessed 8 September 2012.
- Gradeck, B. (2003) The root of Pittsburgh’s population drain. Carnegie Mellon Heinz School Center for Economic Development, http://www.heinz.cmu.edu/center-for-economic-development/ced-pubs-projects/index.aspx, accessed 6 December 2012.
- Hall, S. (1991) The local and the global: Globalization and ethnicity. In: A.D. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Holcomb, B. (1993) Revisioning place: De- and re-constructing the image of the industrial city. In: C. Philo and G. Kearns (eds.) Selling Places: The City as Cultural Capital, Past and Present. Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
- Hutcheon, L. (1998) Irony, nostalgia, and the postmodern. Methods for the Study of Literature as Cultural Memory 6: 189–207.Google Scholar
- Hutcheon, L. (2000) Irony, nostalgia, and the postmodern. In: R. Vervliet and A. Estor (eds.) Methods for the Study of Literature as Cultural Memory. Atlanta: Rodopi, pp. 189–207.Google Scholar
- Johnstone, B. (2010) Indexing the local. In: N. Coupland (ed.) The Handbook of Language and Globalization. Maiden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Judkis, M. (2012) Portlandia, your 15 minutes are up. Long live Pittsburgh. The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/portlandia-your-15-minutes-are-up-long-live-pittsburgh/2012/01/03/gIQAMUlSYP_blog.html, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Klein, N. (2000) No Logo, No Space, No Choice, No Jobs: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. London: Flamingo.Google Scholar
- Kurlander, C. (dir.) (2010) My Tale of Two Cities: A Comeback Story. 1905 Productions: USA.Google Scholar
- Lee, D. (2012) Healthcare jobs fuel revival in Pittsburgh. Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/13/business/la-fi-pittsburgh-revival-20120513, accessed 8 September 2012.
- Levy, F. (2010) America’s most livable cities. Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/2010/04/29/cities-livable-pittsburgh-lifestyle-real-estate-top-ten-jobs-crime-income.html, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Lewis, J. (2012) Business forum: From steel gray to green. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/opinion/business-forum-from-steel-gray-to-green-293709/#ixzz277rcuLSb, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Lubove, R. (1996) Twentieth Century Pittsburgh: The Post-Steel Era. Vol. II. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press.Google Scholar
- Madison, M. (2011) Fresh eyes on Pittsburgh, Part 1. Pittsblog, http://pittsblog.blogspot.com/2011/10/fresh-eyes-on-pittsburgh-part-i.html, accessed 8 September 2012.
- Mendelson, A. (2007) Bold new horizons. US Airways Magazine, http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/mayor/neighborhood_message/assets/05_Economic_Development.pdf, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Navratil, L. and Stosek, A. (2011) Pittsburghers balk at figures, press officials for more action. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-city/pittsburghers-balk-at-figures-press-officials-for-more-action-226128/, accessed 5 December 2012.
- Owen, R. (2012) Tuned. In: Regional Comedy Spotlighted in IFC’s ‘Portlandia’ and ‘Greg & Donny’. Pittsburg Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ae/tv-radio/tuned-in-regional-comedy-spotlighted-in-ifcs-portlandia-and-greg-donny-282050/#ixzz277gyYsso, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Philo, C. and Kearns, G. (1993) Culture, history, capital: A critical introduction to the selling of places. In: C. Philo and G. Kearns (eds.) Selling Places: The City as Cultural Capital, Past and Present. Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
- Pittsburgh Dad. (2012) Mayor proclaims Pittsburgh Dad Day, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Klwy-i1GQys&feature=channel&list=UL, accessed 3 December 2012.
- Pittsburgh Expatriate Network. (ND) Who we are, http://pittsburghexpatnetwork.org/?q=node/3, accessed 8 September 2012.
- Pittsburgh Filmmakers. (2012) Schedule, http://3rff.com/films#film-kitchen-greg-donny, accessed 3 December 2012.
- Pittsburgh Quarterly. (2009) How well do you know Pittsburgh today?: 2008 regional indicators report, http://www.pittsburghartscouncil.org/storage/documents/Research/Pittsburgh_Today_2008_Regional_Indicators.pdf, accessed 8 February 2009.
- Popper, N. (2013) Pittsburgh’s time of transition. New York Times (dealbook), http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/pittsburghs-time-of-transition/, accessed 26 June 2013.
- Potts, T. (2007) Walking the Line: Kitsch, Class and the Morphing Subject of Value. Nottingham, UK: Nottingham Modern Languages Press, http://mlpa.nottingham.ac.uk/archive/00000071/, accessed 1 December 2012.
- Rause, V. (1989) Pittsburgh cleans up its act. New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1989/11/26/magazine/pittsburgh-cleans-up-its-act.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm, accessed 5 December 2012.
- Relph, E. (2008) A pragmatic sense of place. In: F. Vanclay, M. Higgins and A. Blackshaw (eds.) Making Sense of Place. Canberra, ACT: National Museum of Australia.Google Scholar
- Scola, N. (2012) Ace in the allegheny: A boutique hotel sells Pittsburgh to itself. Next American City, http://americancity.org/forefront/view/ace-in-the-allegheny, accessed 27 November 2012.
- Short, J.R. (1999) Urban imagineers: Boosterism and the representation of cities. In: D. Wilson and A.E.G. Jonas (eds.) The Urban Growth Machine: Critical Perspectives Two Decades Later. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
- Stone, Z. (2012) Can a font help a city make a comeback? Good, http://www.good.is/posts/can-a-font-help-a-city-make-a-comeback, accessed 28 August 2013.
- T+B Blog Team. (2013) Grassroots branding campaign attempts to change Kentucky’s slogan. Trademark and Brands, http://www.trademarksandbrands.com/2013/01/08/grassroots-branding-campaign-attempts-to-change-kentuckys-slogan/, accessed 14 June 2012.
- Thomas, C. (2007) Gentrification complications. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/clarke-thomas-gentrification-complications-509567/, accessed 5 December 2012.
- Thompson, W. (2011) Houston’s Pittsburgh faithful. ESPN online, http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7239692/nfl-displaced-steelers-fans-found-new-home-houston, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Toland, B. (2008) The diaspora report: Calling out, around the world, for the Pittsburgh connection. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/morning-file/the-diaspora-report-calling-out-around-the-world-for-the-pittsburgh-connection-412076/, accessed 8 September 2012.
- Toland, B. (2012) Watch out Portland, Pittsburgh’s lookin’ hip. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/watch-out-portland-pittsburghs-lookin-hip-217733/#ixzz277d3nyqw, accessed 21 September 2012.
- WTAE. (2012) Pittsburgh Dad has plenty of ideas for 2012. WTAE, http://www.wtae.com/-Pittsburgh-Dad-Has-Plenty-Of-Ideas-For-2012/-/9681798/12321354/-/128tlqf/-/index.html#ixzz277sLocCu, accessed 21 September 2012.
- Yeager, M. and Skowron, J. (2009) Greg & Donny Have an Accent, http://greganddonny.com/Greg_And_Donny/Greg_%26_Donny_Make_a_Friend.html, accessed 19 August 2013.
- Yeager, M. and Skowron, J. (2011) Private episode: Greg and Donny make a friend, http://greganddonny.com/Greg_And_Donny/Greg_%26_Donny_Make_a_Friend.html, accessed 19 August 2013.