Bringing literature and art to the city of Steel

Pittsburgh has long been known as “Steel City,” but new city rankings suggest it might be better referred to as the ’Burgh of Books or the Area of Art. Pittsburgh was recently ranked the eighth most literate city in the United States and the third best mid-size city for art.

In a study conducted by Central Connecticut State University in 2005, Pittsburgh was ranked the eighth most literate city out of 69 ranked. But Pittsburghers shouldn’t feel bad that Seattle came in first place: It rains so much there that nobody has anything better to do than read anyways!

The rankings from this study were based on a number of factors. First off, researchers took into account the number of bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and periodicals in each city. They also looked at Internet usage and the educational level of residents. Of course, the fact that Pittsburgh is home to more than 60,000 college students from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, Carlow University, and several other smaller institutions must be taken into account when looking at these ratings. Pittsburgh may have an inflated number of newspapers since there are many colleges that publish their own newspapers.

Interestingly enough, 2005 was the first year that this study included an Internet resources factor “to better gauge the expansion of literacy to online media,” explained Central Connecticut State University president John Miller in a letter published online. The inclusion of this factor probably helped boost Pittsburgh’s ratings since the major colleges in the area all have extensive online library resources. Thanks, Cameo, for making our city a better place to live.

Our ranking might not seem like a big deal, but this annual study has had profound effects on some cities in the past. “The value of this study, I believe, lies less in the absolute accuracy of the rank orders and far more in what communities do with the information. It is heartening to see a city like El Paso, which did not rank well on last year’s edition, launch a citywide literacy campaign, where, among other community initiatives, ‘Read El Paso Read’ distributed some 95,000 books to community members at various events designed to encourage literacy,” explained Miller on his university’s website.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Pittsburgh exemplifies the love of books implied by this survey. Senior math major Orest Sopka jokingly noted, “Does their literature contain the word ‘yinz’?” Sopka also joked, “Ain’t need to read good to know numbers. I will be pulling more than 60K next year; that wouldn’t have happened through books.”

Echoing this sentiment, Preeti Farooque, another senior math major, said, “Honestly, I think CMU stunts people’s literacy.” Certainly, heavy course loads and time-consuming extra curricular activities put a damper on students’ free time, but it is unlikely that going to college actually decreases literacy rates.

Students from other majors had differing opinions on literacy in Pittsburgh. Simi Singh, a junior ethics, history, and public policy major, said that she reads magazines and other books during vacations and outside of class.

Pittsburgh was also recently ranked the third best mid-sized city in the United States for its art exhibits. In a poll conducted in the magazine American Style, Buffalo, N.Y., came in first place, followed by Albuquerque, N.M. Only last year, Pittsburgh was in 10th place in the same survey.

What caused the ranking to improve? According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this improvement in ranking is due to an unlikely source: glass. Glass has been gaining attention in the city lately ­— Pittsburgh will even be home to the annual Glass Art Society conference next July. The buzz from this conference has already had a positive impact on art exhibits in Pittsburgh because “anywhere that conference goes brings dozens of exhibitions with it. The Pittsburgh Glass Center has been instrumental in that and has really focused on it,” reported Christine Kloostra, a writer for American Style, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

While not everyone on campus has a high regard for books and art, Pittsburgh’s seems to be on the rise, getting a lot of positive attention that may translate into even better rankings next year.