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Spectacles like Rubber Duck reinvigorate city energy

After flooding the profile pictures of Pittsburgh’s Facebook users, the famed 40-foot rubber duck deflated on Oct. 20.

It was put in storage in South Side without much ceremony and with no concrete plans for future appearances. But in the three weeks that it made Pittsburgh its nest, the Rubber Duck Project was exactly what the city needed: a unifying object for people to rally around. The city can only benefit from creating more citywide events and spectacles.

The duck’s popularity far exceeded the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s expectations. When applying for a permit to dock the duck, the Cultural Trust estimated about 200 visitors per day. More than one million people ended up making the trek to check out the duck, according to estimates by local hotels and Point State Park. While about 95 percent were Pittsburgh-area residents, some came from all across the country, and even as far away as Canada.

The people of Pittsburgh need their sense of community to be reinforced periodically. Sure, there are the Steelers, colleges, the symphony, and other things that give Pittsburgh an identity, but many people settle in a city for good because of the spectacles, events, and culture that scream their names across the United States. Bigger cities like Chicago and Austin have larger land masses and expanses of city life, so their draws are built into their structure — but Pittsburgh can go from skyscraper to scrubland quickly. It needs spectacles to draw in a newer population.

Despite people leaving after the collapse of the steel industry, Pittsburgh is still the 20th-largest city in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and has been named “Most Livable City” by multiple publications. Still, many people see the city as the steel town it once was. Events and spectacles like the duck are helping to reinvent this image.

It’s a good thing the duck didn’t stick around much longer, though. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust quit while it was ahead, despite the public’s calls to prolong the duck’s stay in Pittsburgh. If it had stayed more than a month, the duck would have gone from phenomenon to installation; having lost its initial appeal, it would have become boring and tired.

Now that the duck is gone, though, the city should start brainstorming its next big attraction.