Devastation and Renewal: An Environmental History of Pittsburgh and Its Region

Nineteenth- or early twentieth-century visitors to Pittsburgh were often shocked by the ways the industrial environment dominated the natural landscape. Steel mills sprawled along rivers that ran brown from toxic chemicals, sewage, and refuse. The city was overrun by bridges, railroad tracks, pipelines, and a net of electrical, telephone, and telegraph wires. Coal mines, coke ovens, and their debris littered the bald, muddy hills while slag heaps from steel making intruded into the landscape. Forests were cut down for fuel, and the remaining flora and fauna died from the acidic effluents and garbage that piled up. Street lamps glowed day and night to compensate for the morass of thick, black smoke that hung in the air. As James Parton succinctly commented in 1866, Pittsburgh was hell with the lid taken off . Today, the steel industry that defined Pittsburgh for over a century is virtually gone. The sky is blue, fish swim in the rivers, the hillsides are green and lush, and residents enjoy access to many public parks and trails. What forces brought about these changes? In Devastation and Renewal leading environmental scholars provide a comprehensive examination of Pittsburgh's lengthy process of reclamation, the various interests (both public and private) involved, and the work that still remains to be done.