Pittsburgh to London, spaces to experiment

Posted on Jul 29, 2015
Pittsburgh to London, spaces to experiment

Upstarter gained its initial concrete form in Pittsburgh whilst we were working at Carnegie Mellon School of Design and Architecture in Pittsburgh. Whilst we have made lots of huge developments since being in London, the way things are done here is tangibly different.


In London, we find that people are so occupied with earning enough to afford rent, that experimentation is not available to all. Stories about people leaving banking for something they really want to do is much more common here.


In Bristol, it’s slightly different: lower housing costs plus some great local organizations and funding schemes means there are support routes to getting somewhere with an idea.


In Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is a city where two thirds of the population left the city with the steel industry in the 1980’s. It has more vacant space than people or industry can support. So property and space are cheap. As a result, the pressure to earn money is considerably less – a person can afford to work part time and buy a home. That releases time where they don’t need to keep earning money, but instead, could try new things out. As a result people in Pittsburgh can and do take more risks.








Photo: Dynamic poetry commissioned by Jane Warner for Pittsburgh Childrens Museum


We see that the availability of support has a huge bearing on people trying things out. If you run any significant risk to your own livelihood with a new venture (it is even more pressure if you have a family) then its more unlikely you will do so without some kind of firm backing. In Pittsburgh, a range of active charitable Foundations supported a huge variety of social innovations. Again, this made a huge difference to whether people started something.

Although the popular image of Pittsburgh is different, our experience of this great Rust Belt city was one of massive experimentation, and fascinating people like Jane Werner, Chris Paccione, running established organisations and John Folan, Eve Picker or Rob Stephany catalyzing, supporting and financing out new innovative ideas.

What do you think about what else we could do to alleviate this kind of pressure on people with brilliant new business ideas in London or anywhere for that matter?