I'm not an expert. I didn't study this stuff in college, do a thesis on it, I can just tell you what I see.
A friend of mine refers to Columbus as cow town. In some sense, she's right. There are areas still inside the beltway which are being developed which were clearly farm land not that long ago. One I saw recently still had the farmhouse on it while it was being developed. But just the same, the development *is* happening. And it's not just on the outskirts: the Arena District is getting a baseball stadium. There's a streetcar proposal on the table. And there's (apparent and statistical) growth.
At the same time, Pittsburgh just turned 250, and is celebrating it. Recently, in the car and carriage museum at the Frick (I was there for the steel exhibit) I read a poster which answered "so why no auto industry in Pittsburgh?" There's only so much labor. Pittsburgh's was tied up in steel. No large pool of labor aching for work to go and make cars.
Now, it's not that making cars would be an improvement, necessarily. Look at the contraction there now. Basically the key seems to be "don't be a one-industry town".
Columbus won for being a cow town. Nationwide Insurance is a mutual rather than a pure for-profit, sure, but it started there *because* it was a cow town: it was an insurance company for farmers. Recently it's been a prime mover in development: witness the desire to be a majopr league city leading to Nationwide Arena, as the company stepped up to make it happen when no one else was.
A trip through the Columbus Convention Center inevitably passes the large cast plaque at the south end for the Ohio Center, which a quote suggests was a beginning, a coming together. Who planned it? A unit of Batelle. How'd Batelle end up there? The heir to a small steel company died young, and bequeathed his fortune to an institute which would do basic research. The Mellons had a similar idea, but didn't endow Mellon Institute sufficiently to make a go of this, instead assuming the local industries would buy work. Beholden to a one-industry town, again.
Somehow Pittsburgh lacks critical mass for a community of young people to go to concerts. We have Pitt, right? Well, OSU is bigger, and, as the largest state-system school is no doubt better-funded.
And there's also the state capital. Business can be bad, but government will only ever contract so far; It's not like a steel mill or a glass factory. It's not going to close.
Even history hasn't been on the side of Pittsburgh. Because it's an older city, it suffers from past sins:
-The old political machine never died, so we still have local Democrats running the city, and doing it on patronage instead of on better ideas.
-Because industry did grow here, the labor force unionized and when seeing companies pull in large money, played hardball to get their share. As a result, Pittsburgh has a bad, and probably undeserved, reputation.
-Even ignoring the things Pittsburgh isn't (largest state school, state capital) some of the things it actually is, it suffers from: Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny, and the fallout from 100 years ago has kept Allegheny County artificially fragmented. Regardless of whether you believe metropolitanism, lumping in outlying, more conservative areas, creates problems, surely McKees Rocks, Wilkinsburg and similar inner suburbs have more in common with Pittsburgh than Bethel Park, and might well have become part of a growing city instead of cleaving to the flank of a stodgy, aging core.
None of this is an answer. Even if I have crystal vision of how we got here, it says nothing of how we get out. I suspect there is an answer other than walking away: I just don't know what it is yet.