Pittsburgh has been making a lot of "livability" lists lately. (See the "Livable Pittsburgh sidebar below.)
It’s quite an achievement for a city that has transformed from its steel industry heyday — and subsequent de-industrialization decline — to what many now refer to as “New Pittsburgh,” an active, environmentally-friendly city with a “tech/ed/med” economy.
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(Pittsburgh is home to more than 1,000 technology companies, and nearly 70 colleges and universities, and one in 10 jobs are health care-related.)
William Peduto (who goes by Bill) has been a hands-on player in Pittsburgh’s evolution for the past two decades, as a city council staffer and, since 2002, as an elected council member. The self-described “reform Democrat” was sworn in as the city’s 60th mayor in January 2014, having won 84 percent of the vote. Peduto’s livability bona fides are many:
- As a city council member, Peduto advocated for “community-based” development plans (including the $2 billion transformation of the city’s East End) and investment in niche industries, such as start-up incubator Innovation Works, and Project Olympus, another incubator headquartered at Carnegie Mellon University.
- In his first year as mayor, Peduto created a Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment, the first city department with the sole mission of working hand-in-hand with the residents of communities that have seen historic disinvestment and neglect.
- He’s held several “Mayor’s Night Out/Mayor’s Night In” events to get city government representatives out to neighborhoods and to welcome the public in to City Hall.
- He’s a big supporter of alternative transportation solutions, from ridesharing to protected bike lanes.
By coincidence (or maybe not) Peduto is also friends with Richard Florida, the economist, urbanist, and renowned livability expert. Now a professor at the University of Toronto, the two met in the late 1990s when Florida was teaching at Carnegie Mellon. Last year, Florida praised Peduto to the Pittsburgh Quarterly for having a “broad grasp of urban and domestic policy issues” and being a politician “who gets it.”
1. Pittsburgh is a city of 90 neighborhoods with a vibrant culture. But, like many cities in the U.S., it has had to redefine itself after the demise of the industrial base. You’ve said that Pittsburgh is the “perfect urban laboratory.” What is the Pittsburgh story and why should the rest of the country pay attention?
In 1979, the Pirates won the World Series, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh died. Industry and the job market collapsed residents whose families lived in the city for generations left and Pittsburgh had to figure out how to come to life again.
The city did that through building a new economy in partnership with its universities and hospitals, rather than building upon the old manufacturing model. That new economy now lures global companies attracted to the city’s educated and experienced worker base. But the city held onto what made it special, too, including a dense and authentic housing stock, beautiful urban parks and landscapes, and a can-do work ethic.
Pittsburgh is the perfect urban lab because it is small enough to try out just about any idea. When the idea works, the city is big enough that it gets attention on an international stage.
2. Pittsburgh has received high marks this year for its overall livability, as well as for features ranging from pedestrian safety to affordability. How is Pittsburgh livable for people of all ages? What’s your vision for Pittsburgh as a most livable city of the future?
I am pushing for Pittsburgh to invest in the city’s youngest residents — through support for pre-K education and help with health care — to prepare them as much as we can to become the leaders of Pittsburgh’s future. Those future leaders will reap the benefits of changes their forebears are making now: building a safe, clean and rewarding city for all, no matter their income, age, language, race or sexual orientation.