Later this week, the city of Pittsburgh kicks off its first-ever Inclusive Innovation Week. And the timing couldn’t be better.
It’s become more and more challenging to keep up with the innovation and growth in Pittsburgh, whether in real estate development, restaurant openings, or technology advances. Facebook’s Oculus segment announced in January it would locate a virtual reality research division here. Uber plans to break ground on a research division for its Advanced Technology segment at the Almono site in Hazelwood. And Google Pittsburgh just marked its tenth anniversary.
But as in other cities experiencing rapid growth, not everyone in Pittsburgh has benefited equally from the city’s changes. According to the results of the Pittsburgh Regional Diversity Survey released in January, only 11 percent of minorities in the Pittsburgh area describe the region as “very diverse.” A recent series in online magazine 1839 featured essays from young black men and women who had decided to leave the area, many for lack of opportunity.
In September, Mayor Bill Peduto announced a Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation, in paternership with the city’s Department of Innovation and Performance and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. To be truly successful, the mayor said, Pittsburgh’s technology boom “has to be accessible for all.”
Inclusive Innovation Week will work toward that goal. “Too few cities directly address the goal of innovation through the lens of inclusivity,” Peduto wrote in his introduction to the Roadmap. “Our decision to be one of those cities will make the Pittsburgh Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation a tool that will not only better the city, but also its community.”
Starting Friday, events across the city will highlight tech, art and family-themed programming open to all Pittsburghers. There are more than four dozen partner organizations who have added 52 events to the schedule. In addition to events for kids at Assemble, the Children’s Museum and CEEMI, there are a host of other things planned, some tech-oriented, like Steel City CodeFest and CodeFest Jr.; the Speak Freely conversation series’ April installment; Unblurred on Penn Avenue; new initiatives like the Hilltop Opportunity Generator in Allentown; networking and business opportunities like CUE Pittsburgh’s small business class in the Hill District, and plenty of social events as well.
Pittsburgh’s Chief Innovation Officer Debra Lam tells NEXT that other cities have done similar weeklong innovation events, which typically grow in size before a nonprofit entity takes over. But Pittsburgh city officials didn’t want to do that.
“We’re trying to get new people to get to these events, not just the same faces,” Lam says. City officials are working hard to be sure each event shines, she adds.
Lam, the city’s first-ever Chief Innovation Officer, has overseen a shift in culture on Grant Street, and says it’s been a blast. “We have a team that’s been able to embrace the changes. Their dedication to the city has been remarkable.”
The Inclusive Innovation Week is an extension of the culture shift Lam and her team have worked on within the walls of the City-County Building.
“This is our pilot. Other cities have been doing this for years. but once we’re at the table we want to do it in our own Pittsburgh way,” Lam says.
A free kickoff party with Peduto will be held April 4 at Smallman Galley. For more on the complete schedule of events at Inclusive Innovation Week, visit the website.