Downtown Pittsburgh in Autumn
Photo by PatrickRohe / Flickr

As Pittsburgh shifts from managing population and economic decline to managing growth and prosperity, it must ensure that more than just urban systems are in sync, Mayor Bill Peduto said March 8 in releasing ONEPGH, the city’s first comprehensive “resilience strategy.”

The 60-page documentwith a lengthy list of tangible action itemsis meant to be a guide for initiating or accelerating activities to address socioeconomic inequities, fragmented governance, pressures arising from urbanization, and other persistent or potential problems such as the opioid epidemic, aging infrastructure, and severe weather events.

City leaders and a steering committee of public and private sector groups spent months developing the holistic approach to overcoming 21st-century challenges, assisted by RAND Corporation and The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which Pittsburgh joined in 2014.

The resulting ONEPGH plan sets forth the premise that “Pittsburgh will be a resilient city when the entire community shares the same opportunities for prosperity, and when all residents are well cared for and prepared to face potential risks and adversities.”

The strategy outlines four goals:

  • to empower residents and become an inclusive city of innovation;
  • to use land systematically to increase social cohesion and public and ecological health;
  • to achieve long-term environmental sustainability through wise stewardship and resource management;
  • and to work collaboratively with government and nongovernmental partners for planning and decision-making.

“Cities exist at the center of the ebb and flow of human progress, and as such have the ability to encourage innovation and great societal benefit,” Peduto, who is seeking a second term, says in an opening letter to citizens.

Building resilience is a process, he notes: “Amid a time of positive momentum, we recognize that now is the perfect moment in time to chart the course for Pittsburgh’s next generation. All Pittsburghers have not benefited from the current momentum.”

Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities, says Pittsburgh has the advantage of its groundbreaking planning initiative, p4 Pittsburgh, launched in 2015, to create a sustainable and inclusive approach to urban development.

The ONEPGH strategy notes that after losing 40 percent of its population between 1970 and 2006, Pittsburgh is growing againciting a more than eight percent growth in the number of millennials and recent college graduates in the city over the past decade.

But stresses such as its industrial legacy, crumbling infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, and racial and workforce inequities undercut Pittsburgh’s well-publicized successes with attracting tech companies and redevelopment projects. Other threats to city services can come from acute shocks such as flash flooding, fires, and last year’s consumer alerts about elevated lead levels in drinking water.

Grant Ervin, Pittsburgh’s chief resilience officer, will lead the effort to implement the ONEPGH strategy, starting immediately. The first steps will be to host community meetings at the neighborhood level; to work with RAND on a way to measure progress; and to identify investment opportunities associated with activities identified in the strategy, Ervin says.

“One of the best things about the resilient strategy is the partnerships that we’ve been able to build,” he says, “both here locally in Pittsburgh and the global network with our partner cities around the world.”

With 305,000 residents among Allegheny County’s population of 1.2 million, Pittsburgh ranks highly in overall livability for its low cost of living and wide range of economic, cultural and recreational opportunities, the document notes. But residential segregation and income disparities have placed Pittsburgh near the bottom quarter of the top 100 regions nationwide, in terms of progress on racial gaps in wages, poverty, and employment.

“The way forward demands thoughtful planning, close coordination, and integration between and among government and nongovernmental partners to ensure that the city grows equitably and sustainably,” the strategy notes. “The city also must recognize the needs and value of its long-term residents while welcoming and supporting newcomers.”

In addition to the city-led approaches, 100 Resilient Cities has challenged Pittsburgh’s philanthropic and private sectors to contribute to implementing actions from the strategy. As part of the 100RC network, Pittsburgh will have continuing access to a pool of services valued at more than $200 million.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.