Recommendations at the p4 conference. Photo by TC.

On day one of the p4 Conference, the audience of 300 was steeped in ideas from around the globe on how to take Pittsburgh to the next level as a sustainable, inclusive and innovative city. (See the NEXTpittsburgh story.) Day two welcomed a smaller group—the task masters selected “to get us to action,” said Leigh Halverson, the deputy chief of staff in economic development for the mayor’s office who kicked off the session. “This is not just a talk fest,” she stressed of the two day conference.

“Your function today is to translate. You’ve got to take all those ideas, all those visions and stuff going around in your brain—and you need to place it here, in a very American, very Pittsburgh context.”

The attendees were divided into three groups to tour by bus three major redevelopment sites that will have a great impact on Pittsburgh: Almono, the Eco-Innovation District in Uptown and Downtown Pittsburgh for the Envision Downtown plan. (Note: Even with the bus travel, day two was a climate neutral-event and the conference itself met Zero Waste standards.)

After the tours, each group met in a breakout session to get to work, writing a list of recommendations on how to incorporate the p4 model—planet, people, place and performance—to elevate these sites. Later in the day, representatives from each group presented to a panel that included: Mayor Bill Peduto, city councilwomen Deb Gross, Robert Rubinstein and Tom Link of the URA, Mayor Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin, Pittsburgh’s Planning Director Ray Gastil, Mary Conturo of the Sports & Exhibition Authority and Kyle Chintalapalli from the mayor’s office.

Noah Friedman, of Perkins+Will, led the Almono tour and presented the ideas developed by his team. “Almono is within the Hazelwood neighborhood—and we need to make sure that connectivity happens on all levels, not just social connectivity, it’s economic connectivity, it’s sustainability connectivity—it’s a whole systems package.”

“How do we get that done? Move from participation to co-creation, really getting people involved,” he said.

“The challenge we face is similar to that we’re facing in the Lower Hill District—it’s how can you take a clean slate that is next to an adjacent neighborhood and make it equally owned by the neighborhood residents—as well as new residents—so that doesn’t feel separated,” said Robert Rubinstein of the URA.

“Integrating the community is the key. Maybe we start that by stop calling it Almono—and start calling it Hazelwood,” Peduto said to applause of the audience.

The idea for the conference arose from André Heinz asking, ‘How can we push the envelope on this site?’ Peduto told the audience. And the mayor mentioned that Net-Plus (when a building creates more energy than is uses) does exist—Germany’s been doing it for decades. ”It’s something that we can do. We have to stop looking for the reasons it can’t happen—and tap the talent in this city to make it happen,” he said, referring to Grant Oliphant’s stirring comments about the naysayers and those who can make it possible from Day One of p4.

“Pittsburgh really needs to be a model for the world,” said Friedman.  If Pittsburgh sets standards for sustainable development, “people around the world would be referring to The Pittsburgh Principles,” he noted.

“A lot of these ideas fit like pieces of a puzzle—if we can hold this development to these standards and succeed,” said Peduto, “we can show future developers that it can be done.”

Christine Mondor presents ideas for the Eco-Innovation District. Photo courtesy of the Heinz Endowments.
Christine Mondor presents ideas for the Eco-Innovation District. Photo courtesy of the Heinz Endowments.

Christine Mondor of evolveEA and the head of the Pittsburgh Planning Commission led the tour to the Eco-Innovation District and spoke for the group. Her summary emphasized connecting the Uptown community both socially and physically to other parts of the city.

“There are a lot of good things going on in this community. How do you let it grow organically—and how do you get more of its people involved?” she asked.

Mondor also talked about creating an environment that honors existing residents while inviting in new residents. “How do we create an environment that leverages those relationships? How do we design these spaces that allow for that mixing to happen?  There’s not a lot of that right now.“

To gauge success, her group suggested creating an index of indicators based on walkability scores, reduced vehicle miles traveled, press coverage of Uptown, goals for new resident numbers and goals for new businesses. If  the number was 50, she says, then 25 new businesses should be owned by people already living in the community.

She ended her talk with a challenge for the mayor, asking what can he do tomorrow? “We need short-term activation and long-term policy changes. Short-term are things on the street that build community that show proof that things can change, that enable imagination and empower action.”

Peduto said of the Uptown neighborhood, “It may be one of the most misunderstood neighborhoods in the city. Empowerment, involvement, culture, connection are already there. They’ve done it themselves,” he said, noting the efforts of the “McNutts” of StartUptown and James Simon and Rick Schweikert and Sherrie Flick.

Blaine Merker envisions a more pedestrian-friendly downtown. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Blaine Merker of Gehl Architects led the Envision Downtown group. “The single thing that could improve downtown the most—we should keep it really focused and simple—is to imagine a downtown that prioritizes pedestrians.

“If we could prioritize pedestrians in all design decisions and engineering decisions, traffic decisions—even development and programming decisions—a lot of the other things would fall into place,” he said.

His team suggested studying the streets to find out how space is allocated between pedestrians, people who ride the bus, bikers and people in their cars. Also, that the city implements pilot programs and demonstration projects—like bike lane extensions—that are bold but temporary if they don’t work out.

When asked to comment, Mayor Peduto said, “when we start talking about that complete street model, we are taking that first step.”

Friedman’s group also noted their favorite spaces downtown such as Market Square, spots where they could slow down, enjoy life, sit and watch the sky and people pass. “A great metric would be to increase the number of places people say when asked what their favorite places are—from four places to, say, ten.”

Let’s actually ask people how happy they are, track that over time and see how changes influence people’s emotional state when they’re downtown.”

Another metric? “The way we achieve success is by more people feeling safe,” says Friedman.

At the conference end, Peduto emphasized that, “Good enough is not good enough anymore. The days of the city being in an abyss, going through a depression, going through a recession—when any development was looked at as a positive—are gone. We are now going to be looking at the best developments for this city as we take it into this next era.”

Lauri Gravina

Woods wanderer who was an an editor at New England’s regional magazine, the research director of a Colorado newspaper and a farm hand in Vermont before returning to Pittsburgh to write about and explore her hometown.