Is this Pittsburgh’s moment?
Some say yes–not just those from Pittsburgh but quite a few outside the city. And it’s a moment we’ve been waiting for.
Seven years ago, I arrived in Pittsburgh with my husband and our then-six-year-old son. We had left beautiful, multi-cultural–and very expensive–San Francisco in search of a city that was more welcoming to a couple of mid-career professionals who were late to the parenting game. Pittsburgh was the winner on our short list of cities (Minneapolis and Burlington, Vt. were the other two), and to this day we still drop our jaws every time we exit the Fort Pitt Tunnel and gaze upon the Golden Triangle. The flip side? There were few restaurants in the city that satisfied our foodie sensibility and municipal governance was in flux.
Fast forward to this season of giving and it’s easy to find oneself in a space of gratitude, for five very good reasons.
1. The city has never looked better. Ever.
In the past few years, downtown’s Market Square has morphed from a desolate space to the beating heart of the city center. Tables and chairs are packed with the lunchtime crowd in warm weather and a slate of good programming is masterfully orchestrated by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
When the Partnership brought the cutting-edge and interactive art installation, “Congregation,” to the Square earlier this year, we all swooned. Yoga on the Square? On my list. A short walk away, Point State Park was completely renovated in recent years and the fountain now shoots spectacularly in all its glory after a long dry spell. It’s not just the locals who are charmed by the Point – a 40-foot-tall rubber duckie appeared to wink at revelers in the fall of 2013.
Further into the downtown district, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy did the heavy lifting on the renovation of Mellon Square, a Modernist marvel which echoed today’s rooftop gardens yet had fallen into disrepair. After a $10 million renovation funded by civic giants including the Richard King Mellon and Colcom Foundations, the fountains are once again splashing and emerald-green “terraces” add to the feel of an urban oasis. These are some of the reasons why Pittsburgh, more than ever, is getting great buzz and more than its share of attention in the national press. The most recent? A glowing tribute from Atlantic Magazine on why millennials love Pittsburgh. (We love Lena Andrew’s remark: “Every friend who visits us here wants to start looking at houses.”)
2. There’s never been a better time for Pittsburgh.
Right now, there are more people than ever – that’s right, ever – in the Pittsburgh work force. The unemployment rate for the Pittsburgh metropolitan area was 5.2 percent as of September 2014, the fifth lowest rate among major peers including Boston, Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia. And as NEXTpittsburgh has reported, the buzz about the city has never been greater, for many reasons. Capitalizing on this momentum is the administration of new mayor Bill Peduto, which is keen to listen to the data as well as the people as it fashions the city’s next renaissance. Key eyes and ears are a cabinet that includes Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin, Chief Innovation and Performance Officer Debra Lam, and Chief Education & Neighborhood Reinvestment Officer Curtiss E. Porter. Peduto, a progressive mayor with a hugely ambitious agenda is already making gains on top priorities that include education, economic development, public safety, transportation and sustainability.
3. We’re focusing on under-served neighborhoods and community voices.
It’s no secret that the steely (as in tough, as in real) nature of Pittsburghers is one of the city’s greatest assets but to maximize that, we need vibrant, livable places for all our citizens. NEXT recently profiled 5 people making Pittsburgh a more livable city for all. Now it’s time to recognize a few of the many organizations in town working toward improvement. One is Neighborhood Allies, a “community development intermediary,” connecting underserved neighborhoods with the partners and investments that can help craft sustainable communities. The seasoned hands at the organization know how to succeed and are already securing positive outcomes throughout the city. Among the Allies is the longstanding Design Center of Pittsburgh, which utilizes design, urban planning, and public policy to shape equitable communities throughout the region.
Doing more good thinking on these vital issues is Urban Innovation21, an organization led by Bill Generett, that believes the innovation economy cannot thrive if under-served communities are left behind. It’s time to spread the wealth (generators) and while we have miles to go in this pursuit, Pittsburgh is on board more than ever with a multitude of nonprofit groups–and individuals–working to make the region better for all.