An innovator, by definition, is a person who introduces something new whether it’s an idea, a policy, a product or a way of doing things. In this case it’s a risk taker who is shaking things up, making necessary changes and adapting new technology to better get things done.

Whether you like our newly elected mayor or not, agree with his policies or not, think he’s the city’s savior or not—it’s hard to dispute the idea that Mayor Bill Peduto is an innovator.

Based on Mayor Peduto’s track record thus far, the impact his office has on our city and his potential for continued innovation in 2015, we are pleased to announce Mayor Bill Peduto as the NEXT Innovator for 2015. It’s the first of what will be an annual award from NEXTpittsburgh in recognition of progress so far and the potential for what’s next.

A year ago today, Peduto was inaugurated as our city’s 60th mayor. During the ceremony, the CAPA choir sang an a capella rendition of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” followed by an audience sing-along of Mr. Rogers’ theme song led by Joe Grushecky on his electric guitar.

Vanessa German performed a spoken word poem that brought the audience to their feet, high school marching bands played, leaders from five different faiths conducted ceremonial proceedings and the parents of Paul Sciullo, the young officer slain in 2009, held the Bible as Peduto took his oath of office.

From those first moments, Peduto both embraced tradition and eschewed convention; he showed substance, creativity and a unique style. And in the past twelve months, Peduto has proved to be a proactive mayor attempting to rewrite the book on Pittsburgh, from being the first mayor in city history to publish his daily schedule online to officiating the first same-sex wedding to naming the city’s first Chief Innovation and Performance Officer.

“He’s a hugely ambitious mayor with a progressive agenda,” says Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant.

“In a world that is coming at us at lightning speed, it’s critical to have mayors who can see around the corner and take risks to keep up with the fast-paced environment that is challenging every elected official of the country, especially mayors,” says Lee Fisher, President and CEO of CEOs for Cities and former Lieutenant Governor of Ohio. “You need to have an attitude in your administration that first, you’re willing to listen to new ideas; second, you’re willing to put human and financial resources toward implementing the ideas and third, you’re willing to risk failure in order to keep innovating. It comes naturally for Mayor Peduto.”

Being a mayor is an extremely challenging job—he spends more time putting out fires than accomplishing objectives, said one person—and we recognize that Peduto is still in the honeymoon phase of his term. But in a short year, Peduto has shown he is willing to try an impressive number of new ideas, many quite innovative.

“He’s always been an idea person,” says Jon Delano, politics editor at KDKA. “It almost doesn’t matter whether the ideas work or don’t work, he’s going to throw many out to make them happen. He prefers acting to sitting back and managing things.”

That’s preferable to someone who refuses to embrace change, says Delano. “He’s so new at mayor that there’s no way to judge his innovations. What we will find in years to come is that some were fabulous and others didn’t work. It’s not a negative on him, it’s just what happens when you have someone who’s willing to try anything and everything.”

“Obviously there’s push back on any new idea—there always is,” says Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking. “But I applaud him for making things happen. Refinement is the next step—the challenge to refine the idea after it’s been analyzed properly.”

Mayor Bill Peduto. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Plenty of challenges lie ahead but for now it’s time to recognize some highlights of Peduto’s past year by theme and hope for more to come.

Hiring

Open Call: Peduto blew open the doors when hiring his administration, posting 45 job positions through Talent City, an initiative created by The Pittsburgh Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics. The intention? To bring objectivity, transparency and rigorous hiring practices to the city leadership. Any and all could apply. Trading “power for talent,” his administration overhauled law and justice and hired the solicitor and chief legal officer, the director of internal investigation, the public safety director and the police chief.

Diversity: In a city not known for diversity, the mayor’s administration is the most diverse in city history. Four women and three men make up his cabinet, including a Cuban-born woman, two African Americans and a child of Chinese immigrants. Overall, Peduto appointed 45 people to city boards, authorities and commissions—55% are women and 25% are African American. “Diversity is important because only when we have all viewpoints and backgrounds at the table,” says Peduto, “will we truly make decisions that benefit all stakeholders of this city.”

Collaboration

Open dialogue with citizens: Mayor’s Night In/Out/Online/On Air  was a series of open dialogue events that invited Pittsburghers to a Q & A. Mayor’s Night Out had Peduto visiting neighborhoods with all the people responsible for decision making in tow. Mayor’s Night In opened the doors of City Hall for anyone who wanted to have a word with the mayor. Mayor’s Night Online was on Reddit’s Ask Me Anything platform. “When we created Reddit,” the founder wrote to the mayor,”we were hoping that this would be exactly the way it would be used.”

Mayor’s Night On Air was an open forum held at WESA broadcast studio to discuss police-community relations. The panel, on hand to field questions from the audience, included Mayor Peduto, the new police chief (Cameron McLay) and the president of Alliance for Police Accountability (Brandi Fisher). In addition, each month, Peduto is a guest on Essential Pittsburgh, a radio call-in show on WESA.

Open dialogue with the city’s innovators: Peduto held a series of four roundtables with the themes of Clean Tech, Maker’s Movement, Coworking & Accelerators, and Entrepreneurs & Innovators to hear from more than 100 leaders from Pittsburgh’s innovative organizations. As reported in NEXTpittsburgh in November, participant Andrew Butcher of GTECH Strategies said, “He and his team are tremendously receptive, and the message is very consistently, ‘we don’t want to get in your way, we want to help enable.’ And that is a real different shift.”

Open dialogue with the City Council: A City Council member for 12 years, Peduto wanted to create a dialogue and better relations between his office and City Council, as they had long sat on opposite sides of the City County Building. He opened his door to the Council, and his top staff meets weekly with the Council President, Finance Chair and Budget Director.

Transition Committees: Peduto invited Pittsburghers to join one of eight Transition Committees to help set the agenda for the new administration. More than 1,200 volunteered—all were accepted—and they participated and generated more than 100 recommendations (which totaled 1,100 pages) for the newly elected mayor to review. Some recommendations? Expand 311 program (Check.) Create more bike and pedestrian-friendly roads. (Check.) Landlord registry (Proposed—and highly contested by landowners as each registration costs $65.)

For more on Peduto’s “blueprint,” here’s the link to all the recommendations.

Economic development

Community-driven development: A refrain heard in Pittsburgh is, “Pittsburgh is the most livable city, but the most livable city for whom?” To address issues with the neighborhoods that have been left behind, one of Peduto’s first actions was to create the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment. This department has one mission: to work with residents of the communities that have seen historic disinvestment and been chronically neglected. The group focuses on four areas of need: nonprofit initiatives, small business development, mixed-income housing and education.

“Not all mayors understand that economic growth in and of itself is insufficient. It has to be linked to economic opportunity,” says Lee Fisher. “It’s obvious that Bill Peduto understands these vital connections.”

Creating ladders of opportunity in disenfranchised neighborhoods:  Beating out 40 other cities that applied, Larimer was awarded a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant to build mixed-income housing and more. It was a community effort, says Peduto, who helped by going to Washington to meet with the secretary of HUD to make the case.

Hazelwood’s ALMONO project is on track to be a model for sustainable brownfield development and will reconnect Hazelwood to neighboring communities. In 2014, Peduto helped the project secure $5 million in state funding for necessary infrastructure for the project to move forward.

What to do with the site of the former Civic Arena has been a contested issue for years. Rebuilding and reconnecting the Hill District to the city center is a priority of Peduto and his staff. Keeping U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh? Also a priority. With the help of many players, including the mayor, U.S. Steel committed to stay in Pittsburgh and will relocate its headquarters to the Hill District—at the site of the former Civic Arena. “U.S. Steel belongs in Pittsburgh,” says Peduto.

Preservation of city icons: When one-third of the Strip’s District Produce Terminal was in danger of facing the wrecking ball, Peduto stepped in. The goal is to “preserve the neighborhood’s unique character while creating new opportunities for growth and investment,” says Peduto.

Micro-funding: In May, the mayor launched a partnership with Kiva Zip, a world-wide nonprofit that funds micro-loans at 0% interest through crowd sourcing. This allows Pittsburghers to both give and receive—and helps to strengthen the small business community.

Policies

Multi-modal: Peduto’s intention is to make Pittsburgh a Top 10 City for Biking. He visited Copenhagen, voted the most-bike friendly city in the world, to better learn how to integrate biking into our streets and help to make us “a cycling mecca.” He authorized the creation of protected bike lanes in quick time for September’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference. And he appointed a Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator, Kristin Saunders.

What’s next? He plans to ramp up the bus rapid transit (BRT) between Oakland and Downtown, to expand the light rail system and to ensure the construction of the pedestrian/bike bridge incorporated onto the West End bridge.

Pre-K to Post-High School initiatives: “We’ve really set the bar high on addressing early education in the city,” says Peduto. “We can identify 5,000 children right now in the city of Pittsburgh who have no access to early childhood education, and we’re looking into different means, the partners that we’ll need, and the different policies we’ll need to create a Prenatal to Pre-K program,” he says. If we work “in conjunction with Pittsburgh Promise,” he adds, “we will have transformed ourselves from the City of Steel to the City of Education.”

Supporter of ride sharing: When the PUC ordered Uber and Lyft to cease-and-desist, Peduto resisted. “I will not let the Governor and the Public Utility Commission shut down innovation,” he said in a July statement. His strong tenor continued: “While the commission may wish for Pennsylvania to cling to a Jurassic Age of transportation options, people in Pittsburgh and other communities know our state must adapt or die in the global marketplace.”

“I will not let Pittsburgh’s emerging status as a 21st Century technological hub be sacrificed by unaccountable bureaucrats clinging to the past.”

The Melting Pot: To help achieve the goal of 20,000 new residents in 10 years, the mayor’s administration partnered with Welcoming Cities to create Welcoming Pittsburgh, an initiative designed to celebrate the city’s melting pot history, create immigrant-friendly policies and develop greater immigrant integration. From a pool of 100 people who applied through a public online process, Peduto appointed a 40-person advisory council to facilitate and implement Welcoming Pittsburgh’s work over the coming years. “Our immigration efforts are pulling together all the groups that for years have been working sometimes in silo effect,” says Peduto. In December, Pittsburgh joined with 12 other cities in a campaign that encourages legal immigrants to become U.S. Citizens.

Leveraging media to help showcase our city: Peduto took a risk and appeared on Undercover Boss—and though some knock him for not yet revealing who funded the gifts given at the end of the episode—the city shines and social media was abuzz with comments, most of them quite favorable. And note: The mayor is a regular on Twitter reporting on all things Pittsburgh.

Walking the talk: Pittsburgh was the first community in the region to join Live Well Allegheny, a health initiative run by the county. Live Well Pittsburgh includes a 10,000 steps challenge, a weight loss challenge and a discount to Venture Outdoors. “Live Well Pittsburgh captures the essence of what we have been working towards,” says Peduto, “and gives our city a road map for how we will holistically improve the total health of our neighborhoods in the coming years.”

Peduto proved he does more than talk—in this past year, he began working out, lost 20 pounds and he started riding a bike.

At his inauguration a year ago. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Sustainability & the Environment: In February, Peduto hired the city’s first sustainability manager, Grant Ervin. Using data compiled by the Transition Team of Innovation & Sustainability, Peduto and Ervin set out to accomplish an ambitious agenda. Some 60 projects fall under the sustainability umbrella, such as the development of the first of several EcoDistricts—neighborhoods committed to improving sustainability through infrastructure, green building and community action—in Uptown. Front and center on Peduto’s agenda is improving waste water and water treatment processes. “Water defines our city,” says Peduto. “It is our history and future. It is essential, powerful, precious, and cannot be taken for granted.”

The city also implemented the use of biofuels in their heavy trucks—and supported local technology along the way. On the docket is more energy efficient lighting in parking garages. After the lighting system was changed in W. General Robinson Garage, the monthly electric bill dropped by $60,000.

“Environment is directly connected to the prosperity of a region,” said Peduto during a speech at the Green Building Alliance‘s (GBA) Inspire Speakers Series.  “We reinvented ourselves from the little fortress town, to the industrial giant, to the city that went through the Renaissance, and today we’re at that next step. And you know the most beautiful part about it? We don’t even know what it is—which gives us the opportunity to dream big.”

Beyond the city

Peduto’s achievements and outlook have been recognized outside the city. He has been to the White House to speak about early education and workforce development and has appeared on Meet the Press as one of three “dynamic” leaders of cities in a segment titled “What Washington Can Learn from America’s Cities.”

He spoke about Pittsburgh’s transformation at international conferences in Germany, Denmark and Canada while turning down offers from 11 other countries (garnering criticism along the way for being out of town a little too much). And he was the only mayor invited to Google’s Zeitgeist, an annual gathering of 300 worldwide thought leaders and one of six mayors chosen for the Mayor’s Institute on City Design program.

“I have had the privilege of working with many mayors and what strikes me most about Peduto is how authentic he is,” says Lee Fisher. “He is not the least bit pretentious, he is an excellent listener and he’s bold in the sense that he’s willing to take responsible risks to keep up with the fast pace of technology and limited public resources that demand multi-sector collaboration.”

That’s at the heart of innovation.

But one thing you need to recognize about innovators, cautions Jon Delano, is that “they’re not 100 percent successful.” He thinks Peduto needs to be upfront about that. “And yet,” Delano adds, ” we want to reward innovation.”

Especially during this honeymoon phase, the public is willing to give him “a lot of rope and a lot of latitude as long as they feel his heart and mind are in the right place trying to make the community better,” he says. One example? “He raises taxes, gets an eight to one vote in favor of it and not a lot of outcry from the community. That says a lot.”

The challenges of his office are many but his vision is big: “We have the opportunity to be the example of the 21st-century, modern city,” Peduto says. Period.

It’s only been one year but we like the direction Peduto has taken and hope for many more innovative things to come for 2015 and beyond.

Publisher Tracy Certo contributed to this article.

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...