In the Energy Innovation Center, a newly renovated building that is a model of collaboration, reinvention and sustainability, Mayor Bill Peduto kicked off the p4 Conference last Thursday with a story of the four chapters of Pittsburgh.

Chapter one is rich with tales of George Washington and tells of Pittsburgh’s birth as a frontier town. Chapter two is our time as an industrial giant while chapter three is the story of our Renaissance and subsequent collapse. As for chapter four?

“Planet and people, place and performance—these are the metrics we use as we build up this next chapter of Pittsburgh,” he said, referencing the 4 p’s that make up the conference title. “This is a wonderful, wonderful time to be in Pittsburgh.”

Through two walls of 20-foot windows of the building—”the perfect place” for the conference as more than one host noted—the audience of nearly 300 leaders and experts saw a dramatic view of downtown Pittsburgh on one side and on the other, the first hopeful signs of spring unfolding on the hillside above the Allegheny River.

In setting the tone for the conference, Peduto asked, “How can we make this so it’s an economy for everyone?” and emphasized the need to preserve the treasures of Pittsburgh’s historic past and “that uniqueness, that screwiness” that defines the city as we move forward on making Pittsburgh a world leader among cities. “And how do we measure it so we know we’re doing it and we’re not just talking about it?” he asked.

A collaboration between the Mayor and City of Pittsburgh and André Heinz and the Heinz Endowments, the p4 conference brought hundreds of local, national and international leaders and experts together to hear more than 30 speakers. Here’s the link to the speaker videos. The focus was on the best of ideas rooted in the categories of planet, people, place and performance to help transform Pittsburgh into an inclusive, green and economically competitive city that can be held up as a model for the 21st-century.

In between sessions at the Energy Innovation Center for p4. Photo by Tracy Certo.

In between sessions at the Energy Innovation Center for p4. Photo by Tracy Certo.

In an intense first day, the group heard a wealth of ideas and information in the four categories that started with a close look at Stockholm, one of the most sustainable cities in the world which has become a “factory of ideas.” The most common profession in the city is a programmer, noted speaker Maria Rankka of the Stockhom Chamber of Commerce. And the most universal language of the modern economy? “Programming.”

To achieve true sustainability requires more than focus on the environment, she said. “In the future, there simply will be no place for growth unless it is sustainable and inclusive. Economic, social and environmental needs must be simultaneously addressed.”

Hal Harvey of Energy Innovation suggested that it’s time to kick the fossil habit. “Solar panels run forever and don’t emit anything,” he said. “Low carbon solutions are now cost-effective.” But he warns, “It won’t happen without the innovation and political intensity to drive adoption of these policies.”

Harvey issued four challenges to Pittsburgh, including the need for net zero buildings, phasing out fossil fuels, rethinking the urban grid and focusing on system optimization.

“These are the megatrends we need to land at a reasonable future. Pittsburgh is incredibly suited to do each of these things,” he stated, adding, “If Pittsburgh consciously builds around these goals—it would own it.”

Bruce Katz, Mayor Bill Peduto, Andre Heinz and Grant Oliphant. Photo by TC for NEXTpittsburgh.

Bruce Katz, Mayor Bill Peduto, Andre Heinz and Grant Oliphant. Photo by TC for NEXTpittsburgh.

Bake in Equity 

Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink started her talk about equity with information about the population shift—how, for instance, 2012 marked the first time the majority of U.S.-born babies were of color.

“If you don’t get inclusion right, you don’t have the right to stand as a model—and no one will look to you as a model,” she said. “Every community needs to be a community of opportunity,” she noted, “with good schools and jobs and public transit and healthy environments where you can exercise and have and access to fresh foods and vegetables.”

But first communities must get one thing straight. “We have to bake in equity—not do it on the side. We have to lead with it. Equity is no longer a moral imperative; it has become a national and economic imperative. Equity is the superior growth model.”

The equity agenda will help us, not slow us down, said Glover Blackwell. “When we solve problems for the most vulnerable, we solve problems for everyone.” As an example she cited curb cuts. While the simple and slight ramps now everywhere on street corners were meant to help those specifically in wheelchairs, all kinds of people benefit from them, from cyclists to parents using strollers to those wheeling luggage on streets.