While many of the speakers hailed from Nordic cities known for their advanced progress in sustainability, other speakers included PNC President Bill Demchak who spoke about the dramatic change in downtown Pittsburgh over recent years as well as the bank’s much-lauded green building initiative; and Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop which has a location in East Liberty. “What happens when you give the the creative class the tools from the industrial revolution?” asked Hatch. “They change the world.”

To end the day, Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments rattled off a list of “can’ts” spoken by the naysayers throughout Pittsburgh’s history, from “You can’t rejuvenate affordable design excellence in a rust-built city” to “You can’t get young people to start businesses here.”

“Enough with the can’ts, enough with the naysayers,” he concluded. “There’s one set of voices saying we can’t—and then there’s you,” he said to the audience. “So go be you and lets prove ’em wrong.”

A different kind of event

“I think what’s been invented here today is a different kind of TEDx event,” said Bruce Katz, vice president and director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and speaker at the conference. “It’s not a random set of talks—it’s been curated and really aligned with the priorities and vision of the city.”  (Starting today, the videos of each speaker will be added to the p4  website.)

The next morning Katz summarized the day’s talks by riffing off some of more than 1000  tweets about it.

The goal is to “allow Pittsburgh to be a first mover on a whole bunch of very audacious challenges,” he said, citing the the four challenges offered by Hal Harvey, above.

Bruce Katz summarizing day one of p4. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Bruce Katz summarizing day one of p4. Photo by Tracy Certo.

“A lot of what was described yesterday—even though it was in the language of sustainability, inclusion or equity—was about unleashing market forces in particular ways and having this city become the vanguard of innovation around some really hard—not just domestic challenges, but global challenges.

“Business and sustainability go together,” reminded Katz who joked that sustainability at times sounds eat-your-spinach austere. “But we learned from the Nordics that it can be fun; there’s something playful about this.” Speaker Kai-Uwe Bergmann, partner at BIG, the Bjarke Ingels Group, he noted, called it hedonistic sustainability. And Bill Demchak noted how good sustainability was for their business, including doing right by the communities where the bank is located.

As for the role of government? It can engage people and invite in the hackers, the activists, the techies, the neighborhood, the citizen into problem solving, said Katz. “Cities are not governments, they’re networks,” he said. “Have extreme public participation because there’s wisdom in the crowd.”

While day one of p4 focused on the speakers and ideas while setting the tone for Pittsburgh’s agenda, day two was an intensive for select participants to translate these ideas into action.

The smaller group present that second day—the people who will likely impact the decisions made at any of the three sites—visited one of the following areas: the Eco Innovation District (uptown, between Oakland and Downtown), the Almono site and Envision Downtown project. Read about day two here.

After a breakout session at the Energy Innovation Center. TC photo for NEXTpittsburgh.

After a breakout session at the Energy Innovation Center. TC photo for NEXTpittsburgh.

Here are a few more takeaways from Thursday’s session:

“You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete,” R. Buckminster Fuller, as quoted by Greg Watson of Schumacher Center for a New Economics.

“Gentrification is good when it’s about wealth building, gentrification is bad when it’s about displacement.” Tim Duggan of Make It Right.

“Certain things you have to experience to learn.” Jurgen Siebel of Siemens on the apprenticeship model. “You can’t virtualize experience.”

“You need to activate the people. We call this extreme public participation.” Kai-Uwe Bergmann of BIG, the Bjarke Ingels Group.

“We have engineered out of our lives the useful walk.” Jeff Speck, author of the Walkable City. “The idea that it’s not considered absurd to drive to the gym, to park in the parking lot, to take the escalator, to walk on a treadmill is the fundamental root of so many problems in our society.”

“The old model: give tax breaks and lure big companies and hope they stay for five years. Now people matter, assets matter. Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Bruce Katz summarizing Maria Rankka and quoting Dolly Parton.