The inauguration of Bill Peduto as mayor of Pittsburgh in January ushered in a wave of energy and capped a feeling of renewal in Pittsburgh, along with a re-ordering of civic leadership.
The timing aligns with another wave of new leadership throughout the region, from the public sector (The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and the Port Authority) to the private sector (PNC Bank, hugely influential in our community) and nonprofits, including the Heinz Endowments and Carnegie Museums.
We asked four leaders from various fields, now in new positions, about their visions and plans in their roles and how their work will affect our region. What does it mean for our city and region in moving forward?
“We’re seeing a huge shift, a complete alignment of progressive leadership at the city and county,” says Grant Oliphant, who is taking over as president of the Heinz Endowments, the second largest foundation in the city. “We have two major political leaders talking about how to move the region forward together. We haven’t seen that since 1991.”
Mayor Bill Peduto: a well-run city is a vibrant city
One of those leaders is, of course, Mayor Bill Peduto, who said in his inaugural speech in January, “It is my job to turn this moment into an opportunity for reform.” He has made it known from the start that his goal is working in collaboration with others in running the city, from top leaders such as County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, to city residents trying to improve their neighborhoods.
His style has already been branded by the national press as Peduto Urbanism.
“We are going to take models we have used successfully in neighborhoods such as East Liberty and use them to build ladders of opportunity in communities that have been left out of the city’s success, like Larimer,” Peduto says. “And we make that happen by relying on a ground-up rather than top-down philosophy where the best ideas come from those people living and working in the city’s neighborhoods.”
As national press has also noted, the mayor has already made his mark in doing things differently, and quickly, from naming a chief innovation officer to pushing through an open data bill to announcing an initiative for attracting immigrants, all firsts for the city.
Peduto is cognizant of the many challenges facing the city and the work that needs to be done specifically in areas such as the environment, air quality and under-served neighborhoods.
“I’ve started the city’s first Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment precisely to tackle these problems, helmed by Valerie McDonald Roberts and Dr. Curtiss Porter, ” he says. “Working with them are experts in the fields of housing, nonprofits, small business and education—improving resources for all those factors should improve the neighborhoods that have been left behind. The city’s new sustainability manager, Grant Ervin, works daily with partners around the region to address air quality and other environmental concerns.”
As for opportunities? “There are so many to choose from, but one thing that will take all of those things—leadership, vision and industry—will be Pittsburgh’s place on the world stage when it comes to sustainable manufacturing,” Peduto answers. “With our existing research capabilities at the city’s universities and its stocks of developable industrial land, we are perfectly positioned to work with forward-thinking businesses to make the city a leader in sustainable, environmentally-friendly manufacturing.”
Grant Oliphant: A vibrant city is an innovative city
In his new role as president of the Heinz Endowments, Grant Oliphant, known for his innovative work at the Pittsburgh Foundation, senses a new opportunity for Pittsburgh. “We’ll work closely with the mayor and (Allegheny County Executive) Rich Fitzgerald because they’re interested in big, bold and ambitious agendas,” he says. “They’ve come to us on how to do a better job with big data to make changes in government and drive better practices. They’re not afraid to take on issues including the August Wilson Center and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“It feels like this is a moment when everything is on the table and we have a chance to do things differently than they’ve been done in decades.”
Part of that is due to the transformation of Pittsburgh over the years.
“We’re not in deficit mode any more,” Oliphant points out. “This resurgent, emerging community has a chance to move to the next level. We’re doing more on the environment and sustainability, we have good design, the riverfront, are tackling clean air and water. We need to take on the challenge of poverty in our community, the divide in race. But I see a willingness to take it on.”