For a long time after the steel industry collapsed, Pittsburgh got used to thinking its best days were behind it.
Those days are over. Now the recent hints at what the future holds for Pittsburgh have our heads spinning. The city’s future is looking pretty bright, like “we hope you didn’t throw out your eclipse glasses” bright.
Pittsburgh was recently dubbed a city “living in the future,” and the Brookings Institution just released a report based on months of research that finds Pittsburgh to be a “top global destination for technology-based economic activity” and a “world-class innovation city.”
So, we thought we’d try to imagine what our future might look like. (Aside from Wiz Khalifa on the oldies station … let’s try not to think about that.)
Even in the brightest possible timeline, buying beer will still be a pain in Pennsylvania (we’re predicting the future, not the impossible). However, now that Pittsburgh is Eastern terminus of the first Hyperloop –Elon Musk’s moonshot transportation technology that whisks travelers through pressurized pneumatic tubes–you can go to Columbus in 15 minutes, and Chicago in 47 minutes. That means you can buy beer in random Columbus gas stations, laundromats and mini-golf courses (or wherever they sell beer in that town), then “hop in a pod” and zoom back to the North Side before kickoff. Or you can celebrate your anniversary at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago and be back in time to relieve the babysitter.
If you remember the days when steel mills where shuttering all over Western PA — throwing tens of thousands of people out of work at a time — well, this is the opposite. Amazon’s second headquarters is still staffing up toward the anticipated and high-paying 50,000 jobs it expects to put on the banks of the Monongahela. A trained workforce is ready, due to the tireless efforts of local universities and foundations, and people like Stefani Pashman, now celebrating a decade leading the Allegheny Conference.
Since even the massive former Almono site (the city’s last abandoned steel mill property) couldn’t house the whole thing, a spiderweb of bike trails and aerial gondolas (already used in Portland, South America and Europe) connect Hazelwood to the South Side, Oakland and Downtown.
If Pittsburgh is good at anything, it’s redeveloping vacant former steel mill properties. The original plans for Almono were incredibly ambitious, building an entire waterfront neighborhood — with housing and high-tech offices and public amenities — from scratch, and integrating it into the existing neighborhood of Hazelwood. Then, when Amazon showed up, things got really complicated. Still, it’s hard to argue that now Hazelwood is anything but thriving, as its acres of abandoned lots fill up with housing (some of it affordable!), and the streets around French bakery La Gourmandine become Pittsburgh’s next great restaurant row.
Somehow, in the early 2000s, bike lanes had become a symbol of “Pittsburgh is changing and I don’t like it,” to the types of people who leave comments on certain local news sites. Now, the Brilliant Branch Rail-to-Trail and others have expanded Pittsburgh’s network of bike trails closer to European standards of utility and attractiveness. Nobody remembers the fuss was about.
What other neighborhoods ended up being the “next Lawrenceville?” A few places, it turns out. Sharpsburg got a lot of attention when Hitchhiker Brewing joined Dancing Gnome across the river, and then again when Deeplocal moved to town. Carrick (going way back to the Next 3 Days event held in 2017) is also seeing new attention and investment, with young people moving in.
Across all neighborhoods, some days there are more robotic cars on the road than cars with actual drivers. Like no other technology since the internet, self-driving cars are changing the world, and no other city has the crucial nexus of talent that Pittsburgh has at Carnegie Mellon University, Argo AI (Ford), Delphi, Aurora, Uber and others.
Pittsburgh International Airport is now truly international, with direct flights to London, Tokyo, Beijing, Frankfurt and Paris. The foundation was laid when the Airport Authority spent $1.1 billion on a new terminal, and imploded the old, obsolete landslide terminal. Instead of suiting the specifications of a long-defunct airline, now it’s an airport designed with Pittsburgh flyers in mind (including a direct flight to Seattle for all those Amazon conferences).
That’s good, since tourists are flocking more than ever to dine at our many farm-to-table restaurants that are sourced entirely within city limits. In particular, there’s the biggest urban farm in America on the site of the demolished St. Clair Village housing projects.
Oh, speaking of farming, medical marijuana is a thing now. And the world didn’t end.
City of the future, here we come.