In a story on what Adelaide could learn from Pittsburgh, The Herald Sun in Melbourne gives a brief history of Pittsburgh’s decline then focuses on the city’s comeback three decades later when things couldn’t look more different. Former Mayor Tom Murphy, who spoke to the Sunday Mail spoke to as he prepared to leave the US for a speaking engagement in Newcastle, NSW, said the city leaders had been “managing the decline’’ of Pittsburgh for decades.

“A development plan was launched in the 1980s, and in the 1990s Mr Murphy took over as mayor, putting together a public/private partnership strategy that delivered more than $US4.5 billion in economic development in the city,” reports the Herald Sun. Some of the article’s highlights:

“Murphy led efforts to secure and oversee $1 billion in funding for the development of two professional sports facilities, and a new convention centre that is the largest certified green building in the United States,’’ his biography states.

The Pittsburgh Business Times credits Murphy with aiding the “creation of more than 25 miles of riverfront trails and urban green space and the transformation of abandoned industrial sites into viable commercial and residential properties.’’

Also in the 1980s, various health centres merged to form what is now the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. This integrated health organisation is estimated to employ 62,000 people across 21 hospitals.

Under University President Richard Cyert, the famed Carnegie Mellon University became a world leader in areas such as robotics and software engineering, increasing its research budget considerably in the 1970s and 1980s. In all, Pittsburgh has 33 colleges and universities.

Transforming the economy demanded radical action, but “you’ve got to jump off the cliff’’.

Mr Murphy said there were three key elements to success: building great places to be; fostering talent; creating jobs.

Under his leadership, the city of Pittsburgh bought up a number of derelict industrial sites and developed them in public private partnerships with developers.

Mr Murphy said the private companies wouldn’t have done this themselves, and the city had to reduce the financial risk.

“As a city we bought several thousand acres of old industrial property because the private market was not healthy enough and then we worked with them in whole series of partnerships that shared the risk of developing that property for a whole variety of uses from commercial to housing to retail,’’ he said.

Earlier, as a state politician, he penned legislation which compelled the state’s two large pension funds to invest up to 2 per cent of their money in locally-based venture capital.

Pennsylvania went from having no venture capital firms to 17.

Pittsburgh also worked closely with universities to develop a model whereby academics could take their research and commercialise it, making themselves wealthy in the process, while generating high-paid local jobs.

Mr Murphy said it was politically a very difficult process.

“We had to imagine a different kind of city than we had been for 100 years.

“We were really in bad shape — 50,000 people a year were leaving the region. Our unemployment rate was almost 20 per cent.

“And it was hard for people to imagine a different type of city.’’

One of the key moves was reducing staff numbers — the local equivalent of cutting public service jobs, which the government has long promised to do but not achieved — in order to be able to use that money for economic development.

Today, the article notes, “the city is often noted as being home to more than 1600 technology companies. Google, Apple and Intel have large presences in the city and healthcare, financial services and education are among the largest employers,” it states. And this gem: “As a measure of vibrancy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in May that the city had the most bars per person — 12 per 10,000 — of any city in the US.”

Read the full article here.

Ryan Hoffman

A recent grad of Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Ryan also has a degree in journalism. He has a passion for innovative ideas in Pittsburgh, green urban spaces, music and the...