In 1907 some of the world’s preeminent social scientists embarked on what would become the most comprehensive and impactful study of urban life in the history of our country. The Russell Sage Foundation of New York City funded the Pittsburgh Survey of 1907. The Foundation was a philanthropic fund designed to identify the challenges of urban life and reform city government in a progressive direction to address these challenges head on. The voluminous results of the Pittsburgh Survey were compiled in four books and became a blueprint for the ills of early 20th century urban life and how to solve them. The Survey exposed rampant government corruption, deplorable working conditions in the early factories and mills, poor living conditions for most working-class families, inadequate water and sanitation, and deep divisions among ethnic communities that led to mistrust and exclusion. The conditions exposed by the Survey played a major role in the political activism that led to the hard-won reforms of the Progressive Era and the enactment of labor laws, government reforms, and our social safety nets.
A diverse alliance of labor, community and environmental groups rallied in support of Bill Peduto this morning. Peduto supporters from groups including 32BJ SEIU, The Sierra Club, United Steelworkers, UFCW, Ironworkers, IATSE, Clean Water Action, and the League of Conservation Voters gathered at the Gardens at Market Square—the first development which will be fully covered under the 2009 Service Worker Prevailing Wage Bill strongly supported by Bill Peduto.
Back when Pittsburgh’s zoning code was first rewritten, it was ahead of its time. The zoning code contained some forward-thinking development standards that advocated for environmental sustainability and the protection of our natural topography. It recognized the changing economic landscape of the city and moved us away from industrial development and instead towards education, medicine and neighborhood business districts. However, it has been nearly 20 years since our code was rewritten and much has changed in the field of city planning, the economy of our city, and development patterns and techniques nationwide. Therefore, we need to reassess our zoning code and find ways it can be streamlined, made easier to understand and comply with, and ensure it is compatible with our 21st century city. Rewriting a zoning code is no small task. It will require a great deal of community input, technical expertise, feedback from developers, and cooperation from all political stakeholders. But it is a task well worth taking on and one that I think can have a highly positive impact on the future development of our neighborhoods.
In the 2010 Census, Pittsburgh saw an across the board population increase of 22% for young residents between the ages of 20 and 24. Our median age decreased from about 35 years old to about 32 years old. And we welcomed thousands of young new residents to our neighborhoods; many who came from larger cities to take advantage of the lower cost of living and job opportunities here. We know that young people don’t just want trendy coffee shops and artist lofts, they want the same things all residents want: safe communities, vibrant business districts, and solid public transportation. New residents can be powerful growth engines for the city, and we need to find opportunities to attract new residents to move in, get college students to stay, and encourage kids who grew up in Pittsburgh to move back and be a part of our city’s future.
In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) law. This law allows municipalities and redevelopment authorities to create TRID Districts so new revenue can be utilized to expand and create new public transit opportunities. Stakeholders in East Liberty are working on implementing the city’s first TRID District in conjunction with new developments in the area. The TRID will allow a portion of the new property taxes created through redevelopment efforts to be dedicated to improvements in public transit, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure in the surrounding area. Our hope is that this TRID District becomes a model that can be used in other neighborhoods. But creating TRID may not be enough. To supplement the district and ensure that the development within it is in line with the goals of expanding and creating transit opportunities, I will work with our City Planning Department to create the city’s first Transit Oriented Development zoning overlay.
Pittsburgh has a success story to tell. We have turned around a total collapse of our economy and reemerged as a leading city in medicine, education, technology, and the arts. And the media has taken notice. Pittsburgh has been named the “Most Livable City” numerous times, been featured in national newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post. Recently, I was even interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company about the community efforts to restore East Liberty. The one thing missing from this success story is a Mayor and a city government that engages with other cities around the world on economic development, policy issues, and arts and culture. It’s great to have positive media promoting our city, but we need to think bigger and begin engaging with cities across the United States and beyond.
Pittsburgh’s startup economy has helped to build prosperity in the region and attract new jobs, new residents, and new investment. However, the growth of startup companies has slowed in recent years along with the venture capital dollars that fuel them. Pennsylvania as a whole, and the Pittsburgh region, are now lagging behind the rest of the country in new startup development. If we are to continue our growth as a city we must do better. We must find ways to jumpstart the development of new small businesses, especially those in emerging fields and new technology. Pittsburgh has the potential to be the Silicon Valley of our region. City government should be doing everything we can to nurture this development.
Pittsburgh’s tech and start up universe is rich and diverse and has been a major driver of our economic stability and growth over the past decade. However, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies have shown Pittsburgh lagging in new job creation, especially in high-tech industries. The city has to be a strong partner with our emerging industries and work hand-in-hand to ensure that they are getting the public and private resources and opportunities they need to be successful. One of the best ways to do this is create new business incubators that provide the transitional space and resources for young firms in a collaborative, cooperative environment where they can learn from one another and from established firms in related fields. The idea is not to try to force innovation to happen where it is not already happening but to nurture organic startups and provide a bridge from start up to successful company.
“For nearly two years, I’ve stood with the community in advocating for this merger. The community’s diligence and hard work has paid off,” says Peduto. “Today Pennsylvania’s state insurance regulators have approved a plan for Highmark to merge with the financially troubled West Penn Allegheny Health System. This approval saves jobs and will allow for greater competition in Pittsburgh’s healthcare market as UPMC has shown business practices that are inconsistent with a purely public charity.”
The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority’s EPA-mandated wet weather plan calls for spending nearly $3 billion dollars over the next 10 to 20 years in order to reduce the pollutants that flow into our rivers after every rainstorm. This project represents the largest and most disruptive infrastructure undertaking in the City of Pittsburgh in our lifetimes. And ratepayers are going to bear the brunt of the costs, with rates going up as much as 200 to 300% for City of Pittsburgh residents. The current ALCOSAN proposal calls for the construction of massive concrete holding tanks under our rivers and an expansion of the ALCOSAN sewage treatment plant. Our polluted rivers are a serious problem that must be addressed but we have other problems, like flooding in our neighborhoods and erosion of our hillsides, that this plan does not address. If we are going to spend this much money and ask ratepayers to contribute more every month, this plan has to be reconsidered and we have to work to ensure that the community benefits flow from this massive investment of public resources. We can use this as an opportunity to green our neighborhoods, create good jobs, and alleviate flooding in our neighborhoods.