The energy used by buildings to keep our offices, stores, homes, and stadiums heated in the winter, cooled in the summer, and lighted all year round represents a significant portion of the total energy used every year. It also represents a lot of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere and a lot of money wasted on inefficiencies. Cities around the country have started to look more closely at how large buildings use energy, and through this process of examining usage they have been able to take concrete steps to make buildings more efficient and save energy and money. Through partnerships with the federal government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and organizations like Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and the Green Building Alliance, we can create a program to help building owners and managers track their energy use and make adjustments to save them energy and money.
Encouraging pedestrians to get out and walk their neighborhoods is one of the best ways to increase public health, keep eyes on our streets, and keep our neighborhood business districts vibrant. However, most of our way-finding and place-making infrastructure is geared toward drivers, is outdated, and was created in a top-down manner without much input from residents and community groups. We should gear our way-finding tools to appeal to and support pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers. These tools should help find innovative ways to get residents and neighborhoods involved to promote local attractions and businesses and to create a stronger, more vibrant, human-scale city.
There is no doubt that blight and abandonment have a significant impact on our neighborhoods. Blight is an economic crime committed on our residents. I have attended dozens of meetings across the city, where the topic of conversation invariably goes to what can be done about homes that are in poor condition. I truly believe that we cannot sit idly by and let blight claim streets and blocks throughout the city. Our Bureau of Building Inspection has made strides in recent years, but it is still woefully understaffed and without the most critical technology to do the vital work of keeping our neighborhoods up to code. Pittsburgh deserves a code enforcement division that will support the work of our community organizations in weeding out eyesores and public safety hazards.
Pittsburgh’s construction industry is booming, thanks to a healthy regional economy and some of the best developers and contractors in the United States. We all want to see high-quality, community-supported development happening across the City of Pittsburgh and as Mayor I will make sure that this development boom continues and starts to spread to neighborhoods that have lacked investment for far too long. In supporting development, we also need to take some steps to make sure that we minimize waste and environmental impacts. One way to do this is to work with developers and construction companies to help them recycle or reuse as much building material as possible when they demolish or renovate existing buildings and to preserve historical materials and building components.
Despite our region’s reputation as a bit overcast, we have vast untapped solar energy potential and a dedicated group of solar manufacturers and installers both small and large. However, Allegheny County is one of the most fractionalized governments in the country and, with well over 100 local governments with their own rules and regulations, it can be very difficult for these companies to market their solar panels and have them installed. This presents us with a great opportunity to work collaboratively with environmental organizations, labor unions, solar manufacturers and installers, and leaders from all of the County’s municipalities to find ways to standardize regulations for solar panels, while protecting the interests of residents.
In 2009 a broad-based coalition of faith-based groups, labor unions, environmental organizations, and community leaders came together to help City Council pass three groundbreaking new laws that promised to dramatically change how public dollars are spent on private developments. This package of laws offered fair wages to employees at new developments, cleaner air through cleaner construction practices, and cleaner water through modern stormwater management techniques. City Council passed these laws unanimously and they went to the Mayor’s office to sit on a shelf and never be implemented.
A green roof, a low-maintenance layer of native vegetation covering most or all of the flat surface of a building, can substantially reduce energy costs, provide a stormwater management function, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cities across the world have seen a dramatic increase in the number of buildings with green roofs as energy costs rise and the threat of climate change becomes more apparent. Pittsburgh has millions of square feet of flat roof surface and an opportunity to promote the installation of green roofs throughout the city.
Trees provide a myriad of benefits to our city and its residents. They clean our air, provide oxygen, and cool our streets and homes which lessens energy consumption. They help to control storm water runoff and increase our water quality. They lessen our stress and improve our mood. Tree Pittsburgh is dedicated to protecting and growing our urban forest and they have a class for you if you’d like to help keep Pittsburgh green one tree at a time.
Pittsburgh’s historic buildings are irreplaceable treasures that make our city unique and give it a character and presence that many newer cities spend millions of dollars to try to replicate. We must start to recognize the incredible value of these architectural gems and use them to our advantage to serve as cornerstones for neighborhood revitalization and economic growth. Too often we discard one-of-a-kind historic buildings in the name of “progress” and replace them with cookie-cutter developments that add nothing to the character of the city. That has to stop.
A recent report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute showed that Pittsburghers spend $826 a year sitting in traffic. All of that gas money gone to waste is only part of the problem. Idling traffic also causes serious environmental and public health problems. The harmful pollution caused by heavy gridlock causes asthma in our kids, heart disease and respiratory problems for seniors, and contributes to global climate change. Plus traffic is just a pain. Yet we have the technology right here in our back yard to do something about it! Carnegie Mellon University has pioneered ‘smart’ traffic signals that could revolutionize the way we get around. It’s time to implement smart traffic signal throughout Pittsburgh.