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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pittsburgh’s narrow streets and working-class row houses are part of its charm and are part of what make our neighborhoods special. But we all know how difficult it can be to keep up the alleyways behind these row houses and narrow streets. We have hundreds of miles of alleyways in Pittsburgh that have fallen into total disrepair, many of which are too full of potholes, debris, and overgrowth to even drive through safely.
Some of Pittsburgh’s greatest assets are our walkable business districts and neighborhoods. These business districts support our economy, provide meeting places for residents, and create the “small-town” feel that makes Pittsburgh so special and unique compared to similarly sized cities. We have to preserve these human-scale neighborhoods and business districts and enhance them through smart planning and development that encourages walking, biking, and public transportation.
More than $2 billion of new development and investment has taken place in my Council district over the past 10 years. Every one of these developments has gone through a robust community process and has been tailored to be profitable while meeting the needs of the community. This strategy of development is good for developers because it builds trust within the community and it is good for our neighborhoods because it leads to increased property values and community-enhancing goods and services. It is time to employ this strategy throughout the City of Pittsburgh.