“In Detroit and across the country, we look to Pittsburgh for hope,” Detroit native and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Vice President, Anika Goss-Foster, remarked at the reception of Pittsburgh's 4th Annual Community Development Summit.
About 600 community leaders from Pennsylvania and surrounding states convened in the grandeur of the Omni William Penn Hotel to learn about and discuss community development this week. The two day event centered on the theme of “Reaching Across Boundaries” and aimed to break down jurisdictional, sectoral and interpersonal barriers for the betterment of the community.
The Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) partnered with the Urban Land Institute to host the summit. PNC Bank has been the title sponsor of the summit for the past three years.
Participants were able to engage with different concepts of community development through mobile workshops, breakout sessions, keynote speakers and networking events.
For instance, one breakout session featured a panel of entrepreneurs and community planners who focused on the relationship between creativity and community development.
Janera Solomon, the Executive Director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, emphasized the importance of making culture and creativity an integral part of everyday life and taking a more thoughtful approach at utilizing creativity.
In another workshop, developers and engineers exhibited the value of integrating industrial land use into community development and addressed the challenges that accompany ventures such as zoning, physical development and feasibility issues.
Katie Hale, the Neighborhood Policy Manager of PCRG, says that the summit is about celebration and optimism. The event aims to inspire and motivate participants to make positive changes themselves.
“We want participants to leave with a tenacity to go into their communities or neighborhoods and think outside of the box and collaborate,” Hale says.
According to her, the mobile workshops mix fun with hands on experience and allow leaders to learn about their neighbors while witnessing young people making things happen in Pittsburgh.
During the event, PCRG hosted an award ceremony that recognized community leaders. The Ballfield Farm, a community farm in Perry Hilltop, was among the award recipients in the “homegrown” category. The farm has brought fresh produce to Perry Hilltop and also runs an ecology program to educate children on the process of growing food.
Joanna Deming, a member of the summit planning committee and a board member of PCRG, volunteers at Ballfield Farm with her husband.
“I submitted Ballfield Farm because I feel like it’s a little known gem on the North Side where people are working hard and benefiting from their experience in many different ways,” Deming says.
Deming says that the Community Development Summit gives Pittsburgh positive exposure.
“It’s meant to attract people from different cities and different states so one of the things it does is raise the profile of Pittsburgh,” she says.
In addition, the PCRG annually gives a Neighborhood Leader Award in memory of Bob O’Connor. This year, Reverend Tim Smith, the executive director of Center of Life, received the award for his devotion to the community of Hazelwood.
On Thursday, participants enjoyed both a breakfast and lunch keynote. During breakfast, Shelley Poticha, the director of the Natural Resources Defence Council's Urban Solutions Program, emphasized the need for environmental and community goals to converge.
"People are aware that we can actually intervene. We can make a change," Poticha says.
David Rusk, the former mayor of Albuquerque, presented the lunch keynote. He spoke of the benefits of less fragmented or “big box” states in comparison to Pennsylvania’s current “little box” make up and proposed a plan for more communal action.
Mayor Bill Peduto presented a speech before the breakfast keynote on Thursday morning and moderated a panel of experts entitled “Shaping the Cities of Tomorrow” later in the day.
Hale says that though the Community Development Summit has received gracious remarks from public officials in the past, this is the first time this caliber of public official was so actively engaged in the event.
Aggie Brose, the chair of the PCRG board, praised Mayor Peduto before his speech.
"We are very fortunate to have a leader with so much vision and optimism in our mayor," Brose says.
Mayor Peduto spoke of the importance of advancing all of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods through the revitalization of housing and business districts.
"Every community and every community group has the ability to get it done," Peduto says.