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5 big ideas for Pittsburgh from emerging leaders

In early June, the Allegheny Conference hosted a YouthQuake. The goal? To reach out to the region’s young (we're talking those in their 20s and 30s) emerging leaders for ideas and suggestions for Pittsburgh. More than 300 young Pittsburghers, recommended by their bosses and others, attended the session, which was part of a three-year planning strategy.

They were asked three questions: what are the biggest barriers to Pittsburgh realizing its potential? What would be the region's greatest accomplishment by 2015? And what do they want the Conference to work on?
As a board member of the Chamber of Commerce who has attended his share of community planning sessions, I was asked to facilitate one of the 30 tables of 10. Of course, I had the best table of thinkers, in my not so humble opinion. Most of the other table conversations focused on concrete and actionable advice, which was, in fact, one of the goals. They discussed diversity--a top priority--better transportation as a lifestyle issue, not a commuter issue, and jobs, jobs, jobs. They also recommended strategies such as better marketing the region to attract more people and consolidating municipalities to save money.

At my table, we focused on big, transformative ideas. There was something different about my group--says me- and their ideas. The energy was incredible, for one, and the commitment to Pittsburgh quite impressive. Their desire to be part of the process and help lead was strong. When they talked about energy, it was directly tied to the environment. (This went for everyone in the room, it seemed, with the thinking: We have an opportunity here but let's do it right!)  When they talked about transportation, it was tied to smart, mass transportation as a lifestyle. And when they talked about diversity, it went well beyond black and white.
At the end of the day, 500+ ideas that were generated. Some will make it into the three-year plan that the Conference is at work on now. For our purposes, here are just five of them, all cool ideas for visions of Pittsburgh from smart young Pittsburghers (most of them at my table!).
The City of Pittsburgh totally off the electric grid by 2025
Could you imagine what that could mean for our image, our cost savings, our environment and the growth of new energy sector jobs? We would build a micro grid and consume only as much as we produce. And we would do it through local renewable and alternative energy sources such as hydro, solar (PV and Thermal), geothermal, co-generation with natural gas, and wind. Other cities around the world are moving quickly to get off the grid, but we could be among the first to fully integrate all the sources in the United States.
The largest regional rail system in the country
Henry Ford once said, “With mobility comes freedom and progress.” So let’s move beyond the North Shore Connector debate and the Oakland-to-downtown only idea and commit to build a totally connected mass transit system that reduces the need for automobiles, connects workers to jobs and rebuilds inner ring communities. It's a lifestyle change they want.
And while we're at it, let’s make the current infrastructure more user-friendly through state-of-the-art technology. Some of these ideas are already being created through Pittsburgh’s Traffic 21 Initiative. Check out three intelligent transportation projects Traffic 21 has already launched ParkPGH, Tiramisu and the Personalized Transportation Mobility Aid.

A regional “reverse mentoring” program.
Traditional mentoring programs are red hot.  They seem to be everywhere, from the United Way to Big Brothers and Sisters to Leadership Pittsburgh, where an experienced older person takes a younger person under their wings. But what if we reversed it so a young professional takes on an older professional?
This isn’t a new idea. Jack Welch did it at GE , and we could do it here as a region. For example, each of the 300 + young professionals who attended the emerging leaders summit would be matched with a CEO from the Allegheny Conference and its Regional Investors Council. The young emerging leaders would take the initial lead in the mentoring relationship, teaching their older charges everything from how and why to use Facebook or Google +,  to continuing on-line education and training, to understanding more youthful political views on a host of issues. 
If nothing else, the CEOs would better understand their kids and grandkids. Maybe the United Way of Allegheny County will add to its “Be a 6th Grade Mentor” program-- a “Be a Mid Life Crisis Mentor,” too.
In English, “Fake it till you Make it.” If you’re not where you want to be, keep working at it until you are. That was the idea behind a marketing campaign to become more diverse: Every marketing piece, every press release and website from our state and local governments and promotional organizations would be printed in multiple languages and yes, this would also include major street signs and announcements at our airport. America is soon to be a majority/minority country with Latinos leading the way. At the very least, we should print items in Spanish. Audrey Russo writes her TEQ Op-ed pieces in English and Mandarin. So come on Pittsburgh – Falsificarlo!
Cutting the Fat in Pittsburgh
Not government waste, but our waist sizes. Let's get Pittsburgh to become one of the healthiest cities in the country. Where better to start than trimming the fat? According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pennsylvania ranks 19th as the most obese state in the country with rates of obesity and overweight Pennsylvanians increasing from 53% in 1995 to 65% in 2010. No surprise that this brings an increase in diabetes and health care costs. RWJ projects obesity will cost our country $114 billion per year and 10% of that will be for childhood obesity.
Reversing the obesity trend in Pittsburgh is a great start to becoming the healthiest city in America.  And with the help of two local powerhouses, UPMC Health Plan which launched a program last year with Children’s Hospital, and Highmark’s $100 million Healthy High 5 program, also working to prevent childhood obesity, we have the start of becoming quite possibly the healthiest city in America--which would put us on the map and would be bad news for Hostess Ho Ho’s!
Here are a few more ideas from the YouthQuake:
·      100 alternative fueling stations in Allegheny County by 2012
·      A more robust volunteer tax contribution program for nonprofits
·      Becoming a top ten City of platinum LEED certified buildings in the nation
·      Becoming climate neutral in Allegheny County by 2025
·      Solving water issues related to Marcellus Shale drilling
Where do we go from here? These emerging leaders will soon be getting email surveys asking them how they would like to be involved in these issues and with the Allegheny Conference to help move the three year plan forward. Look for more details in Pop City in the next few months when we will report on the plan and the progress. Meanwhile, If you have an idea for your vision of Pittsburgh, email us here.
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