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Five Things that Allowed Pittsburgh to Turn the Corner

How did Pittsburgh transform from smoky rust belt city to green, most livable city? Here's my list of the five things that helped Pittsburgh turn the corner and some of the key players involved:

1.    RAD the passage of the Allegheny Regional Asset District in 1993 did much more than save the Phipps, Zoo and the Aviary.  It privatized these organizations, pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into one of the most vibrant arts and cultural communities and established the best library system in the country.  It also introduced tax base sharing among our municipalities. Who were the key drivers?  Chuck Queenen, former Managing Partner of Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, Dan Booker of Reed Smith, and Rick Stafford, former Executive Director of the Allegheny Conference.

2.    Home Rule and rule it has! With the adoption of Home Rule in 1998 creating a strong single executive and part-time county council, Allegheny County Government is more efficient, more flexible, easily adaptable to economic opportunities, and more diverse in its representation with more women and people of color elected to council.  Key drivers? Dr. John Murray, former President of Duquesne University and chair of ComPac 21 and Jim Turner, former Managing Partner of the Economy League.

3.    Greenhouses I'm talking Digital and Life Sciences.  Sometime during the mid 90's, our region and the State under Governor Ridge began thinking about economic development in a new way. By bringing university research, technology, public and private investment and wrap-around support to start up companies, Pittsburgh developed two highly successful economic development models that have guided our growth in the knowledge sector.  Who were the key drivers? Pitt, Carnegie Mellon U, UPMC, Tim McNulty, former special assistant to Governor Tom Ridge, and Dennis Yablonsky, former everything and current President of the Allegheny Conference.

4.    Rivers and Trails Who would have thought ten years ago that Pittsburgh would have more walking trails per capita than any other U.S. City and host an International Bass Fishing Tournament?  Our trails and riverfronts are second to none and make living and working in Pittsburgh something special.  Who were the key drivers? John Craig, former Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Max King and the Heinz Endowments, creators of the Riverlife,  Lisa Schroeder who has led the Riverlfie task force over the last eight years, and former Mayor Tom Murphy who invested heavily in walking and bike trails.

5.    Creation of the Department of Human Services Not long ago, if you lived in Allegheny County and required human and social services, you had to navigate a nightmare scenario of multiple departments and agencies.  In 1991,  the Director of Human Services was created and in 1998 a full integration occurred.  Allegheny County Department of Human Services is now recognized nationally as the most innovative, progressive and effective human service agency in the country. Drivers?  Former County Commissioner Tom Foerester, President of the United Way Bob Nelkin, Director of Human Services Marc Cherna and former Vice-President of the Pittsburgh Foundation Gerri Kay.

That's my list.  Many more could and should be added like the creation of UPMC, two downtown Renaissances, and of course two Super Bowls in three years.

What's your list? Contact Pop City here to let us know.

John Denny is director of community relations for the Hillman Company.

Captions: John Denny; the new Children's Hospital; fishing in the Allegheny River; Riverlife's plans for the Mon.

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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