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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

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Five Things That Could Dramatically Shape Pittsburgh's Future

Life on the North Shore
Life on the North Shore
O.K. we've turned the corner. We've already identified several major initiatives (see previous article here) and the individuals involved with them that helped Pittsburgh turn the corner.  But what are the big things happening right now and who's driving those changes that will get us down the highway of success in the next 10 years?

Here's my list of five things that will dramatically change the face of Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Promise No other initiative even comes close, offering up to $5000 per year toward college tuition to any student who makes the grade in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This will change the lives of families and accelerate the economic and population growth in the City. But most importantly, it gets Pittsburghers back to thinking big and taking big risks. The goal is $250 million and we are already halfway there thanks to UPMC, Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and the Pittsburgh Foundation, including Saleem Gabriel and Grant Oliphant.

Energy It's our future and Pittsburgh will be a leader in the new energy sector.  All the stars are aligned: rising energy costs, global warming, dependence on foreign oil and national security, and Southwestern PA energy- rich resources, from university research and foundation focus, to local economic development agencies' priority (Allegheny Conference) in creating a thriving energy sector. So who are the drivers? Yes, there are Westinghouse, Consol and the National Energy Technology Lab, to name a few but some of the newer drivers include Chris Gabriel of the Heinz Endowments, Pat Getty of the Benedum Foundation, the 3 Rivers Clean Energy Coalition directed by Jan Lauer, Matt Mehalik with Sustainable Pittsburgh's Business Climate Coalition, Tim Fogerty and the new energy investment program at Innovation Works, Bill Cagney and Operating Engineers Local 95 and it's nationally recognized training program in green building operations. Last but not least, where would we be without the Green Building Alliance?

Balanced Budgets I'm talking about the City of Pittsburgh. Five short years ago the City was on the brink of bankruptcy. Today, City government has been right-sized, and surplus fund balance achieved without any property or wage tax increases. While we're not out of the woods yet, who lead Pittsburgh to the clearing?  The ACT 47 Team under the strong fiscal leadership of Jim Roberts with Eckert Seamans and Barbara McNees who brought sensibility and steadiness to the state appointed oversight committee. Why is this important?  Beyond the fact that the strength of the core (City) impacts the strength of the region (SWPA), Pittsburgh like all municipalities have limited taxing options, but many mandates from the State. If Pittsburgh is not able to solve its structural deficit than it's two options would be more severe cuts, or raise taxes (property and business taxes).  This would create a two tiered city of rich and poor with no middle class.

Pittsburgh Parks Frick, Highland, Riverview, Schenley, Schenley Plaza, North and South Parks, Boyce Park, Settlers Cabin, and Hartwood Acres.  And under construction: the Grandview Scenic Byways Park in Mt. Washington, a park that combines urban elements, such as Grandview Avenue and the scenic overlooks, with green space and parks throughout Mt. Washington. These are unquestionably some of the best urban parks in the country and they attract 5 million visitors a year. Few communities have the level of green and recreation space as we do. And it's getting better.  Why?  The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, founded in 1996, has raised over $40 million, completed nine major capital projects, planted thousands of trees, and provided tens of thousands of hours of volunteer service in the parks. Who's leading this? The one and only Meg Cheever! Building on the success of the City Parks, County Executive Dan Onorato, in partnership with John Surma, CEO of US Steel, Max King, Scott Izzo, and Karen Feinstein from the Heinz, R.K. Mellon, and Jewish Healthcare  Foundations, and Carol Brown, former County Parks Director and president of the Cultural Trust formed the Allegheny County Parks Foundation stay tuned!

North Shore Connector WHAT? Are you nuts? Not at all. Contrary to some public outrage, the completion of the North Shore Connector will change everything.  Development on the North Shore will explode.  Business development and new housing along the T will expand.  Future plans submitted to the Federal government to connect the T to either Oakland or the North Hills or possibly the airport will begin to take hold. And it will show once again that Pittsburghers can dream big dreams and complete big projects. Plans for the North Shore Connector began more than 15 years ago under the leadership of former County Commissioner Tom Foerester, former Port Authority Director Bill Millar, Secretary of Transportation Al Beihler, and former CEO of Alcoa and then Chair of the Allegheny Conference Paul O'Neill.  

That's my list.  Many more could and should be added like the building of the new civic arena, the increased investment in and establishment of Pittsburgh as a major medical research center and conversations around city and county unification.

What's your list? Pop City wants to know so please contact us here.

Captions: On the North Shore; Taylor Allderdice School; Downtown from the Grandview Scenic Byway Park

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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