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Need storage? Help balancing your budget? AlphaLab Demo Day shows and tells all

The AlphaLab Demo Day & Technology Preview proved yet again that entrepreneurs and startups are a big draw in Pittsburgh.
 
More than 375 people attended the presentations of six university tech startups and nine Innovation Works AlphaLab companies at the New Hazlett this week. Many stuck around to meet the companies afterward during an informal lunch mixer.
 
“The companies gained market traction and validation during the AlphaLab program and did an excellent job of presenting their products and companies at Demo Day,” said Jim Jen of IW. “This cycle’s companies continued the tradition of raising the bar for future AlphaLab classes.”
 
This year marked the first time that National Energy Technology Laboratory joined the lineup.  
 
The preview opened with university technologies, ranging from Lightside, an online platform that instantly assesses student writing and offers feedback to both teachers and student writers, to Diamond Kinetics, which is in the throes of commercializing technology that improves the performance of baseball and softball players.
 
The current crop of AlphaLab companies were equally compelling, ranging from reality-based gaming to a look at the savvy new age of college-level athletic recruiting. 
 
A few highlights:
 
What is augmented-reality gaming? MegaBits CEO Patrick Perini explained how his new game brings the gaming world and real world together. The game is based on a player’s physical location, allowing gamers to chase and battle monsters and feed and train them, in all kinds of real world weather.
 
It’s catching on. Nearly 200 applicants signed up in the first two hours of MegaBits’ launch, said Perini.
 
Ever lose an important file, or key nugget of information on your computer? Steve Cotter of Collected wants to streamline the way you find it by providing intelligent authoring technology to help you quickly access frequently used content. Not only does it speed up access, but also it can drill down contents on a Google drive and costs, at minimum, $10 a month. Launching in January.
 
Forget reconciling your bank statements across several apps. BudgetSimple tracks your spending and income all in one place and keeps it up-to-date.
 
“The most successful budget is one where you can keep the things that are important and eliminate the waste,” says CEO Phil Anderson, a successful internet marketer who previously worked for Vivisimo (before it was acquired by IBM) and LunaMetrics in Pittsburgh. BudgetSimple has 130,000 users signed on to date.
 
Wing Ma'am, a fast growing mobile app, is bringing bring LBGT women together as a resource for one another. It already attracted 108,000 users to date and is on target in reach 2 million in the next two years, says CEO Ariella Furman.
 
It’s also the only app of its kind that searches for events, not just people, she says.
 
If you’ve ever tried to stay abreast of a high school or collegiate athletic team’s changing schedule, you will appreciate the value of AthleteTrax. The startup is working with high school and collegiate club teams to provide an online tool that puts all a team’s information in one place, a sort of dashboard for athletics.
 
Lacking space for storage? Have space to rent? Spacefinity matches the have-nots with the haves and helps the haves convert their extra space into cash. The startup is tapping into the $22 billion storage industry and has 70 live space lords in Pittsburgh so far, says CEO Alex Hendershott.
 
Those looking for motivation to keep up with their physical therapy routines will gain support from Hability, a mobile tool that keeps patients engaged and therapists and family in the loop. “Compliance is in the root of attendance,” says CEO James Lomuscio.
 
Crowdasaurus stands at the intersection of crowdfunding and digital marketing. Projects with crowdfunding campaigns are matched with like-minded organizations—nonprofits or media outlets—who can benefit from the exposure they will receive by having content appear on the same page, says Josh Lucas, CEO. The Pittsburgh Foundation is already one of several beta testers on board. 
 
Finally, a senior at Grove City College believes the college athletic recruiting system is broken. Her startup, ProfilePasser, is the only platform that brings players and coaches together on the field where the players can be seen and recruited, says Sam Weber, founder. The app is available in the iTunes store now.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: AlphaLab, Innovation Works

Alcoa celebrates 125 years of innovation on the North Side

The story of Alcoa, like many an entrepreneurial tale, began 125 years ago with a few 20-something chemists in Pittsburgh knocking around with science and figuring out a formula to simplify the way metal is made.
 
Charles Martin Hall, with an assist from his sister, Julia, a chemist in her own right, discovered the process of aluminum reduction through electrolysis. The year was 1886.
 
Within 15 years, Alcoa was pioneering aluminum cooking utensils under the Wear Ever brand, the beginning of 12 decades of innovation that started in Pittsburgh.
 
This week 400 employees and a handful of dignitaries gathered at Alcoa on the North Shore to kick off a week-long celebration of the company’s 125th birthday.  Alcoa employees at operations around the world are blowing party horns and wearing royal blue tees in celebration.
 
“These are giants whose shoulders we are standing on,” said Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO, of the early pioneers. The company continues to grow year-over-year by 7%; the metal has been an integral ingredient in some of the greatest innovations in the world, he added.
 
Among the historic highlights:
 
The Wright Brothers’ plane might not have gotten off the ground without a lighter cast aluminum crankcase made by the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, later known as Alcoa.
 
The 1923 Ford Model T was the first mass-produced car to feature an aluminum body. Henry Ford, who refused to be financially dependent on one supplier, later switched to steel.
 
Charles Lindbergh made his historic transatlantic flight in a plane made from a new Alcoa alloy and aluminum cast engine.
 
In the 1930s, H.J. Heinz began using the first commercial aluminum closure made by Alcoa, called the Goldy, to seal sauces and ketchup.
 
The Alcoa Building downtown, with its thin stamped aluminum panels forming the exterior wall, was the world’s first aluminum-faced skyscraper in 1953.
 
Alcoa Mastic revolutionized the modern home with the invention of vinyl siding in 1961.
 
Alcoa helped NASA during the 1970s and 1980s develop a reusable transportation system for the Space Shuttle.
 
In 2004, Alcoa joined Pittsburgh Brewing to make the first beer in an aluminum bottle for the North American beer industry.
 
To mark the occasion, the Alcoa Foundation announced a $1.25 million internship program for 500 students in eight countries over the next two years. The initiative will give unemployed youth a chance to launch successful careers in manufacturing.
 
While Alcoa’s is based in New York City, the Pittsburgh office is the R&D center for the global operation. The company continues to develop and promote green industry technologies. 
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Alcoa

Busking is back and taking it to the T Stations with a year-round schedule of performances

Busking is back in a big way. The centuries-old practice of street troubadours who perform for not much more than the joy of playing (and tips) will assume a year-round schedule in Pittsburgh beginning this weekend. 
 
Unlike most busking, which tends to be spontaneous, BuskPGH is an organized undertaking of the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp. (PDCDC).
 
“When we were discussing BuskPGH, we looked to the city of New York,” says John Valentine, executive director and a native of the Big Apple. “You see all these great minstrels playing music. It adds a tremendous flavor and atmosphere to the city. We figured if we brought this here it will add to the whole personality to our downtown.”
 
The program kicks off this weekend alongside the festivities surrounding the reopening of Point State Park. Performances will continue through the winter months.
 
The whole idea is to expand the public’s awareness of the city’s diverse cultural identity. Buskers will initially play at the four indoor T-stations: Gateway, Wood Street, Steel Plaza and the Northside, with more venues to follow, Valentine says.  
 
“Our main goal is to make downtown an art centric community, “ says Ryan Firkel, a busker and program organizer.
 
Program funding from The Sprout Fund and PDCDC will cover insurance and website costs. The performers will generate revenues from the tips they receive, estimated to be between $50-$100 for a one to two hour stint.  
 
Some may recall another organization, Busk Pittsburgh, funded by Ground Zero Action Network and the Sprout Fund, which actively supported busking in the past, Firkel says. BuskPGH is absorbing the former group, along with its list of more than 200 musicians, poets and jugglers.
 
Each T Station will host different types of performances, depending on the space and the crowd. Gateway, for example, might be the best place for jugglers and visual art, says Valentine.
 
 “We want to encourage more year-round public performance in Pittsburgh. For many (performers), its an opportunity to get out and play to an audience.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Valentine, Ryan Firkel, PDCDC

Pittsburgh artists draw inspiration from agriculture, selling shares of locally grown art

For years, community supported agriculture has brought a bounty of locally grown produce to our doorsteps, or at least someplace nearby.
 
We can now buy art in the same buy local spirit. Two community-supported arts programs are underway in Pittsburgh that offer patrons an opportunity to purchase local shares of art, CSA PGH and the New Hazlett Theatre CSA.
 
While both groups are using the community-supported model, they've taken different approaches. CSA PGH is selling shares of visual works of art. The New Hazlett is a performing arts series that offers subscriptions to six performances by local artists.
 
The inspiration for local artists outreach was conceived by Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis in 2011; the concept has since been promoted by them through a toolkit offered to organizations for a small fee, explains Kilolo Luckett of CSA PGH. 
 
CSA PGH is offering a package of six Pittsburgh artists sold through 50 member shares, which go on sale this month. The inaugural group of artists is wide ranging: a conceptual artist, visual artists, a sculptor and multi-disciplinary artists.
 
The shares, $350 each, go on sale Tuesday, April 30 at 10 a.m.
 
“The idea is to support local artists and the local creative economy,” says Luckett. “It’s gone swimmingly well in other cities.”
 
By contrast, the The New Hazlett Theatre CSA offers shares for a series of six performances, which run every other month starting on Saturday, August 10th. The subscription share is $100 for an opportunity to not only enjoy but support and meet local artists.
 
“It’s just like buying a farm share,” says Rene Conrad, executive director. “Some weeks you might not know what’s coming to the table and that’s okay. We want to expose you to the wide variety of artists here locally.”
 
Both CSA programs will offer previews of the art and artists during the Gallery Crawl downtown, 937 Liberty Ave. on the second floor. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kilolo Luckett and Rene Conrad

Looking good Pittsburgh. PittsburghTODAY report highlights the state of the region

PittsburghTODAY released its 2013 Today & Tomorrow report and the news across many sectors is enlightening.
 
With the economic recovery still underway in much of the country, Pittsburgh is the only benchmark region out of 15 that has experienced job growth and housing price appreciation. In addition, the labor force is at an all-time high and young people are returning and staying in the region.
 
Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be one of the most affordable places for moderate-income families to live. A Brookings Institution study says so too, listing Pittsburgh as one of three cities in the U.S. to have recovered from the deep recession that began in 2007.
 
The region, however, has work to do in several areas, including transportation, the environment and issues pertaining to diversity, particularly in helping African Americans in the region to achieve the same quality of life as whites.
 
Among the highlights:
 
Population: It has been official but bares repeating: the region is attaining and attracting young talent. The region’s population of 20- to 34- year-olds grew by 7% over the last five years and is expected to grow another 8% in 2020. Three decades earlier the region was losing more than 50,000 people than it was attracting, mostly young adults.
 
Jobs: Jobs grew by a non-seasonably adjusted 1.7 percent in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) from November 2007 to November 2012. Certainly not robust, but it was better than any of the Pittsburgh TODAY benchmark regions. Pittsburgh was the only region to post job growth over that period.
 
Tourism: Visitors to Southwestern Pennsylvania pumped $8.1 billion into the local economy in lodging, recreation, retail, food and beverage, transportation and other spending during 2011,the latest year the full data was reported. This is a 9.6% increase over 2010.

Housing: Pittsburgh was the only region in which the 5-year housing prices rose from 2007-2012.
 
Environment: While fine particle pollution is slowly decreasing, and met federal air quality standards for the first time in 2011 since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, smog and sewage spills and the health of our rivers remains an issue.
 
Fracking: Across the region, a survey shows that far more residents are convinced of the economic potential of the Marcellus Shale gas industry than are against drilling for it. More than 70% of those surveyed believe that gas drilling is boosting the local economy.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PittsburghTODAY

WQED and Saturday Light Brigade bring unique children's radio service to the airwaves

A new children’s radio service, developed in Pittsburgh, is bringing the timeless charm of radio to children and their families along with the latest in educational programming.
 
iQ Kids Radio is a collaboration of WQED and SLB Radio Productions, a family-friendly, commercial-free service that mixes education and entertainment for listeners for 24-hours each Saturday.    
 
The concept is unique, leveraging the assets of PBS to provide trusted radio programming and the authentic voices of children, explains Larry Berger, executive director of SLB Radio, producer of the long-running Saturday Light Brigade.
 
The service is an expansion of the popular Saturday morning show. The programs were carefully developed, researched and vetted in terms of educational standards, he adds.

Programming features youth-created music, storytelling and news/commentary. Kids will learn during the day, boogie down with DJ Daddy Dance Party in the late afternoon and fall asleep at night to bedtime stories.
 
Soothing classical music plays through the night into the early morning hours.
 
"Kids and families need an alternative to what is currently available on the radio," says Berger.  “We’re really looking to present authentic children’s voices in a way nobody has.”
 
The voices of the children is a unique aspect of the program. SLB works with thousands of children a year to record their original stories, says Jennifer Stancil, executive director of educational partnerships for WQED and co-director of the service.
 
“I think kids radio represents what public media can and should be doing to encourage kids to listen imaginatively,” she says. “Commercial-free radio (for children) isn’t a niche but a roaring highway that not many are filling.”
 
iQ Kids Radio airs between midnight Friday and midnight Saturdays. Listeners can tune in by visiting the website or streaming through the free TuneIn Radio app for smartphones and tablets.
 
The service will be free during the pilot phase of the project. It was made possible through seed funding from Junior League of Pittsburgh, a founding partner, with additional support from The Grable Foundation the James McCandless Charitable Trust.
 
Feedback is welcome through wehearyouiqkidsradio.org
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Larry Berger, SLB, Jennifer Stancil, WQED

Obscure Games’ City of Play Festival kicks off on the North Side this Saturday

Imagine the city as your personal playground. Three point lines around trash cans. Tether balls swinging overhead, inviting gameplay, with the goal of bringing people together and making the city a place of wonder and fun.
 
Obscure Games is back, bringing with it the best new urban games in the world for The City of Play Festival on October 13, noon to midnight. Sponsored by South Side game studio Schell Games, the festival is changing the way we see the city, says Adam Nelson, the master gamer behind it all. 
 
Since its inception in 2009, Obscure Games has been playing around Pittsburgh with live gaming events. (You may recall the Steel City Games Fest and Human Curling Tournament.)
 
Urban gameplay acts as a social glue that connects people through the environment, reinforcing the idea that players have ownership of the city, says Nelson.
 
The festival will feature about 15 game installations with streets, parks and public spaces as the backdrop. Games will be located on the North Side and around the Allegheny Center and Buhl Park. Play is open to the first 100 players with a ticket, but anyone of any age can play for free in Buhl Park.
 
Among the games is Circle Rules Football and Nelson’s own game called Nashville, which involves wandering the city and giving secret signals to others in a sort of old west showdown.
 
“Pittsburgh has an opportunity to use play to convey itself as an interesting and exciting, progressive city for young people to live,” says Nelson. “The fact that we’re a smaller city is a strength. It’s who we are and easier to build a community around this.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Adam Nelson, Obscure Games

Point Park's president peddling Pittsburgh to students through a city bike tour

Point Park president Paul Hennigan is taking the college tour to the next level.
 
By bike, actually.  The Pittsburgh native and avid biker decided last year that the best way to indoctrinate incoming students—especially those working on campus as RAs—was to personally take them on a bike tour of the city.
 
“It’s an eye opening, fun experience for many of the students,” says Hennigan. “As our student ambassadors, this is a great thing to do and know about.”
 
Hennigan meets with the students twice before the tour and they are given an assignment: a one-page summary of the history behind the points of interest along the way.
 
How did the Hot Metal Bridge get its name? What’s the story behind the South Side Boat launch? How did the Pittsburgh Technology Center come to be?
 
“I’ve watched the evolution of this city and the creation of these bike trails.,” he tells the students. “I know these stories. Now its your job to learn the history.”
 
The tour begins at the Golden Triangle bike rental downtown and continues along the Eliza Furnace Trail to the Hot Metal Bridge. Crossing the bridge, the tour continues west on the South Side Trail to the Duquesne Incline, veers sharply left on the hairpin turn that winds up to the Fort Pitt Bridge, crosses the river and traverses Point State Park.
 
From there its over the Duquesne Bridge to the north side and onto Washington’s Landing where the tour breaks for lunch. Then its back across the Fort Duquesne Bridge to The Point and back to the bike rental.
 
Hennigan’s favorite stop is on the Hot Metal Bridge, which he points out was once a conduit that helped moved steel across the river.
 
“We stop in the middle of the bridge. To the right is the gleaming metropolis, to the left is nothing,” he says. “It’s a great juxtaposition.” 
 
The city is our campus, Hennigan says.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Paul Hennigan
 

Who's up for a life-size game of Mouse Trap?

A giant Mouse Trap board game, complete with chutes, buckets, and ominous cage could be the can't-miss show of the summer. 
 
The classic board game turned life-size spectacle combines physics, live music and dance in a vaudevillian style road show for all ages.  
 
The nationally touring show, which runs in Pittsburgh Aug 13-25, will be hosted by the Carnegie Science Center in partnership with the ToonSeum. The kick-off party is Saturday, August 13 starting at 7:30 at the Science Center.
 
Between the educational background of the Carnegie Science Center and the ToonSeum's displays of cartoon art, the Mousetrap event seemed a perfect fit, says Heather Jarrett of the Science Center.
 
"The ToonSeum knew how important it was for them to come, so they sought out the other geeky museum downtown," says Jarrett, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
 
The Mousetrap crew will set up camp on the Science Center's riverfront grounds, where they will construct the game. The 25-ton contraption is a large-scale Rube Goldberg machine, which uses complicated steps to perform a simple action.  
 
The show is anything but simple, thanks in part to the costumed and energetic "clown engineers," who set off the chain reaction.  For Jarrett, it's the crew's enthusiasm that makes the show, especially for kids.   
 
"Seeing people perform is inspiring to kids. These people have dreamed big and have worked really hard on creating this thing. You can't help but be inspired," she says.
 
The 21+ Life-Size Mousetrap Big Bash offers adults the opportunity to party and see the exhibit kid-free. Local performers Phat Man Dee, Schell Games and variety circus acts will join the Mousetrap crew for the evening performance on Aug 13 at 7:30.    

A weeklong camp Aug. 15-19 is also available for kids ages 8-12 who are interested in learning more about the science behind the Life-Size Mousetrap. 
 
Daily performances of the Life-Size Mousetrap are free with general admission to the Science Center. 

Writer: Lindsay Derda
Source: Heather Jarrett, Carnegie Science Center

Focus on the environment: clean energy panel and Marcellus Shale

Two of the hottest topics--Marcellus Shale and clean energy--will be the focus of two different environmental events in the next few weeks.

The Carnegie Science Center will host Dr. Charles E. Jones, a geologist from the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh, for a discussion about Marcellus Shale and what it means for western Pennsylvania.

As part of the Science & Society Town Square lecture series, attendees can listen and discuss the science relevant to Shale and the future of Pennsylvania's economy and environment.

"It will be covering the basic science," Jones says, such as how and when the Shale formed and why it's full of organic matter.  The audience will learn more about the Shale, he notes,so "if someone wants to drill on their land, they can ask better questions." 

The lecture will be held Thursday, March 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. Registration is $12 for Science Center members and $15 for non-members. Coffee and dessert are included. Click here to register.

On April 3, PennFuture hosts the 2011 Southwest Pennsylvania Global Warming Conference: Clean Energy for a Cool Pittsburgh.

"Clean energy is a really important part of the global warming debate,"  says Tiffany Hickman, spokesperson for PennFuture,. "Changing how and what kind of energy we use is the most important thing we can do to combat global warming, because the energy that we use currently in this country contributes so much to heat trapping gases."

The Conference features a list of local, state and national speakers. They include Kate Gordon, vice president for energy policy at the Center for American Progress; U.S. Representative Mike Doyle, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the subcommittees on Communications and Technology and Energy and Power; and Dr. Robert Sroufe, director of sustainability at the Beard Institute at Duquesne University.

"I think Pittsburgh is poised right now to make a big difference for the environment" Hickman adds. "For Pittsburgh to take a stance now on clean energy is going to put it far above its competition in other cities. It's really important for us to set a precedent here, especially with our legacy of dirty energy."

Learn more by attending the Conference on Sunday, April 3 from 1 to 5:30 p.m. at Duquesne University's Power Center. Registration is free to PennFuture members and students with an ID and $10 for others. Click here for more information and to register.

Writer: Alex Audia
Source: Tiffany Hickman, PennFuture




An app for those nasty potholes; Deeplocal sells transit app RouteShout

Just in time for the spring thaw comes a new weapon against  Pittsburgh potholes, a smartphone app that tracks their location and subtly takes the city to task for leaving them unattended over time.

Carnegie Mellon University's RODAS Project--that's Road Damage Assessment System--gives GPS-linked smartphone users the tools to snap pictures of potholes and upload them on Facebook. The photos are then automatically tagged on an online map, marked by bright red dots, creating a virtual overview of potholes to alert officials (and drivers) where the potholes are.

The project, started last summer, was the original idea of Chilean Heinz grad Veronica Acha-Alvarez and inspired by a similar successful project in Chile. The Chilean app offers contests, (subtly timed with local elections) to identify the largest potholes.

"We are creating a secure, independent source of information about potholes that can be used to alert government agencies and to monitor their response," says Robert Strauss, professor of economics and public policy in the H. John Heinz III College.

Widespread publicity this week drove more than 800 hits to the site in one day, he adds.

Involving the community in identifying and monitoring the pothole problem is the primary goal of the project. The team also is considering other ways citizens may assist, including an adopt-a-pothole program that gets the community more involved with repairs.

"Kind of like a  pet rock," says Stauss.

"PennDOT found it interesting," he adds. "This new public database is a new tool people can use to monitor what road crews are doing and to judge the efficiency of government."

In other app news, Deeplocal's award-winning transit technology, RouteShout, was acquired by Atlanta-based RouteMatch Software Inc., developers of traveler information systems. Financial terms were not disclosed.

RouteShout, which marks the first sale of a Deeplocal asset, allows riders to access up-to-the-second transit arrival times from their mobile phones. It will provide the "missing link" of real-time arrival data needed for intelligent transit systems, says Tim Quinn of RouteMatch.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Robert Strauss, CMU; Deeplocal



Sprout Fund supports 20 new biodiversity projects with $190,000; PLSG on the move

Good news for the region's biodiversity and life sciences industry.

PLSG received $500,000 in funding that will help to establish a life sciences campus on the South Side at the River Park Commons Business Center.

The funding comes from a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the state. The new campus will provide space for four to six wet-labs in addition to the existing 9,000 square feet of life sciences labs. PLSG will also move its office to the campus.

"The demand for this campus is significant as an increasing number of new biotechnology companies are being launched throughout the nation, and geographic clusters to house these new, start-up companies are highly competitive," said John W. Manzetti, President and CEO.

In other news, 20 biodiversity projects received $190,000 this week as part of a new initiative to support the stewardship of Southwestern Pennsylvania's natural resources.

The Sprout Fund and The Pittsburgh Foundation hope to jumpstart community-based biodiversity projects in the region through the Spring Program. The funded projects were selected from among 75 applications, says Dustin Stiver of The Sprout Fund.

"These projects offer an exciting array of innovative solutions to the many environmental challenges we face," says Stiver. "With diverse objectives and creative approaches, they give promise that the biodiversity of our resource-rich region can be preserved and enhanced for generations to come."

Six biodiversity projects received $20,000 awards including:

BioShelter and Food Systems Center at the Garfield Community Farm, where a permanent bioshelter will extend the farm's growing season and offer educational opportunities to the nearby elementary school;

Green Roofs for Bus Shelters in East Liberty, introducing flora and fauna into the urban environment through a living green roof on Penn Avenue;

Heritage Seed Bank and Nursery for seed banks and educational opportunities in the preservation of native heritage or heirloom edible plants;

Native Appalachian Garden, part of Pittsburgh Botanical Garden, cultivating woodland species of the region;

And Take a Hike: Backyard Biodiversity for a traveling presentation that will lead elementary school children on an exploration of the Earth's biomes at the Carnegie Science Center.

The other 14 recipients receiving $5,000 awards are include outdoor classrooms for children, ecological gardens, artificial chimney habitats for neotropical migrant birds, rain gardens in schoolyards with the help of Nine Mile Run Watershed Assoc. and native plant restoration projects.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PLSG, Dustin Stiver, The Sprout Fund


Pittsburgh firehouse gets the city’s first of six solar energy devices

Pittsburgh Firehouse 34 on the North Side will receive the city's first solar energy device this month, a solar water heater, which will eliminate the need for natural gas as a hot-water fuel source.

The firehouse is the first of six city facilities to get solar upgrades this year as part of a partnership between the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the city's office of Sustainability and Energy. The remaining solar sites will be selected with the help of Carnegie Mellon University.

The proposed installation is scheduled for October. Bids from solar energy companies are invited. All six solar energy installations should be complete by the end of 2010.

"We hope that by installing our first solar water heater, we can help to illustrate that solar energy does work in southwestern PA and to help to encourage others to look into renewable energy sources," says Lindsay Baxter, sustainability coordinator. "As renewable energy becomes more popular, an economy of scale can occur to make renewable energy sources cost-competitive with traditional fuel sources and we're proud to join other cities to be a part of this market transformation. "

"Solar installations will reduce the city's carbon footprint, helping to move us closer to our greenhouse gas reduction target adopted in the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels."

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit

Source: Lindsay Baxter, City of Pittsburgh

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen


Ka-Ching! Rivers Casino officially opens August 9th with 1,017 full-time hires

The tinkling of coins and glitter of Vegas-style entertainment arrives in Pittsburgh with the official opening of the Rivers Casino at noon on August 9th.

The two-story glass and stone monolith has five restaurants, outdoor cafes, entertainment, a 20,000 square foot ballroom for banquets and concerts and 119,000 square-feet for 3,000 gaming slots.

An additional 30,000 square feet is available for gaming tables, once approved, reports George Matta, director of business development and community relations for the casino.

A 1,200 seat amphitheater for riverside concerts and a riverfront trail is coming. Two additional areas are also marked for future expansion, possibly hotels. Matta gave Pittsburgh Technology Council  members an overview of the project during a breakfast meeting at the River’s Club last week.

On the job side, 1,017 full-time employees have been hired to run the casino, open 24-hours a day.  Fresh air will circulate throughout the building, changing the air quality every 12 minutes. Software is provided by Cisco, Abaya, Microsoft and Konami, a Tokyo maker of digital entertainment.

“We’re looking forward to being a part of the Pittsburgh fabric,” says Matta. Opportunities for local vendors will arise.”

The casino has already received calls from G-20 Summit participants who plan to hold functions there. A “test run” will take place on August 5th with earnings to go to four local charities.

“The economics are great when you consider what we are doing for the county and city of Pittsburgh,” says Matta. The casino will contribute more than $240 million to state tax coffers and pay an estimated $24 million in annual tax revenue to the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

The casino is also paying $7.5 million annually to fund a new sports and exhibition stadium for 30 years and $1 million for three years to the Lower Hill District Development Corp. and North Side Leadership Council.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: George Matta, Rivers Casino

Image courtesy The Rivers Casino

Pittsburgh aspires to be the most tech-savvy city in the country

The e-democracy race is on and if Councilman Bill Peduto has his way, Pittsburgh will blow the door of city government wide open and leave cities like Boston in the dust.

Peduto invited several Pittsburgh-based tech companies to City Hall this month to discuss using a mix of homegrown technologies to promote a unique blend of tools that would help constituents to better track goings on.

Among those who came to the table were online social political network MyGov365, searchable video data company Panopto Inc, web-based broadcaster Vivo and the Carnegie Mellon developer of YinzCam technology, which allows mobile phone users to watch replays of Penguins action inside the arena.

This is just the beginning, says Peduto. The discussion won’t be limited to these companies.

“Pittsburgh can be a model of e-democracy for the world. We want Pittsburgh (government) to not only be on the forefront, but to offer leverage to our own Pittsburgh-based companies to use the city as a test market to sell their products worldwide.”

Pittsburgh has $52,000 to webcast council meetings, which should be enough to cover the webcast and more, Peduto says. The city plans to award a contract to begin providing webcasts and searchable video by the end of this month.

Other proposed initiatives include an iPhone application for city government, a searchable database of all council votes and records offered by MyGov365 and offering online access to community meetings.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Councilman Bill Peduto, City of Pittsburgh

Image courtesy Councilman Bill Peduto
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