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Kelly-Strayhorn Theater launches Penn Avenue Creative accelerator

The historic Kelly-Strayhorn Theater has honored its famous Pittsburgh-born namesakes -- Gene Kelly and Billy Strayhorn -- by enriching the city’s arts and cultural scene with dance, film, theater, and community events. This year, the East Liberty venue will expand its influence with Penn Avenue Creative, a new accelerator for emerging artists, social change leaders and entrepreneurs.

Created by Kelly-Strayhorn Executive Director Janera Solomon and supported by the Heinz Endowments, Penn Avenue Creative was inspired by a desire to see development in the East End reflect the diversity of the people who live there. The theater plans to attract six individuals who reside and work on Penn Avenue, and want to implement projects meant to serve the neighborhood.

Performance artist and Kelly-Strayhorn project manager, Joy KMT, believes the program is essential to encouraging positive change for the fast-shifting Penn Avenue Corridor.

"We hope to create a hub of conversation and innovation in East End neighborhoods that develops networks of sustainability and collaboration," says KMT. "Penn Avenue Creative is the groundwork that is necessary for building diverse and welcoming communities through tapping into and helping to support talented individuals who already live and work in the community."

KMT adds that desired applicants should demonstrate a "strong vision for themselves and their community, whose motivation for creating change is evident in their everyday lives, and whose generosity and unique perspectives will enrich the Penn Avenue Creative cohort." Chosen candidates will receive a yet undetermined stipend, and take part in a 12-week course that includes a retreat, professional workshops, and one-on-one mentoring with Kelly-Strayhorn's large network of artists, creatives and experts. Those who complete the program successfully will then present their projects to community leaders and benefactors at the Penn Avenue Creative Symposium.

While the program description targets certain creative types, KMT explains that proposals are welcome from anyone with a vision for the East End.

"We seek applications from artists and entrepreneurs, as well as people who may not think of themselves strictly as artists or entrepreneurs, but whose approach to engaging communities offers potential for unexpected impact," says KMT. "We hope to tap into leadership that may not be recognized by standard models."

Applications for Penn Avenue Creative are due by July 17. Further details are available on the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater website.  

Pittsburgh 2030 District is two years ahead of schedule for energy reductions in Downtown Pittsburgh

With the goal of reducing Downtown Pittsburgh’s impact on the environment by 2030, the Green Building Alliance launched the Pittsburgh 2030 District in 2012. The initiative was inspired by the Architecture 2030 Challenge, a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization established in response to the climate change crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002. Their mission is to rapidly transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate and energy crises. The Challenge calls for 50 percent reductions in building energy use, water use and transportation emissions by 2030, with incremental goals along the way.  

Last week, the Green Building Alliance released the Pittsburgh 2030 District’s inaugural progress report.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District has become the fastest growing 2030 District in the country and is already two years ahead of schedule for energy reductions, according to the Green Building Alliance. It originally sought to achieve a 10 percent reduction by 2015, but had already attained an 11.6 percent reduction by the end of 2013. The energy reductions reached thus far represent the equivalent of removing 7,748 homes from the grid, according to the Green Building Alliance.

“This report confirms that we’ve reached a dynamic moment in our region’s history,” says Sean Luther, senior director of the Pittsburgh 2030 District. “Through the Pittsburgh 2030 District, we will fundamentally alter the way we view our energy distribution system.”

Green Building Alliance will continue to work with property partners to achieve energy reductions while simultaneously working to recruit additional properties in order to reach its goal of 100 percent participation. Participation in the program has already grown to almost 40 property owners and managers, representing 109 buildings and 35 million square feet of real estate. 

Reducing energy demand is the key to maximizing the utilization of existing power plants, eliminating the need for new coal- or gas-fired plants and related infrastructure costs. Reduction in energy consumption also paves the way for greater use of renewable energy sources and dramatically improves air quality, according to the report. On a related note, the District is working with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh to develop and pilot an indoor air quality metric for possible implementation across the country. 

In addition to reducing energy demand, the initiative plans to place an increased focus on water use reduction, which is one key to solving the region’s sewage infrastructure crisis.

“Substantially reducing water consumption in individual buildings has a direct correlation to increased capacity in the combined sewer system, allowing for better handling of major storm water events and increased reliability of potential future “green infrastructure” investments,” according to the report.

The Green Building Alliance attributes the success of the Pittsburgh 2030 District thus far to its property partners, community and resource partners and funders, as well as the 2030 District sponsors: The Efficiency Network; The ECB Network, Powered by Bayer; Stantec; and Scott Electric, GE Lighting. 

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Green Building Alliance, architecture2030.org, Sean Luther, and Leslie Montgomery

c-leveled opens a new startup incubator in Bloomfield for serious entrepreneurs

C-leveled came into being in 2009 during the economic downturn, a time when businesses were looking to resolve issues to survive, says Denise DeSimone, founder and CEO.
A seasoned entrepreneur, DeSimone had had successes. She had helped to build Unicorp., a speech recognition tech company, from the ground up as CEO; within two years it reached a global market with revenues exceeding $74 million.  She was also the CEO of Advanticom. 

She received a regional Ernest & Young 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year  and was on Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business for 2009. She wanted her eighth company to give back in some way, a sort of entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs. 
The company started out by offering financial consulting tools and executives as a service to high-end companies that couldn’t afford to hire a CFO. For example, when Oakland Raiders’ Shawntae Spencer, a Woodland Hills High School grad, suggested an idea for a personal concierge app, c-leveled helped to develop and launch MetroMe, a one-stop shop for concert tickets, dinner reservations and more.

“It became really apparent that we needed not only a space where we could be more efficient, but one that would foster collaboration and creative thought,” says DeSimone.

This month the firm, which employs 16, opened a private incubator for startups in its Bloomfield office, a space that offers a wide range of services to both budding and established entrepreneurs, from business strategy to brand designs, logos and social media consulting.

It's a launch pad for serious entrepreneurs who have at least two companies under their belt, she says.

“We’re not just assisting with ideas, but doing the work. We’re writing the business plans.  Telling someone they need a pricing strategy to someone who has never done it before is like telling them to write ‘War and Peace,’” she says.

C-level also has a $1 million seed fund to get companies off the ground. 

“It has to be a great idea, a good market and a good entrepreneur,” she says. “There’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit here, a lot of great ideas coming out of Pittsburgh from people of all ages,” she adds. “If we could figure out how to make it all work together more efficiently, we could do something really cool.”

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Denise DeSimone, c-leveled

GTECH's ReEnergize Pittsburgh is reducing the region's carbon footprint one house at a time

Pittsburgh nonprofit GTECH is rolling out a new public-private initiative it hopes will not only reduce residential waste but also improve air quality and create jobs in Allegheny County.
ReEnergize Pittsburgh is a collaboration of local organizations and nonprofits. The goal is to cultivate the potential of people and communities to do the right thing and support a greener economy and improve the health of their neighborhood.  
“Allegheny County stands to lead the nation in a self-initiated regional strategy to create jobs while improving public health conditions,” says Andrew Butcher, co-founder and CEO of GTECH. 
The initiative will target energy efficiency as a platform for community development, working at a grassroots level to build up community networks and educate homeowners on energy efficiency and the services available. 
The average homeowner spends $2300 annually on energy, explains Butcher. With an energy audit, that homeowner can save $500 a year. 
ReEnergize hopes to target 2000 homes in 20 communities, engaging some 5000 residents, in the pilot year with the goal of removing hundreds of tons of carbon from the environment.  
“All solutions are on the table,” Butcher says. “We’re looking at the best practices around the country; no one solution fits all. We believe actions beget actions. And these actions will yield an upward spiral of community action.” 
The program consists of a website and community outreach. ReEnergizepgh.org is a clearinghouse of local resources and services. An executive director will be hired, along with 16-20 paid ambassadors who will work to develop community networks and build partnerships with local businesses. 
“In order for the market to grow, and for demand to increase, the range of programs needs to be easily delivered to average resident,” explains Butcher. “It really does take a village to do all this stuff. “
More than 30 organizations are already on board: local utilities, governmental agencies, non-profit service providers, small businesses, education and training programs, foundations, and existing public-private collaborations such as the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative and the Breathe Project.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Andrew Butcher, GTECH

The Livehoods Project: Take me to your coffee shop

What can tweets and Four Square posts tell us about cities?
A new project from CMU's School of Computer Sciences is mapping out the places that are visited by the same people, revealing new communities called Livehoods. The question is, is a Livehood a neighborhood or more?   
The short answer is way more. Starting with Pittsburgh, San Francisco and New York City, The Livehoods Project  plugs social media into algorithms and comes up with local behavior data shared through online interactive maps. The results  reveal the dynamic nature of urbanism at any given moment in time. 
"It's about what's happening in the city at a level that's much deeper than what's available in the census data," explains Norman Sadeh, professor in the School of Computer Science,  one of four members of the research team. "It gives us a way to identify neighborhoods that are emerging in an organic way."
While Livehoods is barely two weeks old, the data driven social media approach has attracted national attention. The United Nations has called to see if the research might be applied to underdeveloped areas. 
The research has great potential as a tool to assist with real estate, business and urban planning decisions, researchers say. People's habits are constantly changing.  An understanding of human neighborhood behavior--a needed store or emerging trend--would serve the needs of many. 
"Livehoods fit pretty squarely into the idea of a smart city," says Justin Cranshaw, Ph.D. student. "It's helpful for people who want a data driven approach to make decisions."
"You can almost get a fingerprint of each location," says Sadeh. "This is much richer and finer in uncovering patterns that are otherwise not obvious to people."
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Norman Sadeh, Justin Cranshaw and Jason Hong, The Livehoods Projecta

Rethinking Cities in the 21st Century: What Eindhoven has that Pittsburgh has too

If the majority of the world's population will be living in urbanized areas by the year 2050, as predicted, we better make sure our cities are great places to live.  
"Rethinking Cities in the 21st Century" is a panel discussion that will address this question based on the experiences of two cities: Pittsburgh and Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
Cities like Pittsburgh and Eindhoven share many similarities, says Donald Carter, director of the Remaking Cities Institute at CMU and a panelist in the upcoming discussion. Both lost basic industries over the past 40 years. They suffered from a precipitous economic decline in the 1980's. 
"The decision by community leaders in Pittsburgh and Eindhoven to invest in high-technology and services became the driver for a new economy and for new jobs," Carter says. "Pittsburgh is often cited as the poster child for post-industrial transformation."
The panelists, two from Pittsburgh, one from Amsterdam and one from Eindhoven, will discuss the successes and work done in each city. They will also address difficult issues remaining for post-industrial cities such as environmental cleanup, affordable housing, vacancy, poverty and immigration. 
"Remaking Cities in the 21st Century" will be held this Thursday, April 26, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education Center, 805 Liberty Ave. and is free and open to the public.  For reservations, email Cities@trustarts.org
The panel hopes to be the basis for a larger international symposium on the future of cities to be held in the fall of 2012 in Pittsburgh. The event is is sponsored by Pop City and is part of the Distinctively Dutch Festival.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Don Carter, CMU

SiX news: Sprout issues RFPs for $10,000 grant. Apply now!

The Sprout Fund is moving forward on the work that started at January's Social Innovation Exchange (SiX) with a request for proposals to support an event and catalyze the community around the gateways and corridors that connect our communities.
During the month of February, the Gateways & Corridors Working Group met to continue a conversation about civic design solutions related to gateways & corridors that began at January’s SiX event.
The process is moving along. Designers, architects, and developers who made up the Gateways & Corridors Working Group explored six opportunities ranging from design competitions to awareness campaigns. The group identified Events & Festivals as the most feasible opportunity and the one most likely to galvanize community support and civic engagement at the neighborhood level.
“Pittsburgh is known as a city with distinct neighborhoods,” says Paul Tellers, Gateways & Corridors Working Group member. “A neighborhood’s character can be enhanced by a well defined gateway, signaling to the visitor that they have arrived at a welcome destination."
While some gateways and corridors are apparent, others are not, and not all are universally embraced. For example, Pittsburgh's iconic bridges that span communities and connect them have often been a source of shared concerns. On the other side, our expansive views, which welcome drivers as they emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, are widely celebrated. 
SiX is looking for proposals and ideas from working teams or organizations. The winning proposals could be catalyzed with a $10,000 grant. For more information, visit the Apply for Current Funding Opportunities webpage and download the RFP Package. Applications must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on May 11, 2012.
SiX is an initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation in partnership with Pop City, the Luma Institute and The Sprout Fund with additional support from The Buhl Foundation.

Forms+Surfaces in Etna, bringing beauty to trash cans, benches, Apple stores, the world

The lovely lines of a stainless steel table. The gentle curve of a cast aluminum bench.  Flattering urban waste receptacles.

Etna-based Forms+Surfaces, a leading global designer and manufacturer of architectural products, is bringing form and balance to our world through well-executed design, functional necessities that enhance public and outdoor spaces.

Andy Warhol would definitely approve.

It's hard to believe a 40-year-old company can be so cutting edge. F+S started out as a family-owned sign shop in the 1940s, moved into the architectural space in the Sixties and merged with a California company in the Nineties to become the internationally renowned company it is today, fabricating site furnishings, lighting, door and cabinet hardware, elevator interiors.

F+S products demand attention for not only their beauty, but their functionality. Many of the stainless steel Apples hanging on the walls in the Apple retail stores are from F+S. Reliant Stadium in  Texas displays F+S waste cans. In fact, the company recently replaced the Apple logo in the newly remodeled glass pavilion on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

In Pittsburgh, Urban Renaissance trash cans grace the North Shore and Mt. Washington, cantilevered benches reside in Shady Side, Balance Benches provide rest for the Target-weary in East Liberty and cool pedestrian lighting illuminates Point State Park.

UPMC is considering a few items. The Warhol Museum recently dropped by. (Bike Pittsburgh might want to check out the bike racks.)

"We tend to go for a clean modern look that's timeless," explains Julie Gambone, director of product marketing. "We don't design the spaces, we design the products. And we strive to be as sustainable as possible, such as making sure that all of our wood is certified FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)."

F+S's manufacturing operation is tucked into a residential neighborhood on Pine Street in Etna. The firm employs 150-175 people, including manufacturing jobs, engineers, designers and an in-house marketing team.

The company also has manufacturing centers in Santa Barbara, Calif., Santa Fe Springs and India, and offices in Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

"We're constantly innovating," Gambone says.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Julie Gambone, Forms+Surfaces

Allegheny Conference launches new blog at annual meeting

At the annual meeting on November 8, the Allegheny Conference announced a new, daily multimedia  blog on the Imagine PittsburghOnline.com website, focusing on the positive things happening in the region. The blogs published on the site thus far are on topics ranging from sustainability on college campuses to efforts to boosting the supply chain for small businesses around Marcellus Shale to the Experienced Dreamer contest offering $100,000 prize to the 45-year old plus person with the best essay conveying why they would to move to Pittsburgh.

The blog was described as a key part of the "suite of digital resources" now available on this website. Readers are invited to access it through the web and RSS feeds and to follow the blog at Twitter.com/ImaginePgh and Facebook.com/PittsburghRegion.

Check out the Imagine Pittsburgh site, too, where 20,000 available jobs are posted for the Pittsburgh region.

Writer: Pop City staff
Source: Dennis Yablonsky, Allegheny Conference

ParkPGH best urban parking app in the country

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's mobile parking app, ParkPGH, directs theatre-goers to open parking spots so efficiently it was recognized as one of the smartest parking solutions in the country.

Touted as an innovative model for urban traffic congestion, the designation was bestowed by the Washington, D.C.-based Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA). 
Rolled out last December, ParkPGH offers users both real-time and predictive information on available parking spots through a mobile website, an iPhone app and texting. (Predictive information is not available by phone call.)

The beauty of the app is theater-goers can check the predictive data earlier in the day and devise a parking strategy based on estimated arrival times; real-time information can be accessed on the fly when patrons get to the Cultural District.  
What impressed ITSA the most was the public-private partnership behind the initiative that made it happen, says Scott Belcher, president and CEO of ITS. 
"It's a great model," says Belcher. "This is how transportation problems today are going to get solved. Thirty percent of all urban congestion is people looking for parking. We need to remedy this."
Unlike other urban apps, the predictive component relies solely on real-time information, he adds. ParkPGH uses historical data and algorithms to accurately predict where available parking spots should be within a 30-minute time frame. The predictive system was designed by Dr. Robert Hampshire of CMU's Heinz College and supported by CMU's Traffic21 Initiative and the Hillman Foundation.
ParkPGH monitors more than 5,300 spaces and 25% of garage parking in Downtown Pittsburgh, serving two million visitors to the Cultural District annually and about 149,700 daily commuters.
The app was built by Pittsburgh-based DeepLocal and made possible through: The Benter Foundation, Traffic21, Pittsburgh Parking Authority, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Hillman Foundation, Numeritics, and Alco Parking. 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Scott Belcher, ITSA

Logo courtesy of ParkPGH

PricewaterhouseCoopers expanding and hiring 125

New York-based accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers is expanding its presence in Pittsburgh and hiring at least 125 people for high-paying jobs, with the help of $431,250 in state and local incentives.
PwC's will add an additional 12,000 square feet in the city's tallest structure at 600 Grant St. where it currently employs 400 people, an expansion estimated at $3 million. The 64-floor building, with 2.3 million square feet of office space, is leased by CB Richard Ellis. More than $60 million has been spent on upgrades to the U.S. Steel Tower in the last five years.
PwC has already filled one-third of the new jobs, which will be in the company's wealth management tax services division. 
"PwC has been part of the Pittsburgh community for decades and we are extremely pleased to be expanding our presence here. The region is home to many leading companies and a strong talent pool, and we are committed to serving the market for the long haul," said Robert McCutcheon, managing partner of PwC's Pittsburgh office in a prepared statement.
The firm has received incentives from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, including $250,000 in job-creation tax credits. 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

PopUp Pittsburgh! invites Zombies to film in Fineview, extras needed!

The neighborhood of Fineview will be the backdrop of a Hollywood horror movie on May 21st when the 3rd Annual PopUp Pittsburgh! Lights! Cameras! Fineview! descends on the Northside community. Extras Needed!

Fineview will be the setting of a half-day phenomenon staged by Leadership Pittsburgh to draw attention to several recent redevelopment projects and the community's now thriving residents and businesses.

"Spineview," written by the LDI class, is a tale of the zombies, the social ills that once plagued the neighborhood and threatened the neighborhood's decline. The cure to zombism is presented as civic involvement, portrayed by the hero who cures the community of the zombie attack and restores it to a greater good.

"We call it an entertaining film with a social conscious," says Christopher Whitlatch, manager of marketing and communication for The Pittsburgh Foundation and one of 50 emerging leaders in this year's LDI class.

The family-friendly mockumentary will focus on five locations, including the entrance to the WPXI tower. Plenty of food will be on hand, as well as contests and celebrity zombies.

Expect the red carpet treatment and Zomburgh, the Brookline company that teaches self defense and skills in the context of the zombie culture. The video will be filmed by the Point Park digital production department; the Douglas School in Monessen will provide makeup.

PopUp Pittsburgh is held with support from The Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development. Last year more than 2,000 attendees joined in the fun!

Writer: Deb Smit
Souce: Christopher Whitlatch, Danielle Tyson

Shale Watch: The latest on the tax, pipeline and events

We continue our update on all things Marcellus Shale with the state severance tax on drilling (still pending), a proposed gas pipeline and a free conference that explores the science and health impacts of gas drilling.

But first, permits. Penn State offers a running tab on the number of permits issued in the shale play to date. Permits issued each year are reported as having climbed from 99 in 2007 to 2108 through September 1, 2010. Watch them go.

Pennsylvania, the only state with major natural gas reserves that doesn't impose a tax on drilling, is still waiting the passage of a severance tax on natural gas drilling. Many had hoped it would be a done deal by Oct. 1 of this month. The House narrowly passed a gas extraction tax rate of 39 cents per thousand cubic feet in September.

Estimates say the tax will raise $144.3 million during the 2010-11 fiscal year and $326.1 million in 2011-12. Funds will be divided between communities where drilling takes place, conservation and wildlife management groups such as Growing Greener and the General Fund. Several drilling companies, such as Range Resources, say the tax is reasonable.

In other news, Texas company Peregrine Keystone Gas Pipeline wants to build a $16.2 million pipeline in southwestern Pennsylvania, but as a public utility, a proposal that is raising concerns. Becoming a public utility would give the gas driller eminent domain rights, a potential conflict of interest. Peregrine is the second gas company to make the request. The first was Laser Northeast, who requested public utility status for a pipeline in Susquehanna County.

And finally, a free conference, "Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction: What is Known and What Can We Predict" will be held at the University Club on November 19 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The day will explore the science and methodology in understanding the environmental health impacts associated with gas drilling.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Penn State, Gov. Rendell, PennFuture and University of Pittsburgh



Scenic Pittsburgh chapter hopes to reduce electronic visual blight, you can help!

Change is inevitable, but ugliness is unacceptable. That's the idea behind Scenic America, a national organization devoted to safeguarding the country's natural beauty and community character.

The Pennsylvania Resources Council is taking the lead to establish a Pittsburgh affiliate of Scenic America to address the potential proliferation of electronic billboards and signage in the region. PRC's Dave Mazza believes a Pittsburgh affiliate would help to balance the conversation during the ensuing public hearings that are being held by the Department of City Planning as it reconsiders the zoning code and electronic signage, which can often been seen from miles away.

"The concern is that once one a business erects a sign, there will be a domino effect," says Mazza. "Pretty soon you're going to have an area that looks like Las Vegas, a gauntlet of all kinds of moving distractions that are visually unappealing in a residential area."

National studies also show that LED signage is more distracting to drivers. It's an issue of both visual blight and a bright and dangerous distraction, he says. While the community has spoken against the signs at the hearings, plenty of attorneys and outdoor advertising people have been lobbying on the other side for their right to free speech.

No one expects to ban signs 100 percent. Establishing a Scenic Pittsburgh affiliate is the best way to join with other cities across the country who are dealing with the same issue, says Mazza.

PRC hopes to launch the affiliate in the same way it supported Construction Junction and Allegheny Greenways. Interested parties are forming an executive director search committee. Once someone is hired, the non-profit will be formed and an office established.

"We are looking for people who are passionate about this and want to take an active role on the issue."

To learn more about it or get involved, email the PRC at info@scenicpittsburgh.org

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dave Mazza, Pennsylvania Resources Council

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Image courtesy of flickr.com

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