At the G-20: Pittsburgh, the former 'Steel City,' has chance to shine
Pittsburgh will show a green, high-tech face to its G-20 guests.
(Page 2 of 2)
Pittsburgh is developing an "emerging conscientiousness" on green issues, says architect Christine Brill, who works on urban design and landscape. For example, the city is starting to value open space, she says.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"The idea is to take back open industrial spaces and repurpose them – perhaps build greenways and trails so people can get around the city in a green kind of way," says Ms. Brill, a partner in Studio for Spatial Practice in Pittsburgh. "A lot of people have left the city. Greening might be a way to bring them back."
This is not to say Pittsburgh is the paragon of environmental correctness. According to a May report by the Brookings Institution in Washington, Pittsburgh ranked 34th among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in terms of its carbon footprint.
"While Pittsburgh is doing a lot of proactive things, is being creative with green-energy innovation and building a cleaner economy, you can't discount that their energy is coal-produced – and that elevates the carbon footprint of every household," says Mark Muro, a fellow for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.
Pittsburgh has a history of reinventing itself. In the 18th century, the city became known as the "Gateway to the West" because vessels could proceed down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, says Andrew Hannah, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh.
But in the 1980s, the US steel and manufacturing industries crashed. Large Pittsburgh-based companies, such as Westinghouse, stumbled into bankruptcy. The city had been the third-largest hub in the US for corporate headquarters, but after large employers such as Rockwell International moved out, it had fewer than 10 Fortune 500 headquarters.
In January 1983, unemployment in Pittsburgh was more than 18 percent, with some 212,400 people out of work.
"When the steel industry all but collapsed, we in this city had no choice but to reinvent ourselves," Mayor Ravenstahl says.
Now, Mr. Hannah is CEO of a company that's an example of the new Pittsburgh. Plextronics makes an ink that can efficiently conduct electricity. The chemical can be used to make inexpensive solar panels or extremely thin light fixtures.
A CMU professor, Richard McCullough, devised the ink and teamed up with Hannah seven years ago. Their company is in a research park that includes other companies spun off as a result of other professors' discoveries. "The universities today are driving industry," Hannah says.
This is not to say the "old Pittsburgh" has just gone away. One steel mill is still within the city limits. And 100,000 manufacturing jobs are still in the region, points out Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference, which encourages economic development.
But Mr. Yablonsky sees the G-20 meetings as an opportunity to showcase the city's progress and maybe entice more businesses. "We hope to attract corporate executives and say to them, 'Look at Pittsburgh,' " he says.
While Pittsburgh may show that cities can recover, Yablonsky says, it can't be done overnight. "In Pittsburgh's case," he says, "it's a 30-year transformation story."