Pittsburgh shoots for sustainability amid an economic comeback

Pittsburgh, PA skyline. Photo taken by Flickr user wallyg.

In the 20th century, as the result of its booming steel industry, Pittsburgh was thriving as one of the largest cities in the country. But, during the 1970s and 80s, Pittsburgh lost a lot of the success that it once held, due to the collapse of that same industry. The population was cut in half and there was a long period of economic stagnation.

Today, though, Pittsburgh’s economy is on the mend. If there was a silver lining to that period of economic stagnation, it was that the city avoided excess sprawl and financially insolvent development patterns.

Community officials want to use to their advantage as they prime for a new era of prosperity in Pittsburgh. City leaders and residents are gradually reshaping the way Pittsburgh thinks about planning and design, with the goal of transforming the city into a model of sustainable development.

With this in mind, the City of Pittsburgh applied for a free technical assistance workshop from Smart Growth America. The resulting sustainable code audit, provided by the EPA’s Office of Sustainability, will help the city deepen its understanding adapting city policy and codes to Pittsburgh’s new vision. The city, like many communities across the country, has budget constraints and needs more expertise when it comes to restructuring its development codes.

Specifically, Pittsburgh wanted to know which areas of its current code were a hinderance to sustainable development, which areas needed updating, and what kinds of measures could be added. City officials also wanted to use this workshop as an opportunity to educate property owners about the benefits of sustainable development strategies, and ensure that new development does not strain the city’s aging sewer/water infrastructure and that transportation infrastructure is utilized to maximum efficiency.

Chris Duerksen of Clarion Associates led the workshop May 2-3, opening with an evening presentation from community members and stakeholders. The following day included a meeting with local officials and other key decision-makers about reforming the development code so that it fits sustainability standards.

In the past several years, Pittsburgh has taken a number of strides to promote sustainability, such as adopting an ambitious Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 2.0 and passing LEED sliver standards for city and TIF funded buildings. But as workshop participants highlighted, there are a number of hurdles to clear before the city will be able to achieve its broader goals, including a lack of enforcement of current zoning regulations. In his Next Steps memo, Duerksen offered a series of solutions that the city could take to remove barriers, create incentives and fill regulatory gaps.

To learn more about the workshop and take a look at Pittsburgh’s progress, click on the links below:

Workshop Materials: 

Technical assistance