Spotlight on Sustainability: Pittsburgh's Waterfronts

After facing a major economic downturn in the 1980s due to a drop in steel business demand and production, Pittsburgh is on the rebound, with city leaders looking to transform former industrial corridors into vibrant riverfront neighborhoods.

Today, the former “Steel City” is known as a growing hub for high-tech innovation, education and health care. Pittsburgh’s art scene, job prospects, safety and affordability recently earned it the title of “Most Livable City in America” by Forbes Magazine, and the city’s economic rebound has proven so successful that its story is serving as a model for other recession-hit cities.

Still, Pittsburgh’s comeback is not without obstacles, as many of the areas best suited for in-demand development were not originally envisioned as such, said Lena Andrews, senior planning specialist at the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh’s riverfronts were used as transportation corridors for industrial production, and were characterized by factories, barges and pollution,” Andrews said. “While the environment has improved since then, the land surrounding them has remained relatively unchanged. The riverfronts were designed around industry rather than the community, and the land around them does not connect to our neighborhoods.”


Zappos, Inc. move to downtown Las Vegas expected to boost economy, revitalize downtown

Zappos, Inc., ranked one of the Best Companies to Work For by Fortune Magazine, has big plans for downtown Las Vegas.

The online shoe retailer known for its innovative corporate culture plans to relocate its headquarters downtown, a move that is expected to boost the local economy and help to revitalize a struggling part of the city.

Zappos expects to relocate 1,200 employees from its existing headquarters in Henderson, Nevada to downtown Las Vegas in late 2013. The new headquarters will be located in the current City Hall site, which, after renovations, will be able to accommodate up to 2,000 employees. Estimates indicate Zappos’ move will impact the economy to a tune of $336.6 million and will result in the city collecting approximately $395,900 annually in additional property taxes.

According to a report prepared for the city by RCG Economics, some of the top industries to benefit from the Zappos move include food services, real estate establishments, health care providers and retail stores.

Relocating the Zappos headquarters to downtown Las Vegas, however, is only a small part of CEO Tony Hsieh’s plan.

Hsieh and a few partners will invest $350 million over the next 5 years or so to transform downtown Las Vegas into a community where Zappos employees and the city’s creative community will work, live and play. Plans include restaurants, bakeries, bike shops and even a doggie daycare. Hsieh wants to ensure that the move will not only be transformative for Zappos, but also for downtown Las Vegas.

This revitalization effort aligns with Las Vegas’ Downtown Project, which is working to transform downtown Las Vegas into the “most community-focused large city in the world.”

Hsieh’s motivation to revitalize Las Vegas stems from his personal ambition of fostering a thriving company culture based on employee happiness.

“At Zappos, our number one priority is our company culture,” he said in a statement. “Our belief is that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like delivering great customer service and building a long-term enduring brand and business – will be a natural byproduct of our culture. Our future downtown location will be a great urban environment that will help grow the cultures of both Zappos and Las Vegas.”


Smart Growth Stories: A Mayor’s Perspective

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory is on a mission to support economic development in his city, and he’s using smart growth and downtown development strategies to accomplish that goal.

“People were slow to embrace some of the changes we were proposing because they didn’t necessarily see how, say, the development of a street car would lead to more jobs,” Mallory says in Smart Growth America’s first “Smart Growth Stories” video interview. “They didn’t necessarily see how investing so much money in downtown allowed for improvements in neighborhoods. So I’ve had to explain to people that downtown is the engine, the economic engine, for everything that happens in our entire region.”

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Deerfield Beach participates in “complete streets” policy workshop with help from Smart Growth America

On February 15, 2012, 40 community stakeholders from Deerfield Beach, Florida met with representatives from the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America as part of a free program helping their city develop “complete streets” policies. In this interactive, day-long workshop, city staff and residents learned how everyday transportation decisions can promote streets that are designed to allow safe access for all users. Complete Streets workshops aim to draw on the experience of community stakeholders and offer new opportunities for them to work together.

The City of Deerfield Beach learned of the economic and fiscal benefits of smart growth in June of 2011 through a workshop with the Environmental Protection Agency. A product of that workshop was a commitment to support a thriving local economy by creating a more walkable community following the guidelines of Complete Streets. The City was able to pursue this goal after being granted a free technical assistance workshop from Smart Growth America. Having established a foundation of smart growth basics, the city was equipped for a policy development workshop, where attendees learned the Complete Streets concept and began developing a customized draft policy.

Complete Streets Technical assistance

Western North Carolina looks to harness regional potential

It’s thousands of miles from more recognized hubs of smart growth activity like Seattle and San Francisco, but Western North Carolina has emerged as one of the nation’s leading examples of what is possible when regional planning and economic development strategies find common ground.

Thanks to a $1.6 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, government officials, local citizens and business leaders in the region are taking control of their communities’ future. If recent initiatives meet with the success they promise, an area that was once an afterthought even for many North Carolinians might become a staging ground for new businesses at the forefront of the state’s economy.

“I want my kids and grandkids to have a future here,” said Mark Burrows, Planning and Economic Development Director for Transylvania County. “Even before we knew what sustainability was, this is what we have always wanted…a place where there are jobs and people can walk to work.”


Telling the stories of great places

Advocates for smart growth tend to talk a lot about urban planning, street design, and a whole host of technical information related to building towns and cities. But many of the people whose opinions matter most in local decisions don’t think about their communities this way, and this is something we all need to learn from.

Smart growth strategies create interesting, exciting places to live and work, and the people who live in those places benefit most from this. At this year’s Rail~volution conference, which concluded earlier this week in Washington, DC, I heard dozens of people tell stories of the town or neighborhood they love and how smart growth strategies have helped make it even better.


The suburban corporate headquarters is losing its charm

The suburban campus headquarters, once the pinnacle of corporate America, is on the decline. Two recent pieces from the Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine explain that many companies are choosing to leave their suburban headquarters in favor of walkable downtowns with smart growth features.

“The youth of America, when they graduate, they’re looking to go to an urban environment,” Quicken CEO Bill Emerson explained to Fortune. Explaining that top recruits wanted to be in a place where they could live, work and play, Emerson added, “An asphalt parking lot is not necessarily the best way to do that.”

Features like mass transit, shorter commutes, the option of walking to work and access to restaurants and shops – all key principles of smart growth development – are forming a new model of what America’s most desirable workers want. Rather than trying to lure these workers out to the suburbs, many companies – including corporations like United Airlines,, Credit Suisse AG, Panasonic – are relocating to where young, talented professionals want to live. According to Fortune:

In general, suburban or rural locations are cheaper per square foot, have lower taxes, ample parking, and don’t require higher salaries for employees to feel reasonably compensated. But for companies looking to recruit younger people, all those factors have to be weighed against the reality that there is nothing hip about the ‘burbs.