10 Reasons Why Pittsburgh Owned 2014
From cutting-edge robots to medical breakthroughs to a Mayor who doubled as a 'Duck Dynasty' star, our city had the world buzzing (again) this year.
2013 arguably was Pittsburgh’s banner year of the 21st century. The yarn bridge and the giant rubber duck were the anchors holding down of a year full of awesome that included a contending baseball team, Hollywood’s increased influx and river surfing.
When I sat down to research and write how Pittsburgh ruled 2014, I thought, “Well, the pickings will be slim, but every year can’t knock our babushkas off like 2013 did.” How soon I forgot that 2014 was, in fact, a stellar year for Pittsburgh. Within 20 minutes of starting my research, I had a scratch paper full of wins, successes, triumphs, neener-neeners and bazingas. Yes, I used an actual pen and paper; I’m a sick individual.
Narrowing our accomplishments down to 10 wasn’t easy, and I had to cheat to combine some under one heading — but what are you gonna do about it? Take my scratch pad away? [makes Neo’s “bring it” gesture]
Photo Courtesy of Carnegie mellon University
1. Our robots will punch your robots right in the motherboard.
Pittsburgh’s robotics advances and successes were off the charts in 2014, thanks largely to Carnegie Mellon University. First, there’s Victor, the robot that will kick your ass at Scrabble and will talk bad about you while it does it. Jagoff. Then CMU’s inflatable robotic arm served as the design inspiration for Disney’s “Big Hero 6” character.
CMU also partnered with local firm Astrobotic to create a solar-powered lunar rover named Andy, their entry for the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize. Fifty CMU students created Andy throughout the course of nine months. I couldn’t build a birdhouse in nine months. Pittsburgh also sent a team of youth, the SHARP Team out of Sarah Heinz House, to the FIRST Robotics World Championship this year. Then you’ve got Pitt’s mind-controlled robotic arm. Seriously. MIND-CONTROLLED. Whoa.
And finally, with all these advances, when Politico launched a magazine this year, it chose Pittsburgh’s story of rebirth for its inaugural cover, with a heavy focus on the city’s advances in the field of robotics. Honestly, it’s only a matter of time before Pittsburgh is named the robot capital of the world, and I for one will welcome our new robot overlords who will fold my laundry, bake me cookies and have a special nozzle that shoots out Nutella.
Photo by dave dicello
2. Making a list, checking it twice.
I gotta do it. I gotta, again, include all the lists — from the best city for veterans to the second smartest city in America. Demographia International named us the Most Affordable City in the World. We have the lowest crime rate compared to peer cities and the second highest amount of courteous drivers (I can hardly believe it either).
We’re sixth in upward mobility (whatever that means), second in consumer banking, ninth in walkable cities, fifth most-resilient and, of course, the Most Livable City in the contiguous United States because Honolulu just doesn’t count on account of all its beaches and sun and blue skies and sun. And sun.
Anyway, in 2014, Pittsburgh once again came out on top of just about any list you can think of. Except the Sunny Cities list.We’re probably No. 4,566,322 on that one.
PHOTO BY RICHARD SCHIAVONI FOR PITTSBURGH PARKS CONSERVANCY
3. A refurbished oasis in the concrete jungle. Did I mix my metaphors?
The renovation of a small downtown park shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Right. Except in Pittsburgh where that small park was our first downtown park, the first park ever to be located on top of a parking garage and industrial Pittsburgh’s long-ago first attempt at improving its reputation as a dirty, sooty city.
Mellon Square Park’s $10 million, six-year overhaul was completed this year, allowing for the unveiling of a restored modernist oasis. A patch of peaceful greenery and water in a city of concrete, steel and frantic motion. The restoration, which included the repair of the 40,000 gallon fountain that stopped working years ago, not only caught the eye of Huffington Post, but it also became the subject of a book by Susan Rademacher, “Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece.”
Now if we can just do something about the pigeons.
PHOTO courtesy of starz
4. Zachary Quinto’s eyebrows slept here.
It sounds so ominous. The Chair. The Chairrrrrrrr. [shudder] But in this case, The Chair is good. “The Chair” is a Pittsburgh-based reality show produced by Zachary Quinto of “Heroes” and eyebrows fame (calm down, Ken Rice) and producer Chris Moore (“American Pie,” “Good Will Hunting”) with the help of Steeltown Entertainment’s Carl Kurlander.
Airing on Starz Channel this past fall, it pitted two unknown directors against each other as they were given $850,000 each to film from the same script about Pittsburgh high-school graduates returning home for Thanksgiving break. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rob Owen called the series “a love letter to Pittsburgh” and highlighted a scene in which Quinto admits he got as far away from Pittsburgh as soon as he could — but then said, “I never forgot where I came from.”
“The Chair” was just one project that brought Hollywood to Pittsburgh. This year saw the likes of Will Smith, Vin Diesel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Connie Britton, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Aaron Paul and Jane Fonda filming in and around the city in various movie projects. It’s only a matter of time before Pittsburgh gets its own paparazzi. [dusts off camera]
PHOTO BY MARTHA RIAL
5. In with the old. In with the new.
In perhaps a perfect representation of Pittsburgh’s mix of old and new, 2014 saw two very important corporate developments. First, Google announced a 66,000-square-foot expansion of its Bakery Square location, which will bring its office space footprint in Pittsburgh to more than 200,000 square feet. Hopefully some of that office space will be dedicated to bringing Google Fiber to the ’Burgh.
Another local corporation here to stay — this one despite rumors of plans to move out of the city — is one of Pittsburgh’s oldest and most iconic: U.S. Steel. The steel giant announced it would be building its new 268,000-square-foot world headquarters on the site of the old Civic Arena. It probably got tired of seeing UPMC’s name on the U.S. Steel Tower and said, “We outta here.”
6. Our doctors have acute badassititis . . . medically speaking.
It’s widely know that Pittsburgh rebuilt itself partially on advances in medicine, but we haven’t really talked about it that much. Maybe we need to start — because in 2014, Pittsburgh’s medical research teams and doctors were VERY busy.
First, let’s talk about suspended animation. How totally sci-fi does that sound? Freeze people until bad things stop happening, or at least slow down enough to be fixed, and then unfreeze those people . . . is putting it in the most basic of terms. Well, that Asimov-ish science is being pioneered right here in Pittsburgh by UPMC.
Additionally, the University of Pittsburgh created the $120 million Brain Institute, where the team will be studying the brain and its disorders and injuries with the goal of creating treatments that could reverse paralysis and restore sight.
At Magee, a new surgery has been created and is in use there now to treat fluid buildup in tissues, and at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, doctors created a blood test that tells them the likelihood that a child will reject a newly transplanted organ.
Finally, Duquesne University created a cancer-fighting compound specifically for breast cancer patients — a cancer-fighting compound that also shows promise to become an actual breast cancer PREVENTER. That sound you hear is Duquesne University dropping the mic and walking out of the room.
7. “Care for a spot of Double Egg & Cheese with chips on top, gov’nah?”
When the British Broadcasting Corporation launched the first-ever mobile news bureau to visit six American cities in six months, it set its GPS for Pittsburgh’s confluence and spent a few weeks living and working in the city while gathering stories about our places and people. The result was about a dozen video stories in which they covered our “ugly” accent (as determined by Gawker), Conflict Kitchen’s own conflict, our evolving identity, our haunted houses, the famed Primanti’s sandwich and our “boast” that Pittsburgh has the most bridges in the world. It’s not a boast; it’s a fact. Suck it, Venice.
8. Pittsburghers invented everything but the self-folding laundry dryer. Give ’em a year.
Pittsburghers are an ingenious bunch of MacGyvers. We can fix what needs fixed (except our penchant for dropping “to be”), and we can usually do it with stuff we find around the house. Like the time my father “fixed” a broken car-door latch by tying a piece of rope to it so the driver could hold it closed while rounding bends. Safety first.
In 2014, Pittsburghers invented lots of great stuff. The Lammily Normal Doll is adorable, fashionable and doesn’t look like a carb-deprived, 10-foot-tall, tippy-toed catwalk model who eats air and cigarettes three meals a day. Barbie isn’t realistic, but with her normal weight, body type, scars and proportions, Lammily is — and she was invented by ’Burgher Nickolay Lamm.
Other local inventions include Spand-Ice, the back pain-relieving therapy-wear; Spliddit, the check- and rent-splitting app; BabyBackups, the diaper-explosion prevention pads; and BundleBuds, the tangle-free earbuds. Why spend a small fortune on a GoPro when you can use Pittsburgh-invented Readyaction’s iPhone gear as a much more affordable alternative?
And finally, how about this smartphone case that can call the police if you’re assaulted? Made in Pittsburgh. It’s a thing.
Photo by Nara Garber
9. It’s raining cash dollar billz.
As a city that knows real struggle, it makes sense that Pittsburgh would be full of generous people, and 2014 was a great showcase for that generosity. Famed Pittsburgh chef Kevin Sousa’s idea to bring Superior Motors, a combination restaurant/farm/workforce development initiative to Braddock, where currently there are no restaurants, was wholeheartedly supported by Pittsburgh to the tune of some $300,000 raised on Kickstarter. This became the most-funded restaurant ever on the site.
According to BlackBaud, of the 265 largest cities in America, Pittsburgh is the 15th most-generous in online giving. Pittsburghers have a reason to be generous because our city’s nonprofits as a whole are the fifth-most financially stable and soundly managed in the country, according to Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator also found our combined charities to have the highest financial score of any city in the nation. So we’re not only giving, but also we’re giving to charities that are putting our money to good use. Win-win.
Photo by rob de la Cretaz
10. “Take us to your leader.” “His schedule is online. Find him yourself.”
Without adding any insult to the old administration . . . oh, who am I kidding. With Hizzoner Master MC Lukey Ravenstahl stepping away from the Office of the Mayor, probably to spend more time golfing and stalking celebrities (watch out, Vin Diesel), Pittsburgh elected a new mayor, Bill Peduto, who took office early in 2014. This mayor made sweeping changes immediately.
He ushered in greater visibility, accountability and transparency. He values data-driven decisions rather than doing whatever Lukey was doing . . . probably throwing darts at index cards taped to the wall. Peduto’s daily schedule is readily available online, and his approach to city governance hasn’t gone unnoticed.
He’s made several appearances at the White House, one on “Meet the Press” and he even wore what can only be described as a “Duck Dynasty”-adjacent disguise to appear on “Undercover Boss.” Fast Company magazine named Peduto as one of its “Mayors to Watch.” We may have lost the great Sophie Masloff in 2014, but it looks like we also gained another leader equally worthy of the office of Mayor.