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10 Ways Pittsburgh Ruled 2015

This was a year that Pittsburgh showed the rest of the country exactly why we’re worthy of the label “world-class.”



This was a year of big stories in Pittsburgh. Macy’s closed; new hotels opened. The Pirates contended, but my Roberto Clemente celebratory wine to mark a World Series win remained in my placemat drawer unopened. The city experienced growth, change, and controversy. We kept the pace with other cities by releasing a mobile parking app, by easing restrictions on food trucks and urban farming, and by opening the state’s first breast milk bank. The mayor worked his butt off, the PPG rink expanded, Neil Walker said goodbye, and Mario might be selling the team.

This was also a year that Pittsburgh showed the rest of the country exactly why we’re worthy of the label “world-class.” Here are just ten of the many ways we did that in 2015.

photo via flickr creative commons


1. Other skyscrapers are green ... with envy

It’s hip to be green these days as the human race has largely become dedicated to reducing their Earth-damaging carbon footprint. So when it came time for the nation’s 7th largest bank, PNC, to plan its latest addition to the downtown skyline … they didn’t just go green, they went so green the Tower at PNC Plaza, which opened this year in the formerly dilapidated Fifth/Forbes corridor, consumes half the energy of a typical skyscraper its size. The window blinds open and close automatically to conserve energy and heat, it has its own water recycling plant, and the building “breathes” well enough to allow it to ventilate itself naturally over 40% of the year. You can try to argue it isn’t the greenest skyscraper in the world, as PNC claims it is, but you’ll probably lose.


2. Our food is better than yours

With so many larger cities in America holding so many world-class restaurants run by award-winning chefs, foodies had to be a little aghast when they heard little ole’ working-class, blue-collar steel town (as many still think we are) Pittsburgh was chosen by Zagat as the Top Food City of 2015. But the exponential growth of the city’s restaurant scene cannot be ignored, and Zagat chose not to. This left us the fun of reading the comments to the post as uninformed readers who haven’t dined here ever or in the last two years, question the sanity of Zagat’s editors who chose Pittsburgh over places like New York, LA, and San Francisco. Oh, and Portland. Suck it.

Photo Courtesy of Carnegie mellon university


3. Ground zero for robotics

In last year’s list, I outlined how Pittsburgh had become a leader in the field of robotics, and now I’d like to say in 2015, we’re out in front in commanding fashion. The Uber/CMU relationship has been a contentious one this year, as reports of Uber poaching dozens of robotics experts from CMU have been floating around the local and national news outlets. But as the dust has settled, here’s where we stand: Uber has chosen Pittsburgh as its home of operations in their quest for driverless cars, and a partnership now solidified with CMU will bring a $5.5 million robotics program to the school to fund a robotics chair position and three robotics fellowships. All told, it appears certain that Pittsburgh is where the robots will rise up … and hopefully destroy any attempts by the zombies to do the same.

photo by elaina zachos


4. An increase in pedal power

Many Pittsburghers have been dragged kicking and screaming and honking their horns and shaking their angry fists to our city becoming more bike-friendly. We rant about the new bike lanes and disobedient cyclists who sometimes dangerously ignore traffic laws. But each month that passes, more Burghers seem to come to terms with the new Pittsburgh that seeks to increase bike riding and bike commuting. This year saw the launch of Healthy Ride Pittsburgh, a collaboration between Highmark and Allegheny Health Network, which placed 500 bikes at 50 rental stations throughout the city. In the first five months of operation, the program logged 23,000 users on over 40,000 rides. It’s time to finally accept it. We’re a city that cycles.

photo via flickr creative commons


5. A big dill on the bridge

For a city that floated a giant rubber ducky down a river and yarn-bombed an entire bridge, it made perfect sense to suspend a giant pickle across a bridge on which to host a festival dedicated to the deli staple. So that’s what the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership did this summer in conjunction with sponsors like Heinz. Dubbed Picklesburgh, the free two-day festival jammed the Rachel Carson Bridge with Burghers enjoying vendors, pickle gear, pickle foods, demonstrations, music and more. There were even over 60 brave competitors who signed up for the “Pickle Juice Drinking Competition.” That sounds like a big jar of delicious nope.


6. A helping hand for the homeless

Pittsburgh has long had a reputation as a giving city. Wallets are opened. Needs are filled. This year, Pittsburgh’s compassion lasered in on the homeless, and in particular, homeless veterans -- two words that should never appear side-by-side. Dr. Jim Withers, founder and operator of Operation Safety Net, which brings mobile medical care to homeless on the streets of Pittsburgh, was named one of CNN’s Top Ten Heroes of 2015. While Dr. Withers only recently earned national recognition, he has quietly treated 10,000 homeless since 1992. The number of unsheltered homeless in Allegheny County has had a dramatic decline this year according to HUD figures, and Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration has reduced the number of homeless veterans in Pittsburgh from 487 in January of 2014 to 59 in November 2015.

photo via flickr creative commons


7. City council hashes out a joint bill

Regardless of your views on the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes, it’s hard to argue against the fact that possession of a small amount of the drug has criminalized too many Burghers (often disproportionately along racial lines), costing the government and taxpayers too much money for small offenses. In 2015, city council passed a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city, and instead simply levies a fine. It looks like the bill will stand up to legal opposition. Mayor Peduto has promised to sign it, Chief McLay has indicated he’ll enforce it accordingly, and DA Stephen Zappala is supportive. This bill could send a message to the state that the legalization of medical marijuana would be supported … then we’ll really be buzzing.

photo via flickr creative commons


8. Hold the door

The Syrian refugee crisis was clearly a hot-button issue in 2015, and particularly so in PIttsburgh. The city had pledged to take in 500 of the 10,000 refugees expected to come to America over the course of the next two years, and Mayor Peduto remained committed to that promise even after the terrorist attacks on Paris. While other cities in America knee-jerked and attempted to slam their doors shut on refugees they previously promised to take in, Peduto insisted Pittsburgh’s door would remain open and the welcome mat out to these desperate human beings, many of them children. Some nervous Pittsburghers weren’t happy about the decision and they were vocal, angry, and if we’re being honest … racist … all of which had no effect on the Mayor’s decision. The anger and fear over his decision have waned greatly in recent weeks, and now as the dust settles we cannot ignore how his decision made Pittsburgh look to the rest of America and the world … like a city that remains steadfastly compassionate in the face of harsh criticism and fear. That’s a legacy to be proud of.

photo courtesy of north hills school district


9. Have a seat; make a new friend

The playground bench at school recess is a lonely resting place for the loneliest of children who have no one to play with. That is until four fourth-grade boys at McIntyre Elementary School took it upon themselves to lobby the school’s PTA for a “Buddy Bench” at the recess area. The bright red bench is a place for a shy student to have a seat to indicate to other students that he or she is lonely and would like to make a friend to play with during recess, or would like to be included in an ongoing game. The ingenious idea neutralizes shyness as a barrier to forming friendships and encourages children to make an effort be inclusive of anyone who wishes to be included, lessons that will carry them far in life. Mister Rogers would be proud. 


A photo posted by elanaschlenker (@elanaschlenker) on

10. That’ll be $10, sir. That’ll be $7.60, ma’am.

The fact that women in Pittsburgh earn 76 cents for every dollar men work for the same job is insanely frustrating. Go to the same school, pay the same tuition, earn the same degree, work your way up to the same job title, take home 24% less pay. ‘scuse me while I flip this table. One local graphic designer, Elana Schlenker, put Pittsburgh on the pay-gap map this year by opening a pop-up store in Garfield called 76<100 in which she charged female customers 24% less than male customers in an effort to draw attention to the pay gap issue. It worked. Soon national news outlets picked up on the story and she was hearing from women all over the world interested in learning more about how they could start similar ventures in their hometowns. As a result of the coverage, Schlenker opened 66<100 in New Orleans and now has other American cities in the pipeline. I’m looking forward to the day she can open 100=100 in Pittsburgh. 


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