Pittsburgh's Tomorrow – What We Need in the Future
As the year comes to a close, we look forward to what Pittsburgh can be –– and what we'd like to see change –– in the coming years.
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We’re a city that honors its past. We tell stories of our glory days. Recall nostalgic places. Give directions according to landmarks no longer there.
But what do we want for our future?
We asked some of the region’s brightest visionaries and dreamers to share with our readers: What are Pittsburgh’s challenges and opportunities over the next five years? What are the big ideas that could transform Pittsburgh? What can we do today to ensure a brighter tomorrow? We also tossed in some ideas of our own.
Work Together to Fix the Region’s Weaknesses
by Harold Miller
Countless hours and dollars have been spent over several decades trying to find the “big idea” that will transform Pittsburgh into something it’s not. High tech, biotech, robotics, energy, the creative class and others have come and gone as narrowly focused visions for our future.
There’ve been enough “big idea” studies to fill a library, with little in the way of results. Over the last decade, southwestern Pennsylvania ranked dead last in job growth among the top 40 regions, and our region’s population continues to decline.
No smart investor would put all their money in one company’s stock, and Pittsburgh is Exhibit A for what happens when a region puts all of its economic eggs in one basket. The rise and fall of the steel industry repeated itself with Volkswagen, USAirways, Sony and Westinghouse. Why would Amazon have been any different?
We already have a combination of assets no other region has: world-class educational and cultural institutions and affordable housing without hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts or wildfires. But we also have serious weaknesses. Our infrastructure is crumbling. We have the second highest corporate net income tax rate in the nation and the least diverse workforce of any major region. Our healthcare systems work harder to put each other out of business than to deliver the best and most affordable care to residents. Is it any wonder our economy isn’t growing?
So here’s a big idea: Let’s fix those problems instead of ignoring them or arguing about who to blame. Let’s rebuild our infrastructure, lower taxes, welcome new residents and deliver effective, compassionate and affordable healthcare. No one agency, committee or program can do it. It will take all of us — every business, worker, elected official, taxpayer and voter in the region — working together to create the foundation needed for growth. If we devoted the same energy to solving our economic problems that we devote to our sports teams, just imagine what we could accomplish.
Harold Miller is President and CEO of the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform and Adjunct Professor of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University.
photo by dave hallewell
Find Our Strength in Diversity
by Betty Cruz
Tempting as it is to fall into shiny object syndrome, I think we need to dig into what’s been long staring us in the face: racial (in)equity. To me, all of Pittsburgh’s culture is grounded in how honest we are willing to be about our individual and collective roles, either upholding or dismantling racism within the spaces we navigate.
I’d like to see more Pittsburghers step up as intrapraneurs for equity, disrupting our systems and white supremacy from within organizations. Whether we see it or not, our nation’s racist legacy permeates across all our institutions. We will not become the region we say we want to be without facing this truth.
This is key to moving us from an insular community — the Pittsburgh many non white community members experience — toward one that is truly welcoming because it holds itself accountable and takes meaningful action to practice what Mr. Rogers preached.
We all have a role to play.
Betty Cruz is the founder of Change Agency, a social enterprise that serves as a hub for civic initiatives, and project director of All for All, which aims to advance immigrant inclusion in the Pittsburgh region.
Become the Smartest of the Smart Cities
by Jessica Hodgins
Pittsburgh is a hub for innovation, particularly in technologies that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning modeling of data. Hundreds of start-ups have spun out from the local universities and medical centers, innovating in AI-driven areas such as robotic exploration and inspection, mapping and modeling of our as-built spaces and autonomous driving. International companies, including four of the five FAANG tech giants (Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google), have been enticed to Pittsburgh by our ready supply of talent.
My dream for Pittsburgh is that we can combine our home-schooled talent with those entrepreneurial and established efforts in AI and machine learning. Our infrastructure and modernization problems are no worse than any other city that grew up in the late 1800s in a geographically complex location. But they need solving.
Smart stop lights can help with the traffic in areas well beyond East Liberty. Self-driving cars or even their human-driven, rideshare predecessors can fix our parking problems. AI-based planning techniques can manage neighborhood growth and change without outpacing the infrastructure repairs and improvements. We can more smartly manage the processing of waste and storm run-off so that it doesn’t overflow into our rivers. Recycling can become 100 percent with the help of robots that will sort the paper from the glass and plastic, for instance. Innovations in materials might even be able to help with the ubiquitous potholes or at least get them repaired more quickly.
Pittsburgh has good bones from our days as a steel mill town. We have a ballet, a symphony, creative, original theater companies and a collection of wonderfully eclectic museums. These cultural attractions are surprising given our population (particularly given the limited tax base within the city limits). But those good bones need to be fleshed out with modern AI and machine learning muscle to allow Pittsburgh to become the smartest of smart cities.
Jessica Hodgins is Professor of Computer Science and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.