Pittsburgh, like the entire Rust Belt, has been on the decline for decades. But recent years have brought a hope to the Steel City–in 2012, Forbes named it a “Comeback City” for reversing its many-years long population decrease–and now the city’s new mayor, Bill Peduto, is poised to lead the charge towards a post-industrial revival.
Will he? That’s what Co.Exist will be tracking as we look at a new class of mayors who have taken office in 2014 in major cities (see “The Class of 2014: The New Mayors Who Are Building The Future of America’s Cities”).
“It’s not the top of the bell-shaped curve, it’s just at the beginning of that upward slope,” says Audrey Russo, president of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.
Peduto’s major challenge will be continuing to nudge up the curve of economic growth. That means more effectively encouraging immigration to the city. His goal is to bring in 20,000 new residents over a decade (adding to a currently population of 306,000), by making the city as friendly as possible to the young and to new immigrants in the relatively homogenous city. That will require new housing; Peduto’s motto that it’s more important to be friendly to residential development than big box retail stores. He also wants to make Pittsburgh an attractive place for startups to form, based on work in the region’s strong universities.
The mayor has adopted a reformer’s approach to making the city more transparent. He directed his transition team to take suggestions for the city’s blueprint from the public, with more than 1,100 responses in a few weeks. In Pittsburgh, Russo sees an opportunity for the city to grow while avoiding the gentrification pitfalls that have plagued New York, San Francisco, and Boston. “I think we can learn from those cities,” she says. “We can be wiser about this growth, and more inclusive.”
In a way, Pittsburgh is an ideal place for true entrepreneurs, Russo says. “If you want to come here, and you want to have everything at your fingertips, this isn’t the place for you,” she says. “If you want to be in a place where you can have an impact and you can touch almost anything … this is a great place to be.” The question will be whether Peduto can help the city realize that potential.