Pittsburgh’s former mayor describes the city’s transition from its heavy industrial past to a sustainable future.
BY WILLIAM PEDUTO
Once a smoky industrial city, described as “hell with the lid off” by journalist James Parton in 1868, Pittsburgh has experienced a transformation into a 21st-century metropolis and leader in sustainability and technological innovation. While the impact of climate change and injustice is felt locally by members of our communities—for instance, in how they deal with increased flooding or how disadvantaged neighborhoods have not experienced the same type of investment in sustainable solutions like expanded tree canopies—globally focused solutions will be required to address these major issues.
In recent years, Pittsburgh has benefited from partnerships and mutual learning with other cities around the world, especially locales that share our industrial past and our sustainable future. In collaboration with the Sister Cities Association of Pittsburgh, my administration’s work to bolster Pittsburgh’s relationships with international cities has transcended the more ceremonial model of past Sister Cities relationships. Instead, our efforts have led to tangible action to address issues such as climate change, food systems, social equity and economic diversification.
In 2019, Pittsburgh and the city of Aarhus, which is the second-largest city in Denmark, advanced a clean energy agreement. The agreement formalized the cities’ relationship as former industrial bastions that have reinvented themselves as “higher education hubs attracting a young and educated workforce and creating an innovative business environment.” Both municipalities are on track to achieve lofty climate action goals, including cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030. This agreement will allow for strategic planning and information sharing with a target of advancing district energy projects that provide heating and cooling service to groups of nearby commercial buildings from a single energy source, rather than building and operating separate heating and cooling systems for each building. This will generate cost as well as energy savings and advance the agreement’s aim of “creating healthy and livable cities and transforming old industrial areas to attractive urban spaces.”
This year, Pittsburgh and Dortmund, Germany, also a municipality with a history of industry, were selected as participants in the European Union’s International Urban and Regional Cooperation Sustainable Agriculture Program. This partnership, which was made possible through the Sister Cities Association of Pittsburgh, will allow the two cities to collaborate on municipal policies, programs and initiatives related to sustainable food systems. By sharing information and participating in a two-year program, we will aim to boost the resilience of our food systems and build on our work to adopt the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on Zero Hunger.
In a historic partnership with an eye to action rather than ceremony, Pittsburgh added our 20th sister city in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic: Glasgow, Scotland. Like Pittsburgh, Glasgow is situated along rivers, and the city experienced an industrial decline that led to population loss and lingering health effects. Thanks to the resilience of the residents and institutions of both cities, Glasgow and Pittsburgh experienced economic revitalization. This new partnership will enable information sharing, innovation and action on climate change, public health and ensuring an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a historic partnership with an eye to action rather than ceremony, Pittsburgh added our 20th sister city in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic: Glasgow, Scotland.
We presented a progress report on this partnership at the November 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, COP26. It is an example of what can be achieved through intentional relationship building and idea exchange, including shared policy advancements in the areas of pension funds; creation of environmental, social and governance criteria for investments; and advancement of basic income pilots. Pittsburgh and Glasgow’s collaborative strategies will also address the challenges of energy burden or fuel poverty, the disproportionate costs spent by households on utilities and the health inequities caused by the deindustrialization of both our economies. Our example can be replicated by other cities striving to address the climate crisis and to recover from the pandemic in an equitable manner.
In addition to collaboration with other municipal governments, the city of Pittsburgh has worked with organizations, including ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability, to exchange ideas for climate action. Through ICLEI and its Urban Transitions Alliance program, Pittsburgh has worked with cities with a similar industrial heritage and a promising sustainable future such as Katowice, Poland; Buffalo, New York; and others, to engage our communities and strive toward action.
Beyond the important goal of addressing climate change, Pittsburgh is working with our sister cities to share information, learn from one another and take action on a host of other issues. Da Nang, Vietnam, is learning from the transformation of our riverfronts. Through a formal partnership, Saitama, Japan, is sending a cohort of students to study a variety of fields at universities in Pittsburgh.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Pittsburgh and our nonprofit partners sent personal protective equipment to Wuhan, China. Pittsburgh and the Israeli city of Karmiel/Misgav are partnering on a business-to-business exchange and incubator program. Finally, Sofia, Bulgaria, and Bilbao, Spain, are working to exchange information on the growth of our technology sectors and post-industrial diversification of our economy.
Pittsburgh has made remarkable progress toward achieving our climate action goals and advancing equity in all that we do in municipal government. However, there is much more work to do. I believe that it is our duty to current and future generations to share our replicable successes with cities across the world. The lessons we have learned from our friends in Aarhus, Dortmund, Glasgow and other cities have already benefited the residents of Pittsburgh, and I am heartened by the headway we have made to address the concerns facing our world together.