In the 2010 Census, Pittsburgh saw an across the board population increase of 22% for young residents between the ages of 20 and 24. Our median age decreased from about 35 years old to about 32 years old. And we welcomed thousands of young new residents to our neighborhoods; many who came from larger cities to take advantage of the lower cost of living and job opportunities here. We know that young people don’t just want trendy coffee shops and artist lofts, they want the same things all residents want: safe communities, vibrant business districts, and solid public transportation. New residents can be powerful growth engines for the city, and we need to find opportunities to attract new residents to move in, get college students to stay, and encourage kids who grew up in Pittsburgh to move back and be a part of our city’s future.
In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) law. This law allows municipalities and redevelopment authorities to create TRID Districts so new revenue can be utilized to expand and create new public transit opportunities. Stakeholders in East Liberty are working on implementing the city’s first TRID District in conjunction with new developments in the area. The TRID will allow a portion of the new property taxes created through redevelopment efforts to be dedicated to improvements in public transit, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure in the surrounding area. Our hope is that this TRID District becomes a model that can be used in other neighborhoods. But creating TRID may not be enough. To supplement the district and ensure that the development within it is in line with the goals of expanding and creating transit opportunities, I will work with our City Planning Department to create the city’s first Transit Oriented Development zoning overlay.
Allegheny County’s recent reassessment process has been a clear example of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s broken property tax reassessment system. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t require regular, professional, standardized property tax reassessments and the disastrous results of that failure are apparent all around us. Going decades without reassessments and then being forced into them via lawsuits is a recipe for failure and that is just what we have witnessed – failure to follow national standards in conducting a reassessment; failure to protect low- and moderate-income homeowners and senior citizens; and failure to produce equitable results that reflect real changes in property value without burdening taxpayers. Leaders of the State, the County, and the City fought against the harmful, judicially-mandated reassessment but we lost the fight. We have to work with leaders in Harrisburg to make sure that this never happens again and to put in place a system that is fair, equitable, and protects property owners from being taxed out of their homes.
The decision to enter Act 47 state oversight was one of the most difficult I have ever had to make as an elected official. In the dark days of 2003 and 2004, we were faced with an impossible choice: allow the City of Pittsburgh to descend into bankruptcy and financial ruin or enter Act 47 status to reduce our spending and right-size our city government. I rallied five Council members to take the latter path. We knew it would be difficult and that it would require sacrifices from many hard-working people across city government. But we also knew it was our only real choice. Bankruptcy would have meant crushing new taxes on every resident of Pittsburgh, a devastating reduction of services, and an exodus of businesses and investors from our city.
Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” If we’re going to make Pittsburgh’s government work for residents first, we’re going to have to make sure that we are using your money most effectively, even if it means breaking free of our old habits. We need to budget taking the real needs of the people into account, not excuses like “because that’s the way it’s always been done.” Around budget time every year, we see the Mayor and City Council make small tweaks here and there and move funds between departments, but we have never taken the opportunity to completely reexamine our budget and start from zero. I will use new tools to reexamine our budgeting process and make sure that we are spending money prudently and where its impact is most felt.
The idea of “working with others” seems to be a reoccurring theme in this mayoral race. Let’s stop and think about what that means. Does “working with others” mean propping up the status quo? Or does it mean building broad and diverse coalitions to change Pittsburgh for the better? The former has kept the same few in power and the latter has opened the city to new voices, new approaches to development, new protections for workers and our environment, and new faces in city, county, and state government.
Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance was the beginning of a revolution for our city. The first affiliate of the U.S. Green Building Council to be created in the country, the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance opened its doors in 1993 and has transformed the way we think about the built environment. It’s no accident that Pittsburgh has the most green buildings per capita in the United States, it is due to the tireless work of the Green Building Alliance and their partners across the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. I have had the privilege to work closely with the Green Building Alliance over my years on City Council, including partnering with them and with our business community, universities, and other nonprofits to create the city’s first sustainability plan. The private sector is doing a great job of adopting green building techniques and forging ahead as leaders in creating a more sustainable Pittsburgh but there are some key ways that city government can help support the transformation and bring new resources to the city.
Code for America is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2009 to help cities modernize their operations and take advantage of new technology to increase transparency and accountability and provide new models of citizen engagement. Through the Code for America Fellows program, young programmers and developers are placed within city governments around the country to work directly with the Mayor’s office and the staff of city departments. In addition to the Fellows program, Code for America also provides seed funding to startup tech companies and runs the Code for America Brigade program, which places staff within community organizations to help build their capacity and increase their use of technology. Dozens of cities across the country have taken advantage of this unique program and it’s time for Pittsburgh to become the next Code for America city.
Pittsburgh has a success story to tell. We have turned around a total collapse of our economy and reemerged as a leading city in medicine, education, technology, and the arts. And the media has taken notice. Pittsburgh has been named the “Most Livable City” numerous times, been featured in national newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post. Recently, I was even interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company about the community efforts to restore East Liberty. The one thing missing from this success story is a Mayor and a city government that engages with other cities around the world on economic development, policy issues, and arts and culture. It’s great to have positive media promoting our city, but we need to think bigger and begin engaging with cities across the United States and beyond.
Pittsburgh's startup economy has helped to build prosperity in the region and attract new jobs, new residents, and new investment. However, the growth of startup companies has slowed in recent years along with the venture capital dollars that fuel them. Pennsylvania as a whole, and the Pittsburgh region, are now lagging behind the rest of the country in new startup development. If we are to continue our growth as a city we must do better. We must find ways to jumpstart the development of new small businesses, especially those in emerging fields and new technology. Pittsburgh has the potential to be the Silicon Valley of our region. City government should be doing everything we can to nurture this development.