One of the most incredible technological advances of the past decade is the ability to simultaneously communicate with thousands of people via text message or a smart phone app. Agencies of the federal government, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, utilize free smart phone apps to keep citizens informed about issues ranging natural disasters to the daily weather forecast. Smart phone apps provide easy, immediate access to information and can play an important role in alerting citizens to everything from traffic conditions to school closings. The City of Pittsburgh should offer a free smart phone app that will keep residents, commuters, and visitors informed. And we should go even further by enabling this app to provide two-way communication so residents can report neighborhood issues such as potholes, illegal parking, or graffiti.
Pittsburgh’s tech and start up universe is rich and diverse and has been a major driver of our economic stability and growth over the past decade. However, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies have shown Pittsburgh lagging in new job creation, especially in high-tech industries. The city has to be a strong partner with our emerging industries and work hand-in-hand to ensure that they are getting the public and private resources and opportunities they need to be successful. One of the best ways to do this is create new business incubators that provide the transitional space and resources for young firms in a collaborative, cooperative environment where they can learn from one another and from established firms in related fields. The idea is not to try to force innovation to happen where it is not already happening but to nurture organic startups and provide a bridge from start up to successful company.
In 2010 Boston Mayor Thomas Menino created an experiment in Boston city government. He pulled together a few civic-minded entrepreneurs and Boston residents and paired them with innovators within his office to create a new program of the mayor’s office called the Office of New Urban Mechanics. The purpose of this new program was to advance the speed of innovation within city government by working directly with constituents to find new ways to address the issues that matter to them through the use of new technologies. In 2012, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter reached out to Mayor Menino and asked to bring the Office of New Urban Mechanics to Philly via a franchise model where the two cities worked closely together to share ideas and data and pioneer new problem-solving technologies. I have been in touch with Mayor Menino’s office about the possibility of bringing the Office to Pittsburgh. As Mayor, I will create a Pittsburgh Office of New Urban Mechanics to engage our tech sector innovators to work directly with city government and residents to address the issues our neighborhoods care about.
The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority’s EPA-mandated wet weather plan calls for spending nearly $3 billion dollars over the next 10 to 20 years in order to reduce the pollutants that flow into our rivers after every rainstorm. This project represents the largest and most disruptive infrastructure undertaking in the City of Pittsburgh in our lifetimes. And ratepayers are going to bear the brunt of the costs, with rates going up as much as 200 to 300% for City of Pittsburgh residents. The current ALCOSAN proposal calls for the construction of massive concrete holding tanks under our rivers and an expansion of the ALCOSAN sewage treatment plant. Our polluted rivers are a serious problem that must be addressed but we have other problems, like flooding in our neighborhoods and erosion of our hillsides, that this plan does not address. If we are going to spend this much money and ask ratepayers to contribute more every month, this plan has to be reconsidered and we have to work to ensure that the community benefits flow from this massive investment of public resources. We can use this as an opportunity to green our neighborhoods, create good jobs, and alleviate flooding in our neighborhoods.
The Lower Hill District is set to undergo a radical transformation over the next decade. The proposed development of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site is just one part of that transformation. If done in the best interest of the community, this could spur new development throughout the Hill District. Regardless of the changes, over the next decade we know a lot of people are going to be parking their cars in the Hill District. The temporary parking lots at the former arena site and those provided to patrons of the Consol Energy Center represent thousands of cars and thousands of dollars in revenue. The vast majority of this revenue goes to the Pittsburgh Penguins who operate the parking lots. The Hill Consensus Group, recognizing that this parking is not going away and that it is a significant source of revenue for the Penguins, believes the residents and business owners in the Hill should share in that prosperity. They have proposed a plan called A Dollar A Car that would direct some of that revenue to address the real needs of the community. I endorse this plan and, as Mayor, I will work with the Hill Consensus Group and other stakeholders to ensure it’s effectively implemented.
Fresh, locally-grown fruits, vegetables, and dairy are the building blocks of a healthy diet that help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Pittsburgh has some fantastic groups working on fresh food and food security around the city and helping to promote community gardening and urban farming. Yet many of our neighborhoods are still classified as food deserts –- areas not served by retailers offering fresh foods. While strides have been made to rectify the problem, such as the grocery store being built in the Hill District, we have a great deal of work to do to ensure that all residents have access to fresh, healthy food in their neighborhoods. Cities around the country are working on innovative ways to do a better job of providing healthy food options and Pittsburgh has a lot of opportunities to learn from these initiatives and create some of our own.
Pittsburgh has, on average, some of the oldest housing stock in the nation. We have grand old homes that have fallen into disrepair because their owners don’t have the resources to maintain them or because they have been abandoned and the city doesn’t have the resources to restore them or tear them down. Yet we have hundreds of unemployed residents who would relish a chance to learn new skills and get back to work – many who live in the very same neighborhoods that these forgotten homes stand in. We need to create a program to connect unemployed or underemployed residents with job and skill-training opportunities that would come from helping to restore these old homes. Imagine if we could create good paying jobs and rebuild our neighborhoods at the same time. This is exactly what I want to do. I will create the ReBuild Pittsburgh program to put people in our neighborhoods to work restoring these old homes and learning new skills at the same time.
Several years ago, New York City embarked on an innovative experiment to determine if they could help people living in poverty begin to save money in savings accounts. Working with the federal government and a group of behavioral economists, New York City officials created a program called SaveUSA. The idea behind the program is that creating incentives for low- and moderate-income people to begin saving money would relieve some of the pressure on their families, allow them to make the purchases that would bring them closer to the middle class, and expand financial literacy and responsibility. The results of the experiment were remarkable. The 1,600 New York City families who participated in the SaveUSA program had saved nearly $1 million dollars after the first year, more than $600 per family. New York City officials believe that SaveUSA can be a path out of poverty for many of the families who participate. I believe it can work for Pittsburghers, too.
Building financial literacy is one of the best ways that government can help people work their way out of poverty and debt and begin to build a sustainable financial foundation for themselves and their families. There are many programs available at the state and federal levels to aid low- and moderate-income families with their finances but it can often be difficult to find out about them or gain access to them. Many cities across the country have pulled all of these resources together into physical locations where people can go to learn more about them and to take advantage of them. There are already a few great nonprofit groups in Pittsburgh doing bits and pieces of this work and I would like to work with them to pull together everything under one roof and help connect them to the people who need these services the most. I will create Financial Empowerment Centers in Pittsburgh that help people take advantage of these important opportunities.
Pittsburgh’s Summer Youth Employment Program provides paid job opportunities for several hundred Pittsburgh youth each year. The program gives kids an opportunity to gain some real-world work experience, make a bit of money, and make connections with employers and other youth. The program is a joint venture of the City of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and corporate sponsors and allows kids between the ages of 14 and 21 to apply to participate. The Summer Youth Employment Program is a fantastic partnership and something that we absolutely must continue to support. However, I would like to bring in a more diverse set of site partners and allow kids to enter a broader field of summer jobs that will better prepare them for the kinds of jobs that are available in our region. We must expand the program to provide kids exposure to jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.