Pittsburgh Comprehensive Plan
Pittsburgh is the second largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It has roughly 300,000 people living in 90 neighborhoods within its 58 square miles. Pittsburgh serves as the administrative seat of Allegheny County and is the principal city of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area, also known as Greater Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has a storied and well-documented history of growth and prosperity, decline and collapse, and eventual rebound. In the early 1800s, the city became known as the “Gateway to the West.” This nickname referenced Pittsburgh’s location at the confluence of three major waterways. The Allegheny River and Monongahela River converge at what is known as “The Point” to form the Ohio River. This intersection positioned Pittsburgh as a leader in the trade industry for products such as coal, steel, timber, glass, oil, iron and limestone. By 1911, Pittsburgh manufactured half of the nation’s steel and the industry dominated the local economy. Due to the amount of pollution given off by the steel factories the city had a new nickname - “The Smoky City." As the domestic steel industry collapsed, Pittsburgh was left to face widespread decline and population loss. However, over the past 30 years, Pittsburgh has been able to diversify its economy, focusing on the higher education, medical and life sciences, tourism, and technology sectors.
Before we look to the future, we need to acknowledge our past, from the legacy of heavy industry to the heavy-handed government policies that disrupted neighborhoods and displaced residents and contributed to the degradation of the region’s air, soil and water. Today, Pittsburgh is a city that is both prosperous and unequal. Current conditions note an increase in the homeless population, rents and house prices are increasing at a pace that threatens our status as an “affordable city” to live, and historically marginalized communities continue to see higher rates of poverty, environmental injustices, poor health outcomes, and unequal access to opportunity.
In over 200 years as a chartered city, Pittsburgh has never created an integrated comprehensive plan to guide its growth. The city’s comprehensive planning efforts up to now have been through a piecemeal approach that engaged residents city-wide on one or two topics at a time. Most plans have been completed at the neighborhood level, with each having its own distinct character, history, and culture. While important, this has resulted in a patchwork of plans, completed at different times, to various levels of detail. The lack of a comprehensive plan also leaves the neighborhood plans with no context to ground them. An integrated citywide comprehensive plan will ensure that future neighborhood plans have a consistent and shared vision for the future.
CLIMATE JUSTICE/ JUST TRANSITION
The foundational approach to Pittsburgh’s citywide comprehensive plan must be adhere to climate justice and Just Transition principles.
The City seeks to address the root causes of climate change, while simultaneously addressing a range of racial, social, and environmental injustices. These systemic injustices continue to exist in all many aspects of life for Black, Indigenous, and other non-White communities throughout the city. Racist land use policies and practices at the federal, state and municipal levels of government that targeted Black residents in many US cities, including Pittsburgh, have left a legacy of spatial and economic segregation that has been passed on from generation to generation. This is not the only story of Black life in Pittsburgh. Despite the struggles Black residents endured they persevered. Pittsburgh’s Black residents inspired and influenced the city and the region through the creation of small businesses, cultural institutions and civic organizations. Black residents continue to reshape the city’s social and political structures to advance equal rights, equal justice and equal access for all Pittsburghers.
As Pittsburgh continues to transition from an economy driven by extraction to one that is regenerative and multi-sectoral, we have an opportunity to center the health, safety and success of all city residents and communities. Envisioning a city where all residents have access to clean air and water systems, means that Pittsburgh must develop sustainable land use practices, emphasize the use of renewable energy, and provide economic opportunities in all clean economy sectors. The City wants to ensure all Pittsburghers have access to the economy of the future in a place that embraces its rich diversity of cultures, traditions and abilities welcomes immigrants and refugees, and unlocks innovation that is needed for the city to thrive.
This comprehensive planning process should not only strive to address past land use failures but ensure every resident in every neighborhood sees themselves as part of the future prosperity of the city. For this reason, the process must recognize and consider how the interrelated cultural, social, environmental and economic factors have on land use and related policies proposed in the Plan.