Green Living

June 1, 2012

Pittsburgh transforms into America’s most livable city

skyline bridges pittsburgh

Story by Waheeda Harris Contributor

This Pennsylvania city made its mark with the storied names of the industrial revolution — Carnegie, Frick, Heinz and Westinghouse. Originally known as a city that manufactured brass, tin, glass and iron in the late 18th century, Pittsburgh’s 1,000-plus factories were consuming 22 million bushels of coal annually by 1857. Writer/biographer Andrew Parton famously dubbed the city “…hell with the lid off…”

But its steel that made Pittsburgh strong, with the founding of the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1901, US Steel Company was formed, a combination of the Carnegie Steel Company, Federal Steel Company and National Steel Company, collectively owned by Andrew Carnegie, Elbert H. Gary, William Henry Moore and JP Morgan. A city of 446 bridges, each an example of the pride in steel.

By World War II, Pittsburgh was producing 95 million tons of steel, and pollution created a daily black smog that blanketed the city, while the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which met and flowed into the Ohio River at the city, were noted as being in the top 10 most polluted rivers in the United States. Although 120 miles from Lake Erie, Pittsburgh was considered part of the rust belt, included with other industrial cities such as Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown.

But after WWII, Pittsburgh had a Renaissance, with the city focusing on civic revitalization and air-quality improvement. In 1977, as the steel industry collapse devastated the economy, the city focused on its second Renaissance, and how to transform its industrial economy. Urban activist/writer Jane Jacobs pegged Pittsburgh’s change back to 1910, and said that as a city, it had been dealing with stagnation for a longer time, allowing for more time to transform into a greener city in the 21st century.


With the cumulative changes of the past 40 years, Pittsburgh is now a city to watch. The Economist Intelligence Unit named Pittsburgh America’s most livable city in 2011 and National Geographic Traveller Magazine proclaimed Pittsburgh as one of the 20 Best of the World destinations for 2012. So what’s making this former steel town a greener place?

For an introduction to the city, Pittsburgh Eco Tours offers five walking tours, each incorporating different neighbourhood histories, culture, food and parks. For those who like to explore on their own, the Office of Public Art created Pittsburgh Art in Public Places, a free guidebook detailing four walking tours of major neighbourhoods, showcasing sculpture, murals and installations.

Both options show off the pedestrian-friendly aspect of Pittsburgh, which also has a free admission zone within the Port Authority transit system of the downtown core and north shore. Exploring by other means is just as popular thanks to many trails, such as the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, 22 miles of paths along the riverbanks, or by water, putting in a kayak from Kayak Pittsburgh starting from the north shore near PNC Park to get the duck’s view of downtown on the river.

With a vibrant arts community, passionate sports fans and a city that boasts high percentages of high school and college graduates, Steel town is now gaining green cred with continued lobbying from Bike Pittsburgh, which has focused on increasing bike lanes, working with the Port Authority to allow bikes on the system and encouraging more commuting by two wheels instead of four. The Strip District, a neighbourhood of warehouses, boutiques and restaurants, is just as busy with visitors as with locals, who come to source offerings of western Pennsylvania farms.

But one source of the city’s pride relates to a relic of the 19th century, the Victorian Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. In the 21st century, the conservatory is an eco star with its 11,000-square-foot welcome center, completed in 2005, the first LEED-certified visitor center in a public garden in the United States.

An upcoming addition this July to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is The Center for Sustainable Landscapes, offering a place for education and research for eco-focused architects, scientists and urban planners, as well as exceeding the current LEED platinum certification by being part of the Living Building Challenge. With the continued expansion planned by the Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh will soon be a destination for all those interested in a greener and more sustainable planet.

A city synonymous with steel, Pittsburgh has shown its possible to become an eco-friendly city with plenty of room to grow.

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