By Andrea Bosco Stehle
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto reflects on the city’s remarkable growth, knowing the best is yet to come.
On an unseasonably warm November morning, I make my way to the City-County Building, where I am greeted by the last farmers market of the season. I pass through the portico, brimming with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and herbs, and proceed to the Office of Mayor William Peduto on the fifth floor. Prior to our meeting, I catch a glimpse of a long hallway, flanked by staff offices — its walls painted in a presidential blue hue (as per Peduto) and adorned with portraits of Pittsburgh mayors past. Office Manager Gloria Forouzan points out Magnus Miller Murray, our sixth mayor, whose descendants include actress Julie Bowen of ABC’s Modern Family, and James Lowry, Jr., our 25th mayor, an ascendant of actors Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Inside Peduto’s newly renovated office, the decorative moulding, walls, and ceiling are a refreshing shade of white, and a mobile art gallery fills the space. His current collection of works includes Cory Bonnet, Burton Morris, and an Andy Warhol on loan. With plans to make his corner office a site for roving art in support of local artists, he also has space reserved for the work of CAPA students.
Perched above his desk is a portrait of Ebenezer Denny, the first mayor of Pittsburgh. A caramel leather sofa rests on recently revealed hardwood, embellished with a tapestry rug, and his documents and smartphone sit stacked on a robust coffee table. Natural light pours in as we discuss his travel plans for the following week — he’s heading to Nashville, Tenn., for The National League of Cities’ 2015 Congress of Cities and Exposition. The conference, the largest gathering of local elected officials in the country, will take place in Pittsburgh next November.
On March 18, Peduto will commence the celebration of Pittsburgh’s bicentennial, followed by a year of festivities set to culminate on December 31, 2017, during Highmark First Night. Since taking office as the 60th mayor of Pittsburgh, he has made significant strides within city limits. “We brought a culture change to City Hall,” he says. “We completely overhauled city government and even changed the structure by creating bureaus and new departments, like the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, and the Department of Innovation and Performance.”
In addition to developing tenure plans, he’s placed an emphasis on the underserved and the neighborhoods that have been left behind, of which he’s particularly passionate. “What’s happening Downtown connects directly to what’s happening in the Strip [District] and Lawrenceville, and the reinvestment in Polish Hill and Bloomfield, which connects to the East End,” he says. “We want to see that in the North and the South, and it’s all starting. All of a sudden, Amazon, ModCloth, and Eyetique have created headquarters in the West End.” Looking forward, he projects the next great phase as the revitalization of hill-top communities like Carrick, Allentown, and Arlington. “I think in the next 10 years, there won’t be one city neighborhood that won’t be seeing an increase in investment, but also an increase in population,” he explains.
In recent years, our community has experienced an influx of high-end corporations and tech companies, a good trajectory for a promising future. “There are two reasons for this,” says Peduto. “One is the amount of talent that is here, and it’s not cross-sectional in one field or industry — it’s across technology, finance, medicine. Federal dollars are rolling in with the research being done at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon [University], and there is this whole new economy that’s being born in Pittsburgh. Two is that we’re still affordable. We have smaller start-ups taking a foothold and we have large, global companies creating centers of innovation for North America.”
The same applies for chefs like Justin Severino of Cure and Morcilla. Peduto says, “In New York, without a heavy investor, these chefs’ endeavors would be risky. In Pittsburgh, you can find a neighborhood, you can get your own place, and you can do it on your own credit.” The city’s food accolades have been recently recognized by Bon Appétit Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Condé Nast Traveler, and growing. “I think that once this second wave of entrepreneurs and chefs start to invest, Pittsburgh’s food scene is going to become even greater,” says Peduto.
In general, much of this growth stems from looking back through history. “About 60 years ago, the city decided that we had to be more suburban-like and we tore out the heart of the Hill District,” he says. “We are now working to correct those things, to reconnect the Hills, to reestablish the grid in East Liberty, to create what we can in the North Side to connect it back to the river.”
These initiatives go hand-in-hand with his administration’s key areas for 2016, which include an emphasis on everything from public safety, to our urban forest and crumbling infrastructure. “We also want to get to more than 900 police officers for the first time since 2003,” he adds. “It’s those basics, while balancing the amount of technology investment and the modernization of City Hall, that will continue.”
Given Pittsburgh’s surge as of late and Peduto’s quest for Pittsburgh’s continued growth, I ask him to describe our current city in three words. He says, “vibrant, comfortable, traditional.” Precisely.
Bill Peduto, billpeduto.com.
+ Mayor Bill Peduto frequents social media (@billpeduto) to connect closely with his constituents, friends, and community members. Here are a few of his snapshots: