Pittsburgh's New Green Renaissance

The city of Pittsburgh, at one time, was so choked by coal pollution that Boston writer James Parton dubbed it "hell with the lid off." A series of vintage photos recently published in The Atlantic show city streets so dim with smog that you'd think a massive fire was smoldering nearby.

When those photos were taken, it would have been hard to imagine that one day Pittsburgh would be building a robust green economy and putting people to work keeping our air and water clean. But that's exactly what's happening.

Today, the city is experiencing a green renaissance that promises to clean up its air and water, breathe new life into its neighborhoods, and put people to work.

Take a look at some of the efforts that are already underway:

Just this week, our friends at GTECH (Growth Through Energy + Community Health), announced a new "ReEnergize Pgh" campaign, a sustainable economic development effort. The campaign focuses on large-scale energy efficiency upgrades to homes and buildings throughout Allegheny County. Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Executive, has supported the effort, recognizing that "ReEnergize Pgh represents an important way to strengthen community health by helping reduce energy costs, enable and support jobs, and improving air quality."

And he's not the only one who sees promise in making Pittsburgh more energy efficient. This week, hundreds of innovators in the energy efficiency field are coming together in Pittsburgh for the Affordable Comfort Inc.'s's conference, where they'll share ideas about how to help families save money on energy bills and cut pollution.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's Clean Rivers Campaign is working to clean up the city's water pollution by building green stormwater infrastructure--and creating good jobs in the process.

The dark fog of pollution that once hung over Pittsburgh didn't evaporate on its own; it disappeared as the result of a deliberate post-war effort to clean up the city's air--an effort widely known as "the Renaissance." The city underwent a second renaissance in the late 1970s, this time focused not on cleaning up pollution, but on revitalizing its neighborhoods and communities. These transformations came about only because the city's residents demanded and worked for them.

Now Pittsburgh can draw on its history to launch its new renaissance--this one focused on creating a vibrant green economy. It's a chance to invest in the city's most vulnerable communities and create healthy, family-supporting jobs in energy efficiency and water infrastructure--jobs that can't be shipped overseas.

Pittsburgh's past has a lot to offer this new green renaissance. After all, this is a city with a strong culture of industry--it's a city that knows how to work. It's a city that has a history of investing in its communities and neighborhoods. Pittsburgh has already learned hard lessons about pollution, and it's also seen first-hand the prosperity that can spring from something as simple as cleaning up the air.

Most importantly, Pittsburgh knows how to respond to crisis with innovative solutions. And that's exactly what's going on now. As the folks at GTECH put it, "We believe blight and vacancy present opportunities for equitable, sustainable and innovative renewal."

Problem-solving. Hard work. Looking out for your neighbors. These values have been a part of Pittsburgh for decades. Now groups like GTECH are tapping into them to create a model green economy that other cities can follow. This is the kind of concrete, positive change we need to see more of. You might even call it hope--with the lid off.