City council member Peduto discusses mayoral plans for city
“Cities die. And then cities come back. Cities get flooded, cities get bombed, cities get burnt down, cities’ economies fail, but cities are resilient.”
That was the message from city council member and 2013 Democratic nominee for Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto in Baker Hall’s Giant Eagle Auditorium last Friday. Peduto’s lecture focused first on the history of Pittsburgh and its various stages of decline and renewal, and then on his plans as a mayoral candidate to continue the revitalization of the city.
Peduto is currently a city councilman; according to the Pittsburgh city government website, he is serving his third term and represents Pittsburgh’s East End, including the neighborhoods of Bloomfield, Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, East Liberty, and Point Breeze.
Peduto’s lecture began with a brief history of Pittsburgh, from the time it was carved out of America’s virgin forests to its industrial boom in the early 20th century and subsequent economic slump. The problem with Pittsburgh during this time, Peduto said, was what he called the “David Lawrence strategy” of urban development.
Lawrence was mayor of Pittsburgh from 1946 to 1959, and later served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1959 to 1963. Lawrence, Peduto said, embraced the philosophy of top-down city development, which included the funding of large projects similar to the construction of Three Rivers Stadium and the Consol Energy Center.
“That was what their economic development strategy was. It was big. It was going to the North Side, tear out the North Side, put in a mall — Allegheny Center Mall. Go in to East Liberty, tear up the neighborhood, build a big race track around it and make it so it’s more of an automobile-driven area than it was. It was go in to the Hill District, tear down the Hill District, put in this development, and see what would happen around it,” he said.
This strategy, Peduto said, drove people out of Pittsburgh instead of having the intended effect of revitalizing the metropolis.
“We invested in a whole new system of highways, and what did that do? It created driveways for people to leave this city and move further out, and the investment dollars continued to be fewer and fewer,” Peduto said.
According to Peduto, during this time Pittsburgh “was leading the country in population loss and job loss. In fact, during the ’80s we lost more people than New Orleans lost after Katrina.”
Peduto plans to embrace a more bottom-up strategy that involves focusing on community development in areas such as East Liberty. Peduto is also focusing on education as a means of social mobility.
“We can reinvest in our infrastructure, the same way they did back in the old days; we can sustain jobs, and we can provide early education for all children. If you ask anyone in education what would get kids to break the cycle of poverty, it’s early childhood education,” he said.
At the end of his lecture, Peduto took questions from the audience — comprised of students, faculty, and Pittsburgh residents — and spoke more specifically about his plans if he were to be elected mayor.
“We’re going to be creating, within our new administration, an entire new bureau called the Bureau of Special Projects, which is going to work with our special interest community. Because it’s time we get back with them.”
Peduto’s message was one of hope for Pittsburgh; a hope that he will lead it to a point where the city is comparable with cities like Austin, Texas and Seattle, Wash.
He spoke as part of the Forum on Economic Development, which, according to pamphlets given out at the event, “research[es] the economic development strategies of major actors in the Southwest Pennsylvania area and the impact of their resulting actions on sustainable employment opportunities made available.”
The Forum on Economic Development is also responsible for “designing and developing programs and initiatives to generate jobs for those most impacted by the 300,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Pennsylvania since 2000: the undereducated, minority workers and people over age 50,” according to the brochure.
Peduto, the Pittsburgh city government website says, is a “self-described ‘Reform Democrat’ , ” and wrote the “most comprehensive package of government reform legislation in Pittsburgh’s history.”
Peduto is also co-creator of the city’s Comprehensive Climate Action Plan, acting as the “champion of protecting and enhancing Pittsburgh’s new reputation as a leader in green initiatives,” according to the website.