Bill Peduto: 'Pittsburgh Was Already a Decade Ahead'- CityLab

Pittsburgh Mayor William (Bill) Peduto, who just began his second term this year, has presided over a historic era of change in that city. Back in 2002, I wrote my book The Rise of the Creative Class while living in Pittsburgh and teaching at Carnegie Mellon. I dubbed the city my “base case” in the transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy. “If Pittsburgh, with all of its assets and its emerging human creativity, somehow can’t make it in the Creative Age,” I wrote, “I fear the future does not bode well for other older industrial communities and established cities.”

Today, it looks like Pittsburgh has made it. It is more likely to be mentioned in the same breath with tech hubs like Austin and Seattle than with its Rust Belt peers.

Thanks to pioneering research at Carnegie Mellon University, and new labs for leading tech companies like Uber and Google, Pittsburgh has become a global leader in robotics and autonomous vehicles. As in other tech hubs, however, recent economic growth has not been widely distributed enough. In response, Peduto has launched a number of programs aimed at more inclusive prosperity.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known Peduto for the better part of two decades. Back in the day, when he was a councilman, we’d meet up for beers in local dive bars. When he ran for mayor, I held a fundraiser for him in my Pittsburgh home. Well before he was mayor he was a full-fledged urban policy wonk.

In our chat, Peduto and I revisited some of the urban issues we used to discuss back then, as well as the changes that have occurred in Pittsburgh over the course of his mayoralty.

When I was living in Pittsburgh back in the early 2000s, my students would move to places like San Francisco or New York immediately after they graduated. But now we’re starting to see people decamping from those places to come to Pittsburgh. What’s behind that change?

When you were living here, the rest of this country was booming. Panera Breads took over every street corner, Starbucks right next to them. But Pittsburgh’s economy was still coming out of a depression. There was no investment being made here when the rest of the country became “Anywhere USA.”

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