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Partnerships: The Strength of Pittsburgh's Continuing Renaissance

Anne Nadzo


The goals of economic development are diverse and include issues such as improved education and job opportunities, beautification, housing and population concerns, among others. In the early and middle part of this century when the federal government first began creating development programs, one organization or plan was considered sufficent to oversee the development of an entire region. Over the past decades, however, a new political culture has been taking shape in American society that challenges old government structures. As people become more sensitive and attune to environmental, racial, class, and gender disparities in our society, there has been an increasing societal demand for an improved quality of life for all people.

This new political culture coincides with deteriorating support for big government policies. The decline of central cities and growth of suburban economies has dispersed the centralized authority major cities used to enjoy (Brian Jacobs, Strategy and Partnership in Cities and Regions: Economic Development and Urban Regeneration in Pittsburgh, Birmingham, and Rotterdam). The high-quality, efficient, and egalitarian society that people are now yearning for coupled with a move towards smaller government is resulting in new ways to create policy.

The field of economic development has not escaped the effects of this new political culture. Instead of one central development organization or program, the idea that many different organizations working together could best benefit the economic development of the area is becoming widely embraced. The majority of development tools currently available to cities are state or federal grants or programs, organizations constructed by federal or state legislation, or general tax based financing plans. While these structures can be successful, it seems that the unique demands of cities needing economic development require more flexible and diverse policy organizations. Public-private partnerships, community development corporations, neighborhood organizations, and other types of co-operational, non-profit organizations are being increasingly used by cities to further development.

Successful and meaningful development requires time, imagination, and financial, community, and institutional commitment. Pittsburgh, PA is an excellent example of several different partnerships and organizations coming together to ensure the prosperity of the historic city.

Pittsburgh has exhibited amazing adaptability and perseverance in the wake of the steel industry's collapse in the 1970s. Though the city's population is almost half of what it was 50 years ago,



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the city has managed to facilitate a dramatic economy shift from heavy industry to services and high technology. Pittsburgh has been called the “ affordable San Francisco ” and was rated America 's seventh-best big city according to Men's Journal magazine. Proclaimed as an excellent place to live and play, Pittsburgh was lauded for its "clean air, Fortune 500 companies, thriving music scene, museums and public libraries."

The History of Partnerships in Pittsburgh

Partnerships in economic development are usually formed for a specific purpose with stakeholders often adhering to a “shared vision.” R. Scott Fosler and Renee A. Berger in their book, Public-Private Partnership in American Cities: Seven Case Studies, claim that partnerships are best used when “leaders in the public and private sectors seek the maximum advantage that the special assets their city provide and the prevailing economic conditions of the time permit.” Such a partnership should be employed so that “their communities will be better off than if no such effort was made.” Without a doubt, Pittsburgh has benefited greatly from the public-private partnerships that developed to further the development of the city.

In the early 19th Century Pittsburgh was an industrial powerhouse and European immigrants settled in and around Pittsburgh to seek employment in the steel mills, coal mines, and railroads. Rugged topography combined with ethnic and workplace residential patterns within the city created a strong neighborhood pattern that worked against urban cohesion. Adding to the confusion of the city was the fragmented city government that left the mayor all but powerless. In response to the lack of leadership in the city, three citywide voluntary organizations – the Civic Club of Allegheny County, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Civic Commission -- became involved in urban-improvement projects. The leaders of these organizations were corporate and financial leaders. “Their aim was to improve the inferior social, environmental, and political conditions that were by-products of the city's industrial development.” (Public-Private Partnership in American Cities)

City development ceased during World War II but at the end of the war, there was a defining moment for public-private partnerships in Pittsburgh. An umbrella organization that encompassed all three civic groups, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (ACCD), was formed to organize postwar reconstruction and encourage the economic development of the city. The ACCD was described as a citizens group and the members of the executive committee were primarily business and financial leaders or their wives. Public officials were also asked to be involved from the beginning. It is important to note that the ACCD was a collection of private firms; a coalition dedicated to the development of Pittsburgh. These private businesses had a vision for Pittsburgh that would ensure their businesses would flourish and they worked closely with public officials who shared this vision of a prosperous city.

The ACCD soon realized that smoke control was essential for their plans – a clean Pittsburgh would encourage growth and well-being, providing ACCD with a strong foundation to rebuild the city and the region. Smoke elimination placed hardship on both the business and community members of Pittsburgh. The ACCD realized that this plan may not be agreeable to all businesses and residents of the city: business practices would have to be altered and community members would be required to provide part of the funding to clean up the city. The ACCD worked together with the media and the Director of Public Health to raise public awareness of the issue. The community became invested in the debate after understanding the significant health problems associated with smoke pollution. The City Council quickly formed a commission to research smoke pollution and the best ways to eliminate the problem. The citizens of Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas demanded the elimination of the problem and after some negotiation, pollution regulations were finally implemented and southwest Pennsylvania breathed easier (Public-Private Partnership in American Cities).

This issue highlights the defining characteristics of the public-private partnership. First, there was a shared vision: public and private entities embraced the idea of a clean city. All groups then worked together to form commissions and coalitions to better understand the issues and to communicate with the citizens of Pittsburgh. Finally, the partnership worked together to best implement the new regulations.

The actions of the ACCD in the first part of this century paved the way for continued partnerships in the southwest region of Pennsylvania. As mentioned earlier in this article, Pittsburgh has been receiving an increasing number of nods as an 'up and coming' city. Mostly this is due to the extensive work of partnerships, community development corporations, neighborhood organizations and other such organizations throughout the city to make the city an attractive place to live and work.

Partnerships Still Working in Pittsburgh

There are countless neighborhood organizations in Pittsburgh such as East Liberty Development Inc., Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, the Friendship Development Associates and many others. While these organizations alone do impressive work on their own such as building bridges to connect neighborhoods, increasing the size of residential neighborhoods, and the beautification of neighborhoods, many umbrella organizations help keep these organizations connected. The coordination ensures that each smaller organization can continue to work independently while maintaining a cohesive plan for the entire city. Communication and coordination provides vital leadership for smaller organizations tackling the immense job of developing the city.

The Pittsburgh Community Development Network is a quarterly newsletter that provides examples of local and national “best-practices” that have been used in place-based development for organizations to reference. The Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development (PPND) is organized to not only develop tolerant, healthy, mixed-income communities of choice and quality jobs but also as these new communities develop, the PPND is dedicated to ensuring that economic growth is equitably distributed to all members of the community. The partners of the PPND include community development corporations, private firms, city government, and national organizations. The work of these umbrella organizations echo the work done by ACCD decades earlier; working together to increase the understanding of issues that face the many neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and provide assistance and guidance to best implement development plans. While Pittsburgh continues to struggle with many political and economic woes, the strength and dedication of these organizations are providing a powerful force of continuing development.

Dedication is Essential for Development

Economic development policy involves a substantial array of issues and concerns. The most important players in these issues however are residents, business owners and employees that will directly benefit from development policies. Development partnerships and organizations that have a direct connection to the area in need can provide the best plan for development. Simply put, ownership is integral to the success of economic development. The coordination of numerous partnerships, neighborhood organizations, and development corporations took a leadership role in the successful renaissance of Pittsburgh after the fall of the steel industry. The shared vision, knowledge, and responsibility of these organizations come from their dedication and pride in Pittsburgh and resulted in the positive development of the city.

While Pittsburgh may be unique in its history and neighborhood pride, any city is capable of implementing similar umbrella organizations that encourage the communication and dedication of economic development organizations. The reinforcement and leadership these organizations provide are necessary for the continuation of a cohesive development plan for a city.