Spring 2015

Thinking Regionally About Energy

Southwestern Pennsylvania has long been an energy center. The nation’s oil industry rose from the derricks of Titusville. Ample coal seams have been mined for centuries. Natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation is helping to achieve energy independence. Yet, until now, there’s been little effort to draft a regional strategy covering production, consumption, health …

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High Rates of Chronic Disease, Unhealthy Behaviors Persist

Southwestern Pennsylvanians find themselves in the middle of the pack when self-reported health status is measured across the 15 Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions. More than 83 percent of residents in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) describe their health as good or better, and 16.6 percent rate it fair or poor, according to U.S. Centers …

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A maze of milestones

I‘ve been accumulating milestones lately. Within a year, I’ll have had my 35th high school reunion, the 30th anniversary of my arrival in Pittsburgh, my 25th wedding anniversary, the 10th anniversary of the founding of this magazine, and finally, the signing and sending of the final check for my three children’s college tuitions. During a …

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Cassotis, Suresh, Nolan, Poole, Zimmerman, Moerdyk

Christina Cassotis is the chief executive officer of the Allegheny County Airport Authority. She comes to Pittsburgh from York, Maine, where she was managing officer of consultant ICF International’s airport services practice; in her 16 years with the firm, she held a variety of posts. She began her career in transportation with the Massachusetts Port …

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Allan H. Meltzer, Economist, professor, author

As a kid, I moved a lot around Boston, where I was born. My mother died when I was 5, after which I lived with my grandmother. When I was 9, my father remarried and we became suburbanites, moving to Westwood, Mass. Practically no Jews lived there other than me, my dad and my sisters. …

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Arnold Palmer

Arnie Palmer was at home in Latrobe that September afternoon having a quiet birthday when the doorbell rang. There, wearing a warm grin, stood a kindly old gentleman, gray where he wasn’t bald, who was just five years out of the White House and who, some two decades earlier, had saved the world. “Any chance …

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The Fading Light

Stewart O’Nan’s novel “West of Sunset,” based on the final tragic years of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, took some nerve to write. Would you like to get into the ring with one of the greatest figures in American literature and try to describe what’s going on in his alcoholic head and distressed heart? But …

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A little yellow friend

The potato chip bird. that’s how my students remember it. At first, they think it’s a canary. I show them pictures on the opening day of class, and they see yellow and call out “Big Bird?” “No,” then, “Canary?” “Wrong continent.” That’s before they’ve learned to use their eyes and ears again to recognize what’s …

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Cooking the Books

For me, it started with “The Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls.” My sister-in-law loaned me her copy when I was 7. The 1950s spiral-bound edition depicted smiling, neatly dressed girls in aprons stirring batter and beating eggs in (now vintage) bowls with the boy in the background tasting from a pot resting on …

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Pitaland

If breaking bread is the key to world peace, Joe Chahine has a jump on it at Pitaland in Brookline. A Lebanese Maronite Christian, Joe has pita customers of all faiths and nationalities. An Italian baker, Cellone, delivers Joe’s pita to area groceries. And if you are eating pita at any area Mediterranean restaurant, and …

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From melons to motorists

Why exactly does motor square Garden have a dome? The Renaissance-style cap in oxidized copper and glass sits confidently on a low-rise multiple gable structure in buff brick that is more ancient Roman. Pittsburgh Press writer George Swetnam once called the combination “odd but charming.” The building definitely holds its own architecturally among much larger …

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Vintage Fox Chapel

For some, the best thing about the movie “White Christmas” is the Vermont lodge where most of it takes place. Its timeless charm is the essence of classic American style. Though it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes it so appealing, the same elements appear again and again in movies made during the 1940s and …

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Remembering the Great One

Walking into The Clemente Museum at Engine House No. 25 in Lawrenceville, one word comes to mind: passion. The athletic passion of one of baseball’s greatest players, his passion for helping the less fortunate and making the world better for his and all children, and the passion of the man who created this moving monument …

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Richard Mellon Scaife

When Dick Scaife died last summer, there surfaced a rash of brief memoirs of a man most often described as “reclusive,” and, more ambivalently, “mercurial.” Before then, he had been shielded from close scrutiny by the code of Omertà, a protective silence, at least by his friends and close associates. This frustrated those less friendly …

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Classroom of the Future

It is 12:23 p.m. on a school day, about seven minutes before DeAnna Kwiecinski’s robotics class starts at The Campus School of Carlow University in Pittsburgh. But dashing in the door, red-faced and breathing hard, are third-graders Lorenzo Auteri and Tyler Sharek. “We ran because we wanted to get here first,” Tyler said, fiddling with …

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Jennings Environmental Education Center

Among the many delightful, ecologically interesting places to visit within a short distance from Pittsburgh is the Jennings Environmental Education Center. This gorgeous destination along Route 8 is about 12 miles north of Butler, across from the historic Old Stone House. It is a wonderful place for a quick hike or for exploring five miles …

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Lack of Diversity in the Region’s Workforce Raises Concerns

Rayfield Lucas had heard there were well-paying jobs to be had in the shale gas industry; jobs that offered the opportunity to earn his way to a future more secure than the maintenance and warehouse work he’d done in the past could ever promise. He went for it. A little more than a month after …

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A Stitch in Time

Through the long, painful decline of Big Steel and the subsequent efforts of Pittsburgh to remake itself and regain economic viability, observers echoed a consistent theme: Pittsburgh will rise again because of the industriousness and talent of its workforce. Indeed, that committed workforce helped the region shape a multifaceted economy that grew supple and strong. …

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The Two Sides of a Sale

I can’t decide which is more awkward, selling to someone or being sold to. I’ve been on both sides, and when the sale is right, there’s nothing better. An opportunity is identified, a plan is hatched, and both parties benefit. But as a small business owner, I spend a lot of time trying to extricate …

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Marcellus Shale: A Tricky Situation

For years, it’s been a common rallying cry among activists that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has coddled its burgeoning natural gas industry at the expense of other state priorities. Perhaps nothing, they contend, has been more emblematic of that cozy relationship than the fact that Pennsylvania is the only active drilling state in the union …

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AC / DC

Three University of Pittsburgh professors have seen the future in electrical innovation, and it begins in Homewood. They’re talking about an electrical revolution, and it’s fitting that Pittsburgh and one of its poorest neighborhoods could play a large role. In the late 1880s, Pittsburgh’s most famous Homewood resident, George Westinghouse, prevailed in what has since …

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Aldisert, Van Dusen, Standish, Budway, Geibel, Hilliard, Stewart

Ruggero J. Aldisert, 95 Aldisert was a distinguished jurist who served on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The son of an Italian immigrant, he volunteered for service with the U.S. Marines during World War II, seeing action in the Pacific theater as a battery commander on Johnston Island and the Marshall Islands and …

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The Arts Emerge as a Driver of Revitalization

The weight of support the arts enjoy in Pittsburgh was on public display last fall when local foundations bought the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, rescuing it from debt, troubled management and a suitor with designs for turning it into a Downtown hotel. Four foundations raised $5.8 million of the $7.9 million price …

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Spotlight Shines On Pittsburgh’s Bumpy Ride to Teacher Evaluation Reform

It’s a Saturday night in early November. A jazz band plays near a rocket simulator in the Carnegie Science Center where a line snakes toward the bar. People in cocktail attire chat over hors d’oeuvres. It’s not often that city public school teachers are at the center of a gala celebrating their work. But these …

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College Graduates Increase But Region Still Lags

Earning a high school education is the building block of success. Southwestern Pennsylvanians shine in that regard. Where they come up short is in building on that foundation. And the consequences of not earning a college degree can be significant, local survey data show. Only 7.5 percent of residents aged 25 or older don’t have …

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Badly Needed Reinvestment Expected Soon

The long-awaited reinvestment in transportation statewide can’t come too soon in southwestern Pennsylvania, where neglected roads and bridges leave no doubt there is plenty of work to be done with the region’s share of the $2.3 billion in state transportation funding approved more than a year ago. The Federal Highway Administration reports that 24.4 percent …

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Low Crime Rates Are a Trademark of the Region

Crime varies by neighborhood, but southwestern Pennsylvania’s overall crime rate is the envy of Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions. And only Boston has a lower crime rate than the City of Pittsburgh in the ranking of benchmark cities. Crime rates in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area fell across every major category except rape and motor …

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Land Banks Emerge with Hopes of Turning Back the Tide of Vacant Properties

They were aware of the problem. How could they not be? The ghostly abandoned houses and weedchoked vacant lots in their municipalities numbered in the thousands. Vacancy, tax delinquency and blight had emerged as widely recognized cancers exclusive to no neighborhood. The crisis even resonated in Harrisburg, where lawmakers were drafting legislation to help fight …

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Slow, Steady Growth is in Line with Tradition

The region’s housing market is anything but dramatic. It has long been the tortoise in the race: Slow, but reliably steady. Little has changed in a year’s time. Third-quarter 2014 housing prices, for example, rose 4.3 percent over the previous year, a rate slower than seven of the 14 Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions and below …

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In a Fragmented Region, Big Problems Encourage Cooperation

Few regions have as many disparate local governments as southwestern Pennsylvania. While that is not likely to change soon, recent approaches to several chronic problems suggest an era of cooperation is rising among cities, boroughs and townships that lack the means to solve them on their own. In Allegheny County, nudging some 83 municipalities to …

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As Demand Rises, Food Banks Face the Challenge of Change

No one waiting at North Hills Community Outreach’s food pantry in Hampton wore dirty or tattered clothing. The children playing in the parking lot while their parents lined up for a few bags of groceries attended stable suburban schools. Several of the adults visiting the food pantry that October evening had at least a part-time …

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Allegheny County Health Department Takes a New Approach to Solve Old Problems

Dr. Karen Hacker arrived at the town hall meeting in Turtle Creek to find it crowded with TV news crews. The director of the Allegheny County Health Department had come that October evening to discuss the state of chronic disease in the community, which includes high rates of obesity and heart disease. Reporters came for …

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When Better Is Not Good Enough

Last spring, the shenango, inc. coke plant on Neville Island was fined $600,000 for 330 air pollution violations and ordered to fix the problems that led to them. It was a familiar pattern in southwestern Pennsylvania in which pollution violations are detected, fines negotiated and fixes ordered—a process that has helped reduce pollution over decades, …

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The 2015 Economic Outlook

Southwestern Pennsylvania is in solid economic shape entering 2015. Employment is holding near all-time highs, and the seven-county unemployment rate has fallen to just under 5 percent—with the historic low of 4.1 percent in sight for 2016. But stalled labor force growth since late 2012 should temper excitement regarding the unemployment rate’s descent, as a …

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Population Shifts Again with Aging Baby Boomers

Southwestern pennsylvania’s demographic landscape is once again changing in profound ways. After decades of slowly recovering from the exodus of young adults in the 1980s, the region is again seeing older adults command a growing share of the population as more baby boomers age. More people moved into the region than left to live elsewhere …

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