What’s the Big Idea?

Regional leaders propose what will make a better Pittsburgh
Rate this item
(0 votes)

As the kickoff to a region-​wide competition, we asked a group of regional leaders to submit an idea, in 50 words or less, that, if enacted, would make Pittsburgh a better place to live. It could be something that wouldn’t cost a dime or it could be a multimillion-​dollar public works campaign. Below are their answers. We hope readers will take this as a cue to submit their own proposals. It could be anything. Just keep it under 500 words (it could just be one sentence) and send it — along with, if you wish, any documents/​designs — to . The winners will receive an audience this summer with Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and a group of potential funders. –Douglas Heuck

Prior to the opening of the new Pittsburgh International Terminal in 1992, then-​Commissioner Tom Foerster and some civic leaders proposed to create a grand drive from the airport with large art installations and landscaping through our already great entrance coming out of the tunnel. Several cities have done it, the best being Singapore. Imagine instead of billboards and bare hillsides there would be trees, flowers and art!” –Tom Murphy, former Pittsburgh Mayor

I know many talented people from outside of Pittsburgh who would come here in a second, if solicited. Imag​inePitts​burgh​.com is a great start when it comes to job aggregation, but the city needs a more robust recruitment strategy aimed at talent attraction in order for it to stand out from the crowd.” –Cynthia Hundorfean, president & CEO, Allegheny Health Network

To achieve its ambitious climate targets and ensure equal access and opportunity for all residents, Pittsburgh must complete the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project linking Downtown to our universities and the East End, while also pursuing bold technologies like Maglev and HyperLoop connecting downtown to the airport and surrounding region.” –David Finegold, president of Chatham University

Simply … keep investing in our welcoming culture so that we are a place that embraces new ideas. A place that celebrates people’s cultures, backgrounds and differences. A place that helps businesses thrive. And a place that continually seeks to be better today and better for the generations to come.” –Susie Shipley, president, Pennsylvania and Ohio Valley Region, Huntington Bank

The Trust has used the arts as a catalyst for urban revitalization with public art playing a pivotal role. My idea is a bright, beautiful, iconic light installation that will shine out from our Cultural District and be an irresistible beacon to draw people to Downtown and our region.” –J. Kevin McMahon, president & CEO, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Many individuals in our region lack access to higher education. Online learning could put college within reach — especially if universities partnered with Pittsburgh’s network of neighborhood libraries and community centers. By providing online education in familiar, accessible settings, we can empower these men and women to reach their full potential.” –Geraldine M. Jones, president, California University of Pennsylvania

Why wouldn’t we sustain the energy and dialogue that grew as a response to Jeff Bezos and deploy our resources to solve the glaring problems identified — Pittsburgh Public Schools, transportation, PWSA, affordable housing, tax structure, etc. If we truly adopt a regional, inclusive plan and permanently discard stale, parochial thinking, we’ll build on our enviable strengths and become magnetic. Here’s to P2!” –David J. Malone, president & CEO, Gateway Financial

Mobility within and around Pittsburgh is essential to our ongoing progress. We have made great strides improving the health and efficiency of our mass transit system. We need to continue this momentum, which should include augmenting the Port Authority with the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, connecting Downtown and Oakland.” –Merrill Stabile, Alco Parking Corporation

When I moved to Greensburg, I thought better mass transit options existed to connect the region. We made the decision to eliminate our suggested donation fee to provide more access to art, but without strong mass transit infrastructure, transportation is a real barrier preventing our region from being truly inclusive.” –Anne Kraybill, Richard M. Scaife director & CEO, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art

For over 75 years, Pittsburgh’s economic transformation has been driven by the notion that together our region could reinvent itself. Public/​private partnerships played a key role. For a brighter future, and to make Pittsburgh a better place, I suggest a universal, public and private commitment to provide the opportunity to every individual in our region, especially those with disabilities, to fully participate in the new economic landscape. We will be stronger if we are truly all together.” –Timothy Parks, president & CEO, Life’sWork of Western PA

People matter most, so let’s strengthen workforce development and encourage generations to live, work and play in Pittsburgh. Simultaneously, enhancing the region’s business and natural environment is crucial for both business and living.” –J. Christopher Donahue, president & CEO, Federated Investors

Pittsburgh and surrounding areas offer opportunities to enjoy expansive, exciting and diversified cultural experiences for visitors and for those who call the city home. Experiencing the music, the arts, the museums and theaters stimulates an excitement and wonder coupled with a harmony of the senses. Let us support and encourage awareness of and participation in these wonderful offerings.” –Nancy L. Hile, art collection manager, The Maridon Museum

Light the bridges that frame Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle. Illuminate, from the bridge deck level, the nine or 10 bridges that border the central portion of the city’s business district. The effect on the city skyline from every angle, including overhead, would be dramatic and unique.” –Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County Executive

We can each make a commitment to care and to connect. Having an authentic, honest conversation with someone breaks barriers and builds relationships. Small conversations can lead to big conversations, like convening regional leaders across sectors to solve problems. After all, this is how humans accomplish anything important: together.” –Joylette Portlock, executive director, Sustainable Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh must become a city where young people want to live, work and play — especially the best and brightest from our own world-​class educational institutions. That means improving public transportation and accelerating the development and transformation of the Downtown area as a center of culture, entertainment and entrepreneurial energy.” –Henry J. Maier, president & CEO, FedEx Ground

Expanding Carnegie Mellon University’s pilot program for connected vehicle technology would be a game-​changer for the city. The program, which outfits vehicles with devices that “talk” to other connected vehicles, traffic signals and pedestrians’ smartphones, would not only help move traffic more efficiently, but also lower emissions and make our streets safer by reducing the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities.” –Katharine Kelleman, CEO, Port Authority of Allegheny County

Addressing climate change is vital to a bright future and making an impact starts in our homes and communities. From renewable energy to green buildings, we can each make a difference in ways that are good for people and the planet. Phipps supports Pittsburgh’s leadership with resources and programs to inspire positive change. Learn more at phipps​.con​ser​va​tory​.org/​c​l​i​m​a​t​e​c​h​a​n​g​e.” –Richard Piacentini, president & CEO, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

The year 2018 saw the region garner national attention like never before as a great place to live, work, study, and grow a business. In 2019, let’s resolve to improve recognized areas of need (e.g., workforce development, public transportation, infrastructure, and inclusion) as Pittsburghers always do … by coming together.” –James M. Collins, president & CEO, St. Clair Hospital

12,976. That’s a lot of t-​shirts, designed and sold by some young, local makers. Printed across each shirt is a simple yet profound hashtag: #BeTheKindKid. It’s their pledge­ — and call — to be gracious, friendly, good. Picture all of us wearing and declaring such a promise to one another.” –Gregg Behr, executive director, The Grable Foundation

Pittsburgh’s educational systems will refocus on the humanities, arts and culture. The stories of history, literature and philosophy married with the science and technology will make Pittsburgh the center of a new educational model where reasoned decisions are made based on facts, moral principles and compassion.” –Jane Werner, executive director, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Support a solid social infrastructure in Pittsburgh. This means strong libraries, parks, churches, schools, anywhere that people gather, bond with each other and work collaboratively. Investment in a robust social infrastructure signals our region’s commitment to equal access to lifelong education, meaningful employment, arts and culture and services that sustain strong neighborhoods.” –Mary Frances Cooper, president & director, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

The footprint of Downtown Pittsburgh is very small, even more now with the introduction of bike lanes. In most leading cities around the world, bus stops have been relocated to the periphery, which encourages walking, better air and a generally more pleasant place to live and visit. Why not Pittsburgh?” –Dennis Unkovic, Meyer Unkovic & Scott

There is new energy and vitality in Pittsburgh. But we have not, as a region, figured out how to stem our population decline. Our political leadership must be in a position to plan, implement, and speak about growth initiatives for our entire MSA. With 130 municipalities, 109 police departments, and 43 school districts in Allegheny County alone, unlike other more streamlined and faster growing regions in the U. S., we have limits on our capacity to think broadly and speak with one voice. We should start by merging the City and the County.” –Bill Schenck, vice chairman, TriState Capital Bank, former Pa. Secretary of Banking

Create a strong, sustainable talent pipeline through greater leadership involvement. Work to open doors to education, employment, development and advancement. Help retain our youth and provide opportunities for all people in our region. Remember those who invested in you to make your success possible and pay those gifts forward.” –Leroy M. Ball, president & CEO, Koppers

I would love to see a redesign of the traffic patterns in the Strip District to turn Penn Avenue into a pedestrian street. Also, it would be great to renovate the warehouse area into a year-​round, open-​air market where more local vendors and boutique artisans could display their goods.” –Susanne Cole, president & CEO, Pressley Ridge

Pittsburgh is a gem — the region’s residents appreciate all of our great amenities and professional opportunities. We need to attract outside talent to grow the population and fill our jobs. Let them see Pittsburgh for all that it is beyond the sports teams. We should be promoting and supporting our theaters, museums, parks.” –Ellen Freeman, partner-​in-​charge of the Pittsburgh office, Porter Wright

I would like to see the city develop an area along one of the rivers as a destination for tourists, shoppers, restaurant-​goers and folks seeking nightlife, with a mixture of parks, stores, restaurants, hotels and bars/​nightclubs, as well as other attractions (like a Jazz Hall of Fame). Something like the River Walk in San Antonio.” –John Ferreira, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

Civil discourse among diverse colleagues has never seemed more important, nor more difficult, than it is today. I challenge us all to create deliberate experiences — like The Ellis School’s Culture Jam — through which citizens can practice and engage in civil discourse with each other on topics of importance to our region.” –Macon Paine Finley, head of school, The Ellis School

A comprehensive and diversified transportation system that serves the entire Pittsburgh region is key to attracting and retaining the employers — and workers — necessary to continue growing this area. A brighter future for the Pittsburgh region hinges on being able to move people and goods across communities and counties rapidly and efficiently.” –Mary C. Finger, president, Seton Hill University

Make equal access to public education truly equal by eliminating all school districts and unifying them into one centralized county-​wide system whereby every child would have access to the same educational benefits regardless of race, income, or community in which they live.” –August R. Carlino, president & CEO Rivers of Steel

Pittsburgh should be the most accessible city in the world. This is more than just curb cuts on our streets, but truly setting the standard for state-​of-​the-​art technologies that make our city’s work places and public spaces accessible to everyone. We must do more and involve individuals with disabilities in the process.” –Wendy Pardee, president & CEO, The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is an exceptional example of a city of transformational change facilitated by the amazing resources in the city. A continued expansion of these amazing resources outward from the city into the long-​term economic development of the region can create an even brighter future for Pittsburgh and the region.” –Douglas G. Lee, president, Waynesburg University

The Terminal Modernization Program at Pittsburgh International Airport. What happens at the airport matters to our region. That’s why our strategy of air service development, real estate development and terminal modernization works together to improve the facility and drive regional growth. Pittsburgh has undergone a renaissance. Our region’s front door — Pittsburgh International Airport — should reflect that.” –Christina Cassotis, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO

Pittsburgh’s Amazon bid recognized the importance of outlets for socially conscious workers. Let’s make Pittsburgh a national leader in developing philanthropists for every stage of work life. Two programs at our foundation’s Center for Philanthropy, the New Philanthropic Leaders group for younger professionals, and our Corporate Philanthropy Initiative for companies, are examples of programs that help profitable workplaces serve as community building spaces.” –Yvonne Maher, executive vice president, The Pittsburgh Foundation

We live in a rapidly changing world of increasing complexity that is colliding with 19th and 20th century ways of thinking and doing. We must shift from a ‘silos’ to a ‘systems’ perspective, with closer alignment among universities, industry, government, and the community — all with a stronger sense of purpose and humility. Few regions have Pittsburgh’s density of world-​class knowledge, technology, and humanities resources. We should establish Pittsburgh as the gold standard for knowledge ecosystems that spawn exponential innovation in the new Knowledge Age.” –James R. Martin, dean, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh

A shared vision and strong partnerships between the business and university communities is critical, not only to provide students highly sought-​after experience, skills, and competencies, but also to create clear pathways to jobs that retain our graduates in the region. Working together, we must assure that Pittsburgh continues to grow as a leader in innovation, has rich career opportunities for young people, while keeping Pittsburgh a highly desirable place to live.” –Suzanne K. Mellon, president, Carlow University

As we work to bring great tech companies to the region, we must deploy our intellectual resources to understand the policy implications (good and bad) of a technology-​based economy. To be truly successful, artificial intelligence must be grounded in ethics, morality and the long-​term good of the people it serves.” –Ken Gormley, president, Duquesne University

Like Covestro, the Pittsburgh community has embraced the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap for creating a more sustainable future. I’d like to see our city engage the next generation in taking ownership of the U.N. goals and finding new, innovative ways to put the goals into action locally.” –Jerry MacCleary, chairman & CEO, Covestro

Making a better Pittsburgh, to me, is all about believing in the notion of community and being a good neighbor. Community is all about giving and receiving. As a good neighbor, you give when you can and ask when you need. When we honor the courage of those who ask and open our hearts to meet the need, we make Pittsburgh better.” –Lisa Scales, president & CEO, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Pittsburgh’s “most livable” status is alive and well. We’re among the best cities for jobs, talent, safety, affordability, with great universities, culture, food and breweries. Hipsters love it here, too. What’s missing on Pittsburgh’s growing list of ranking accolades? Being a great place to start, relocate or headquarter a company must be next!” –Donald C. Bluedorn II, managing shareholder, Babst Calland

I would love to see a commuter rail line along the I-​79 corridor. I believe it would bring prosperity to the region and transform Pittsburgh from a large city to a true metroplex area, allowing for reasonable commutes from as far away as Erie. The synergy that would be created could be truly dynamic.” –William J. Behre, president, Slippery Rock University

The Pittsburgh region can be a vast canvass for public art — demonstrating our core assets in creativity and the creative industries. Students, elementary and secondary, can produce works of public art, under the supervision of teachers and teaching artists, not only as robust project-​based learning experiences, but also to instill a sense of civic engagement from an early age on. The Rural Arts Collaborative is doing just this with schools in small towns around western PA, but the model can be replicated in urban neighborhoods and public greenspaces. There can be competitions among schools and celebrations of the creativity and contributions of all students.” –Jim Denova, vice president, Benedum Foundation

We need to grow our state economy in order to fund the many things we want to achieve. Pennsylvania should adopt a unitary tax system for greater fairness and to encourage business investment and entrepreneurialism. Currently, while large companies use complex maneuvering to avoid taxation, small businesses and startups bear the full weight of the state’s high corporate tax rate, essentially subsidizing big business. A unitary tax system would enable the state to lower the tax rate — without negatively affecting tax revenues — thereby lifting the unfair burden off of small businesses and startups.” –Bill Demchak, Chairman, president & CEO, PNC Financial Services Group

I would like to see dedication across the city to mentoring young people. We thrive as a city of artists, researchers, innovators and so much more. At MWRI, we are committed to mentoring the next generation of scientists, helping them harness their talent. If our diverse city leaders incorporated mentorship into their organization’s goals, Pittsburgh could become one of the best cities in the world.” –Michael J. Annichine, CEO, Magee-​Womens Research Institute

Diverse groups inspired us by standing in solidarity with the Jewish community after the anti-​Semitic shooting Oct. 27. We strengthen these bonds further through shared experiences. Leaders from Jewish and black communities should together visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.” –Jeffrey Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s future rests on the health and well-​being of our region’s children, teens and young adults. We have the opportunity and responsibility to come together as a region to develop a shared agenda that puts children first. With a culture of collaboration, innovation, and transformation, Pittsburgh can invest in our own future through our children and serve as a model for communities across the nation.” –Rachel Petrucelli, president, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation

Living, dining and playing downtown has amped up significantly in the past decade. To complete the city’s transformation to a fully realized urban hub, an investment in a new retail corridor would complete the picture. Bring in stores that appeal to a broad demographic. If you build a Target, they will come.” –Lou Castelli, managing director, Pittsburgh Public Theater

To maintain a vibrant economy, our region needs more affordable housing for individuals and families. In tandem, we also need an efficient and broadly available public transportation system. This combination, successfully implemented and maintained, will assist in attracting a more diverse and skilled workforce.” –Jim McQuade, President & CEO, Dollar Bank

One generation of citizen leaders is readying to pass the torch to another. We must bring them together for conversations about daring to dream, setting priorities and harnessing the power of people pulling in the same direction for the long haul. This year, we’re marking 75 years of such transformative public-​private partnerships and focusing on the next 75 and tomorrow’s leaders who can finish the good work to create an economy for all in our region.” –Stefani Pashman, CEO, Allegheny Conference on Community Development

Pittsburgh would be an even better place if more people could experience its stellar, bustling arts scene more often. Providing Pittsburghers, especially those in underserved neighborhoods, with greater access to singing and music lessons, musical instruments, and more opportunities to perform and/​or attend performances will pay lifelong dividends.” –Christopher Hahn, general director, Pittsburgh Opera

As outlined in Mayor Peduto’s OnePGH Resilience Strategy, sustainable cities thrive because they offer all residents equal access to resources and opportunities. At Bank of America, we believe that increased investments in workforce development strengthen communities and give residents the power to improve their job performance by providing greater access to education, job training and skill-​building activities.” –Brian Ludwick, Bank of America market president, Merrill Lynch market executive

Pittsburgh provides a world-​class quality of life and access to a skilled workforce. This is why PPG calls Pittsburgh our global home. But we can be stronger. Pittsburgh and the state government must provide a more business friendly environment, including a competitive tax structure to attract additional companies.” –Michael McGarry, chairman and CEO, PPG

Invoke a rapid expansion incentive program, including fast-​track permitting, identification of employee housing and securing grants, for all Pittsburgh-​based companies that are growing quickly and require additional resources to facilitate job expansion in the city.” –Vincent J. Delie Jr., chairman, president & CEO, F.N.B. Corporation, First National Bank

Expanding commuter train service along the I-​79/​I-​80 corridors would widen opportunities for employment and economic expansion for Pittsburgh and the region and lighten the environmental and infrastructure burdens on existing roadways. Pittsburgh should take its cue from the decline in single-​vehicle ownership/​use among young adults and offer a responsive option.” –Kathy Brittain Richardson, president, Westminster College


PQ Staff

Questions or corrections? Contact us at .

Explore Related Stories:

Close Window Welcome to Pittsburgh Quarterly
Keep up with the latest

Sign up for our Newsletter, Pittsburgh Quarterly This Week.

We’ll keep in touch, but only when we think there’s something worth sharing. To receive exclusive Pittsburgh Quarterly news and stories, please fill out the form below. Be sure to check your email for a link to confirm your subscription!

View past newsletters here.

Don’t miss a story! Sign up for our newsletter to receive award-​winning journalism in your inbox.

Please let us know your name.
Invalid Input
Please let us know your email address.
Invalid Input