Greening of Pittsburgh
Fifty years after clearing the "Smoky City" air, Pittsburgh reclaims its greener side
INDUSTRY'S IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
During a century of industrial preeminence (1870-1970), Pittsburgh led the nation in the production of iron, steel, and glass and in the mining of bituminous coal.
At the same time, Pittsburgh's environment rotted. The sky rolled in sheets of sooty black and greys. Nights glowed orange. Rivers oozed a ripple of brown and green. At least one visitor thought he had uncovered hell.
Pittsburgh represented, in fact and in legend, the best and worst of mankind's early 20th-century push toward economic growth and technological expansion. The steel industry flourished but, over time, Pittsburgh officials and residents began to assess the damage prosperity wreaked upon the physical and social condition of the city.
The years surrounding World War I and II revealed the city's underlying economic vulnerability. Boom and bust cycles, along with worsening conditions caused by floods and the ever-present smoke finally prompted a combined private and public response.
Initial attempts at smoke and flood control were hampered by the war effort and by political vacillation over enforcement. Then, as now, concern that tougher laws might squelch economic growth and scare off major employers was balanced with the desire to improve living conditions.
RECOGNIZING THE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE
Political will grew along with the awareness of what pollution cost the city, both in real dollars and in negative publicity. In 1941, under growing pressure from newspapers and voters, Mayor Cornelius Scully created the Commission for the Elimination of Smoke.
In the years following World War II, efforts to clean the air, prevent flooding, and redevelop slum areas of the city were redoubled. A new mayor, David L. Lawrence, adopted the campaign slogan "Smoke Must Go." He also built alliances with the private sector-particularly businessman Richard King Mellon-that symbolized a new paradigm: the coming together of technical, financial, and political interests to remake a dying city.
Congress approved and funded major flood control projects, which in turn spurred corporate expansion along the city's flatlands. Lawrence, with Mellon's backing, stood firm on smoke control enforcement.
Industry responded: railroad and shipping interests converted locomotives and tugs from coal-fired to diesel engines; steel and coal industries joined with local universities to develop new coal burning technologies and methods for recovering smoke- and air-borne pollutants. Homeowners also adapted, trading coal furnaces for oil, electric, andgas. The push for clean air expanded county-wide and by the mid-1950s produced real progress. Smoke levels of all types dropped significantly. Clear skies opened the way to new public and private investment in the city core, particularly the building of Gateway Center and Point State Park at the confluence of Pittsburgh's three rivers. This era is now referred to as Pittsburgh's first Renaissance.
Pittsburgh today boasts one of the world's most spectacular urban landscapes, and the process of renewal is ongoing. The rivers continue their impressive recovery, and fishermen now enjoy bass and other sport fishing both within and near the city's borders.
The river shores are a focus in Pittsburgh's renewal. A system of city-wide waterfront trails is a priority. The new Allegheny Riverfront Park and North Shore Riverfront Park reflect creative and adaptive use of Pittsburgh's rivers and landscapes. The city's two new ballparks on the North Shore open up to the rivers and the city skyline, giving baseball and football fans a sweeping view of the city. A Riverfront Development Taskforce has also been established to monitor and review developments along the city's three rivers to ensure that all future projects will continue the city's new devotion to the greening of its waterways.
The next gem in Pittsburgh's list of green achievements is the new David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which debuted in March 2003. The new center incorporates high-performance green features such as daylight, natural ventilation, and recycling of water and green materials, and is the first in the nation designed to meet green building specifications. Set along the Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh, the new convention center offers stunning views of the river and the city skyline, as well as open-air terraces and walkways that connect with Allegheny Riverfront Park.
Besides the new convention center, several other Pittsburgh-region buildings are certified green buildings. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council, which has oversight of the national certification program, points to this region as having the largest concentration of green buildings in the country.
Pittsburgh has emerged from its industrial past as a new center for technology, medicine, art, and tourism, and its future is as bright as the skies over the Golden Triangle.
This article has been republished with the permission of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau
Department of Geology & Planetary Science
University of Pittsburgh
4107 O'Hara Street
SRCC, Room 200
Pittsburgh PA 15260-3332