Pittsburgh’s fortunes have waxed and waned throughout its history (and we’re not just talking about the Steelers’ lousy record last season). Its steel industry — once the source of enormous wealth and enormous quantities of polluted air and water — is mostly gone. But healthcare, education, and technology have recharged the local economy, and the city’s leadership (including its youthful mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, who was sworn in last year at age 26) is embracing a variety of eco-forward initiatives. With its rolling green hills and the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers running through, Andy Warhol’s hometown is a lovely sight in spring and summer. So check it out — there’s a lot more to The ’Burgh than just football.
While not extensive, a light-rail and subway system services the downtown area (known as the Golden Triangle); the local bus system is more comprehensive, with several lines that serve the surrounding suburbs. Bike trails along the riverfronts and hundreds of public staircases for traversing the city’s steep slopes make it easy for residents to get places without cars. Though the locals don’t use them much, tourists get a kick out of riding the funiculars (above), carrying cars that ascend the Duquesne Incline on Pittsburgh’s South Side, which were built in the 1870s to take steelworkers to their mill jobs.
Stop by Little Earth Productions in the SoHo district to score handbags and belts made from old license plates and bottle caps. If your taste runs more to designer duds browse the selection at Jonäno which offers sleek tops, yoga pants, and other wardrobe staples made of “ecoKashmere,”a bamboo-based fabric. The name means “everybody healthy” in an ancient Scandinavian tongue.
With its large student population, it’s no surprise that Pittsburgh has a number of casual eateries offering sustainable fare. Kaya , in the popular Strip District, cooks up vegetarian dishes inspired by Carribean, Spanish and Cuban cuisines. Over in the Oakland neighborhood, the Beehive Coffeehouse tempts diners with veggie versions of international favorites, like barbecued tofu, mixed vegetable curry, and Tex-Mex chili. If you’re brown-bagging it, the city’s six farmers’ markets offer local produce from May through November.
The Pittsburgh Glass Center , above, home to studios for glass artists, ingeniously uses excess energy created by the glass-making process to heat the interior spaces in wintertime. For those who prefer to enjoy art en plein air, plants are the medium of choice for installations at the The ArtGardens of Pittsburgh in Frank Curto Park, which promotes gardening as an art genre. At the “Building Green” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center , vistors can check out sustainable building materials, measure the energy used by lightbulbs, and learn about different types of insulation.
Walking the Talk
The energy-efficient David L. Lawrence Convention Center reduces the environmental impact of its events by using recycled dinnerware and encouraging host hotels to adopt green cleaning and maintenance practices. The city’s car fleet includes several that run on natural gas, and the Clean Cities program, founded in 1995, also promotes the development of alternative fuel vehicles. Carnegie Mellon University, known for its stellar engineering and arts programs, has a hand in many local and national environmental initiatives; learn more at the school’s website devoted to all things eco.
On the Drawing Board
Like many cities, Pittsburgh is spiffing up its downtown area to attract new residents. This year, construction will begin on RiverParc, a mixed-use green community of condos, art venues, shops, and services. The project will be built over a 10-year period at a cost of $460 million, and is expected to add 700 new residential units and 9,200 jobs to the area.
Story by Deborah Snoonian. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2007. This story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.