It may come as a surprise to many outside southwestern Pennsylvania, but in recent years Pittsburgh has perennially been ranked among the most livable cities in the U.S. In fact, it has been named the most livable city in the U.S.
two years running by no less than The Economist (2009) and Forbes.com (2010).
Long known for its dismal environmental record and aging steel mills, the city has experienced quite a rebirth over the last decade — a flourishing art scene, a vast network of green spaces and public parks, significant investment in green design, and more than 12 university campuses. And yet the city is still faced with a declining population, aging infrastructure, poor public transportation and one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the U.S. (the Monogahela River). What exactly does "livability" measure?
As a transplant to Pittsburgh myself, I can attest to the surprising beauty and vibrancy of this city. My expectations were vastly below what I encountered upon visiting Pittsburgh for the first time before moving here this past summer. A dynamic music and art scene, access to a surfeit of recreational opportunities, a diverse food culture and an engaged, socially conscious population were among the many surprises that greeted me in the once-smoky city.
Indeed, Forbes.com acknowledged Pittsburgh for its high-ranking "art scene, job prospects, safety and affordability" in declaring it the most livable city in the U.S. Based on statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Sperling's Best Places, Forbes measured "livability" by comparing unemployment, crime, income growth, the cost of living and artistic and cultural opportunities.
However, there are some rather significant quality of life measures that are not accounted for in Forbes' computations. Education, diversity, access to public transportation, green space, environmental quality, weather — just to name a few that come to mind.
Pittsburgh still rates highly on many of the measures I just suggested; given the well-documented links between public green space and community health
, the city's 180 public parks and spaces and a growing network of urban and community farms
may make it even more livable than Forbes' measurements suggest. And though the public school system is suffering by many accounts, an innovative public education initiative known as the Pittsburgh Promise is encouraging higher education and preventing suburban flight by offering guaranteed scholarships to graduates of the public school system.
On the other hand, the city's public transportation authority is facing a $47 million shortfall, forcing the city to begin eliminating access to public transportation for people in over 50 communities. And despite the incredible advances the area has made in recent decades to improve environmental quality, the dramatic rise of natural gas extraction threatens to undo all this hard work if pursued irresponsibly.
Thankfully, there is much hopeful work still being done to further improve the quality of life in Pittsburgh. KeepPGHmoving.com
has launched a public campaign to advocate for the need for public transportation, and BikePGH, a bike advocacy group, continues to improve bike infrastructure and build on the city's Bronze Level Bike-Friendly Community status
. The city council's recent ban on hydraulic fracturing in city limits will also potentially limit the environmental impacts of natural gas drilling on city residents (though upstream impacts will be hard to limit).
It is an exciting time to live in Pittsburgh, given both the opportunities and challenges to making the region even more livable over the coming years. If the city remains committed to the successful strategies of green design, urban greening and investment in a new green economy
, it will continue creating the groundwork for a resilient and vibrant community capable of weathering an uncertain future. For ultimately it is a city's capacity to adapt to a changing world through time that is truly what makes it livable.