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Creating A City For All Requires Rethinking The Process For How We Use Land, Officials Say

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Mayor Bill Peduto discusses ForgingPGH, the city’s new land-use planning initiative, during a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. ";

Mayor Bill Peduto and his administration on Tuesday launched ForgingPGH, a new, year-long effort to explore how people want to see their neighborhoods and the city change. Ultimately, ForgingPGH will create a comprehensive guide to land use for the next 20 years.

In recent decades, the city has responded defensively to investment, Peduto said.

“We wait for a developer to come into a neighborhood with a plan.” He said ForgingPGH represents a new approach: “We can play offense.”

In Pennsylvania, the power to control how land is used rests with municipal governments, whose zoning and planning regulations determine what buildings get built where and what people can do on various parcels of land. Fundamentally, those regulations shape what Pittsburgh looks like and how it functions at the neighborhood level.

Andrew Dash directs the Department of City Planning. He said a new comprehensive land use plan will help guide decisions “as to how we develop and how we grow.” 

The plan will be informed by P4, another city framework many years in the making that evaluates developments on how they affect people, planet, place, and performance.

“The market has changed significantly,” said Peduto. “And we have to prepare for that.”

Over the next 12 months City Planning will seek resident input on what is and isn’t working in their neighborhoods. Due to the ongoing risk posed by the coronavirus, that engagement will begin with online workshops and mapping exercises. Eventually, officials expect to be able to hold open house meetings. Anyone who lives or works in the city is invited to participate.

Concurrently, the city will work to understand existing housing and economic conditions.

This week City Planning expects to begin its search for consultants to help the department create those two reports: a housing needs assessment and a comprehensive market demand and economic opportunity analysis.

When asked why the city didn’t begin this comprehensive planning earlier, Peduto said when he first took office city processes were siloed; now the city systems can work with those at the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to achieve equitable outcomes for all.

“We are at a critical time,” he said, noting that equity and systemic racism “have plagued the city for decades. And we can put into our urban plans a model that breaks away from generations of disinvestment in our Black communities.”

City Planning expects to present different land use scenarios to communities for their feedback in mid-2021. The process of changing city regulations would occur sometime in the future.