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Identity & Community

Can The Steel City Be Sustainable?

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh’s made a comeback.

What was once one of the most polluted and economically strained cities in the country, now ranks 4th in number of green buildings and 5th in average annual pay compared to the 14 other benchmark regions, according to the analytical organization Pittsburgh Today.

The group examined about 450 regional indicators to see where southwestern Pennsylvania sits in terms of sustainability, and according to Doug Heuck, director of Pittsburgh Today, the city has potential.

“We’re on a trajectory that’s upward,” he said, “As opposed to a lot of regions, Cleveland being a particularly good example of one that is on a downward trajectory.”

While the city doesn’t top any lists, it consistently ranks in the top five in categories such as life expectancy, walkability and education, but lags in ozone pollution and daily commute time.

Heuck said sustainability is hard to define, but it’s built on three pillars: economic health, social equity and environmental health.

Pittsburgh’s economy has its positives and its negatives.

The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area ranks 2nd in cost of living and has lower than average unemployment compared to the other regions. The city’s 12.1 percent poverty rate is still high, but below the benchmark average of 13.7 percent, according to Pittsburgh Today. The report also states about 10 percent of properties in Pittsburgh stand vacant.

Education in Pittsburgh might be one of its strongpoints. Ranked 2nd in terms of high school graduation rates compared to the other benchmark regions, more than 92 percent of people in Pittsburgh have attained a high school diploma. But the city struggles in terms of secondary education, with only 30.5 percent of people going on to receive a bachelor’s degree or higher. This puts Pittsburgh below all other benchmark regions except Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit in terms of secondary education.

The region’s biggest struggle is environmental health. The city ranks 12th in ozone pollution and exceeds the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Despite the uphill climb, Hueck said sustainability in Pittsburgh is a real possibility.

“I don’t see any reason why, especially after what we’ve been through in the last 30 years, our trajectory won’t continue on a strong upward pace and frankly put more distance between us and other regions,” he said, “as long as we keep the culture of improvement going.”