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Identity & Community
Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Magazine Says Historic Preservation Makes Pittsburgh One Of The Most Livable Cities in World

What does Pittsburgh have in common with Copenhagen, Hong Kong and Melbourne?

Each was selected as one of top 11 cities in the world “to live, work and play in” by Metropolis magazine for a particular livability feature: from walkability — Copenhagen, to culture — Hong Kong, to smart infrastructure — Melbourne.

The magazine, which deals with architecture and design, cited Toronto, Tokyo and Helsinki as the three most livable cities in the world overall. But Pittsburgh was honored for its advanced historic preservation.

“Pittsburgh, like so many other Rust Belt cities, faced huge hurdles with the decline of its steel industry. But it is overcoming many of these challenges thanks, in great part, to its preservation movements, neighborhood renewal projects, and active communities,” wrote Shannon Sharpe in Metropolis magazine.

Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, which has led the preservation movement, said it’s an incredible distinction.”

“It is a strong piece of evidence of the value of historic preservation," Ziegler said. "After all, we started 50 years ago as a result of urban renewal which was rooted in demolition, and all of us at the grassroots level opposed it, and it turns out what we saved is the reason we’re one of the 11 best places on the globe to live.”

The magazine specifically cited the foundation’s Market at Fifth initiative in Downtown, a LEED-Gold development, which saved 64 historic buildings. 

“We took three buildings in the worst condition and we put quality apartments and quality retail, bought the building next door and with the Falbo-Vallozzi group put in the grocery store and that whole area is nice, solid and enlivened,” Ziegler said.

According to Ziegler, there is less resistance to preservation today, but there are “endless problems that crop up.”

“We have the problem of vacant and vandalized housing throughout the neighborhoods," he said. "We do not want those houses to be destroyed if they have architectural value. We want to find a way to mothball them and then revive them because it’s the old buildings that attract people to inner city neighborhoods.”

In addition to preserving housing, Ziegler said the foundation is looking at the Cultural District as well as Smithfield Street, which Mayor Bill Peduto wants to transform into a thoroughfare with shops, new sidewalks, bike lanes and no automobile traffic.

Ziegler said the foundation has not developed any particular proposals yet, “but we want to have the same principles at work: save the best of the old, use it to turn retailing around to attract visitors to the city. They want to walk historic blocks and also say ‘here are good spaces for new buildings.’"