Pittsburgh’s four mayoral candidates— Edward Gainey, Tony Moreno, Bill Peduto, and Mike Thompson—weigh in on affordable housing, sustainability, historic preservation, and creating equitable and empowered communities. All candidates will compete in the Pittsburgh primary on May 18, 2021.
Our lives are shaped by the design, architecture, and urban planning that creates our built environment.
Design and planning are powerful tools that, when utilized with equity and community in mind, have the capability to greatly shape the quality of life in a city for all of its inhabitants. While Pittsburgh has taken steps towards using planning and development as tools to design better futures, the city also has a long racist history of using these tools to exclude, harm, and constantly displace marginalized communities—especially in historically Black neighborhoods.
As Pittsburgh looks toward the future, the next mayor needs to recognize the important role of local architects and planners as partners in creating an equitable, well-designed city for all.
With this in mind, a coalition of design organizations, advocates, and community members came together to launch the inaugural Pittsburgh Mayoral Design Forum, which asks the four mayoral candidates seven questions on issues related to affordable housing, sustainability, historic preservation, and creating equitable and empowered communities through community engagement. The goal was to gain a better understanding of each candidate’s beliefs, policies, and vision for the future of design, architecture, planning, and development of our great city. Read on to see what the mayoral candidates had to say!
Please Note: This project does not endorse any particular mayoral candidate; it is intended only to present their responses. Answers have been lightly edited for formatting, otherwise, these responses are in their words. Translations of these answers will be coming soon.
Ed Gainey: First and foremost, well-designed spaces and well-executed community planning processes should be people-centered and focused on the experience created for the end user of the space. Both should be welcoming and accessible (both physically, and in the context of planning processes, in terms of the ways in which information is presented and feedback is gathered), and both should be mindful of historical and social context. Projects that start with an approachable and inviting planning process are able to gather the types of input necessary to reflect that approachability in their final form.
Tony Moreno: Physical space should be used according to community needs. All Pittsburgh neighborhood needs are particular to their own unique space. The need for transportation options must include all venues from private vehicles to walking must be taken into account. Not only put into place but maintained and consistently reviewed for functionality. These avenues must be kept clean and safe. Food and healthcare must be included in planning.
Bill Peduto: One goal of my administration has been to take power from Grant Street and bring it back to the communities. That’s why I have empowered community groups to create the master plans for their communities. We now have community driven master plans in Larimer, Homewood, Hazelwood, Uptown, and Manchester. Our role is to give them the resources to dictate their own future. It is important that good design conforms to the vision of community residents.
Mike Thompson: On the campaign trail I never get asked about good design. It doesn’t come up. I live in public housing. My friends and neighbors want a safe place to live. We also want to be heard. We care less how fancy the architecture is at the new luxury developments we will never be allowed to live in. Good design would include low income residents like my friends and neighbors.
Ed Gainey: I think that the three central questions of a strong community process are 1) what are the community’s needs, 2) how does the space currently meet (or not meet) those needs, and 3) how can changes to the space better meet community needs than the space as it exists now? This approach places people at the center of the design process, and ensures that development/redevelopment enhances the fabric of existing communities rather than disrupting that fabric in a way that leaves community members isolated from critical services, personal networks, or quality of life opportunities.
Tony Moreno: Community input is the only way to move forward in developmental planning. Asking for the needs of the current community and what the community wants to see going forward. Informing the community of the areas that city government has to address and how they have to address the specific issues. These interactions need to be prior to plans being made so we are not telling communities what is going to happen and asking what they think but taking their needs and wants and giving several options of workability. Provide the community with available statistics in the areas they highlight so they can have a real and informed look at what they can achieve.
Bill Peduto: Community input is critical to projects that reflect the interests and values of the public and serves the needs of the surrounding space. As an administration, we’ve done a lot of work to improve not only how we collect community input but also when collection happens in the process. In the past, many projects would be presented to the community as a decision between two options or input on minor pieces of design. Through our City Planning Department, we’ve worked to engage the community at the very onset of a project and continuously through the process to ensure the final outcome is something that meets the desires of its neighbors. While, in some cases, this has extended the timeline of these processes it has resulted in more projects that are truly reflective of the desires of the neighborhood.
Mike Thompson: We need to do more to include voices from the community. Not just rich developers. Reach out to low income people. Also, you need to have disabled people with mobility needs consulted on every project.
Ed Gainey: Our focus should be on supporting neighborhoods in developing their own comprehensive neighborhood plans, and formally adopting those plans so that they can guide future development in a structured, binding way. Starting with a community-wide planning process provides a wide-angle lens through which subsequent, site-specific projects can be considered and measured against broader, more systemic community goals. The opposite approach – starting with site-specific engagement conversations that lack a broader context – too often misses systemic issues that are outside of the scope of any individual project, frustrating process participants and exacerbating systemic inequities.
Tony Moreno: See previous answer. Giving the community the information about the city absolutes and providing the community with the information available so they know what they can envision for their neighborhoods. Going together with the community and looking at the work done in the past and identifying the original goals and measuring the successes and failures. Build on the success and do not repeat the failures while moving forward on new plans with new information and technology.
Bill Peduto: The Department of City Planning has undertaken a process to change how community engagement happens in these design projects by relying less on the specific language used in these professional spaces and creating space for community members to get at the values of what they’re looking for. A beautiful example of this is the redesign of the Jefferson Rec Center in the Northside. The structure, interior and playspace were in desperate need of repair and our City Planning and Public Works Departments held a series of listening tours to hear the surrounding community’s concern with the current design including the young people that more frequently use the facility; how they don’t like how dark it is by the side entrance, how there’s no full court for basketball in the neighborhood, how hot the play equipment is in the summer because there is absolutely no shade. These remarks and concerns helped our team to design several possible plans for the community to review and critique to best meet the needs shared.
We’ve also worked to make these meetings more accessible with childcare and translation services available, working to find physical spaces accessible to those with mobility needs and easily accessible by public transportation. Moving meetings to afternoon and evening times, and making meeting minutes available, have also allowed for more “non-traditional” voices to participate in these meetings.
Mike Thompson: The Oakland Planning and Development Corporation is a good model for community engagement. We need to create, foster, and support planning and development corporations for all of our Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
Ed Gainey: Everyone deserves clean air, safe water, and a healthy home to live in. As a region, we’re proud of our industrial heritage, but also of how we came together to clean up our air, rivers, and land from the pollution that the steel industry brought with it. While previous generations made major strides, the job of addressing industrial pollution from our past is unfinished, and new threats to our environment and our health need to be confronted. If elected Mayor I am committed to continuing ongoing efforts to electrify the City’s vehicle fleet, using the City’s purchasing power to spur the development of renewable energy sources in our region, working with subject matter experts to increase our building sustainability standards, and growing the renewable energy sector as a job engine for our region. Sustainability also means confronting environmental racism by disrupting the development patterns that lead Communities of Color to be disproportionately affected by the negative health outcomes of pollution exposure, and addressing the legacy of lead contamination in our homes, water, and soil by passing a comprehensive lead safety ordinance and continuing efforts to eliminate lead water service lines in the PWSA system by 2026.
Tony Moreno: Pittsburgh’s sustainability looks bright and in reach of overwhelming success. Pittsburgh has ignored the future for so long it has started to break down and become detrimental. With federal funding and a community desire to reach goals of produce accessibility, food source actions are being implemented. Real renewable energy options such as LED street lights, hydro focus in our rivers. Utility integration while replacing decades old water lines and attention to water sources. Traffic patterns with all forms of transportation must be adjusted for future usage and try to anticipate new technology. Integrating communities through transportation design and shared space to necessary outlets for food, educational and medical facilities must be recognized. Housing development must be done differently in that we assure affordability to legacy residents in their own neighborhoods while bringing new community members and fulfilling their housing needs. The current gentrification must stop.
Bill Peduto: Sustainability in Pittsburgh is all encompassing. It means creating small solutions for big problems, like giving out 100,000 blue bins to City residents to encourage recycling. It also requires big, structural changes like implementing our Climate Action Plan to reduce our carbon output by 50% by 2030. We have transferred the City of Pittsburgh’s operations to 100% renewable energy. We’ve expanded our electric vehicle fleet. We now have the largest electric vehicle fleet in Western Pennsylvania. I also co-developed the Marshall Plan for Middle America. This ambitious plan lays the groundwork for a just transition in the Ohio River Valley, so that these once thriving communities can see the sun rise again.
It means standing up to the fossil fuel industry and calling for an end to cracker plant development in western PA. As a member of City Council, I sponsored the Pittsburgh Fracking Ban, which was the first in the world. We successfully stopped leases in neighborhoods, like Lawrenceville, with this bill.
Sustainability, however, isn’t just environmental issues. It means having a city that can withstand the ebbs and flows of our interconnected world. When I took office, the City was effectively bankrupt and our finances were under state oversight. I built a $120 million surplus, removed the City from Act 47, and we now have our highest bond rating in decades. Our surplus helped us survive the pandemic without laying off a single City employee.
I look forward to continuing these efforts in my next term, and making Pittsburgh more sustainable.
Mike Thompson: Sustainability means clean water and clean air. We need to stop dumping massive amounts of sewage into our rivers. It is not safe to swim in our rivers. We need to invest in our water and sewage infrastructure and upgrade it so we no longer dump sewage into our rivers.
Ed Gainey: For housing units to be truly affordable, they need to not only be affordably priced, but also energy efficient to ensure that utility costs don’t erase the savings generated on rent. Transit accessibility, food access, and proximity to educational, recreational, and employment opportunities are also critically important, as is developing affordable units in diverse forms to meet the needs of different family sizes and life stages. Finally, affordable units have to be designed, constructed, and sited in ways that prioritize the health and wellbeing of residents.
Tony Moreno: Fulfilling the needs of current community members before building for new community members. Creating zoning that allows for a broader and more expansive housing plan. Prioritizing Those that need assistance and keeping them in their community. Incentivize local purchase of city owned property and absorb abandoned properties.
Bill Peduto: Affordable housing is critical to building a city where everyone is able to find housing most appropriate for their needs. Affordable housing should be beautiful and located all over the city, especially in opportunity-rich neighborhoods with access to transit and green spaces. It is imperative that these buildings and units are indistinguishable from their market rate counterparts.
In addition, we need affordable housing that serves a myriad of needs including multi bedroom housing for families and ADA accessible housing for those with mobility concerns and for those who would like to age in place. Affordable housing cannot be a one-size-fits-all model because it needs to reflect the varied needs of our residents. With partnership from the URA and HACP, the City has seen more investment than ever in affordable housing with more work to come.
Mike Thompson: Community building amongst affordable housing residents is important. Time and again Bill Peduto makes it hard to impossible to create new tenant councils. It is actually easier to run for mayor than it is to be treated with respect by the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and to be allowed to recreate the tenant council in the building I live in. We had one under the last mayor. We need people who care, not people who just pick up a paycheck from the housing authority.
Ed Gainey: Our City is facing an affordability crisis that has already displaced 7,000 Pittsburghers of Color from our city. To reverse that tide and ensure that Pittsburgh can be a home for everyone, my priorities would be to implement citywide inclusionary zoning to guarantee that all residential projects include affordable units, expanding the use of community land trusts as a strategy for retaining community control and establishing permanent affordability, and finally putting the Land Bank to work in reactivating tax-delinquent parcels, both for creating affordable units as well as other public goods like greenspace, urban agriculture, and stormwater management.
Tony Moreno: Create a city funded jobs training program aimed at the building trades. We know that these existing programs from the unions themselves can be challenging for underserved communities to reach this training for many reasons. Immediately employ graduates into city union departments and target abandoned housing units that litter the city. Refurbish or demolish these living spaces and Immediately start housing those in need the most until all the people that want to remain in our fine city can do so. Reward the newly trained city union employees with these homes and allow them to be tax paying voices in their communities of their choice. This also allows renters to stay in their communities without being priced out of their neighborhoods. Free up zoning rules, increase units and prioritize housing for current city residents at the same time we are building new units for new residents. This is not the end all, but how we start recognizing our existing citizens.
Bill Peduto: Use and expansion of the Pittsburgh Land Bank will help to preserve existing housing and allow for more options for homeownership for those that may have been discouraged or barred from this option. With new leadership and partnership from our philanthropic community, the School District and the County, we are closer than ever to transacting on land and hope to move properties back into community ownership by the end of this year.
I created the Housing Opportunity Fund at the URA to keep renters in their homes, help first time homebuyers with the downpayment and assist current homeowners make costly repairs on their properties. Working with community members we’ve made sure that we get to neighborhoods and populations that disproportionately need these funds because of systemic racism, redlining and other policies that have barred Black residents from homeownership.
My administration has constantly sought to be innovative in this area but trying to leverage and create new pots of money to do this costly work, including my most recent announcement to secure a federal housing bond for $22 Million to help Pittsburghers purchase and rehab properties for homeownership.
Additionally, my administration started a pilot inclusionary zoning pilot in Lawrenceville to create more affordable housing. This pilot has been successful to the point where the overlay is now permanent. This can be replicated in other neighborhoods with a lot of private market interest.
Mike Thompson: Twenty five percent of all luxury market rate housing needs to be set aside as affordable housing. Make us your neighbors and integrate us into your community. Allow us to be your neighbors.
Ed Gainey: Maintaining a sense of our city’s history through the built environment is critically important, but it can’t come at the expense of keeping our neighborhoods accessible to all. We need better tools for balancing preservation value against equity impact, and give the wider community a greater stake in the process. Comprehensive neighborhood plans that allow community members to identify preservation priorities while also making room for other needs, inclusionary zoning that places affordability at the foundation of the planning process, and close working relationships between the City and community organizations and stakeholders can ensure that we strike an appropriate balance between honoring our neighborhood’s histories while making space for current community needs.
Tony Moreno: Historic preservation should be just that. Preserving history. If the community calls for this action, then the neighborhood planning should be based around that sentiment. This has to be done with input from all parts of the community in question. This should not be done at the behest of a few or by the city government alone. A comprehensive study should be done with the positive and negative outcomes clearly explained and presented to those involved in the most transparent way possible. These decisions should be made publicly in their entirety.
Bill Peduto: Historic preservation can be a powerful tool to keep the character of important structures within a neighborhood. However, this tool can also be misused if not done in coordination with the community. This is why a strong community driven master plan and community engagement strategy is so critical. Additionally, my administration has taken steps to diversify the commissioners of the Historic Review Commission, so that members provide a broad swath of knowledge of neighborhoods.
Mike Thompson: Consult actual historians and ask how important that history is as a whole. If it is important only to a few but not to history don’t zone it as historical preservation. We need to be flexible and to make sure some history is preserved while allowing somewhere for the rest of us to live.
The Mayoral Design Forum was a collaboration between Design for Pittsburgh and Point Line Projects, an editorial and curatorial agency located in Pittsburgh that specializes in architecture, art, and design.