Urban redevelopment summit to spotlight Pittsburgh

Urban redevelopment summit to spotlight Pittsburgh

The concept for an international summit in Pittsburgh that would focus on sustainable urban redevelopment was already a priority on the Heinz Endowments’ agenda when Grant Oliphant stepped into the top job at the foundation last June.

Mayor Bill Peduto and Andre Heinz, who sits on the Heinz Endowments’ board and who spearheaded the idea, had brainstormed about such a conference for months. Once Mr. Oliphant joined the discussions, plans to bring the idea to fruition moved ahead rapidly.

“I think we met about it during my first week here,” Mr. Oliphant recalled Tuesday just after he and Mr. Peduto announced details of the summit that will take place April 16 and 17 at the city’s Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District. Mr. Peduto and Mr. Heinz will host the event.

The organizers believe the summit — based on an initiative they call “p4” for “people, planet, place and performance” — will elevate Pittsburgh’s reputation as a model for innovative reuse of urban spaces, such as 178 acres on the former J&L Steel site in Hazelwood and 55 acres in the Strip District that include the historic Produce Terminal.

On the first day of the summit, about 250 delegates will hear presentations from national and international design and development experts. Scheduled presenters include representatives from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a delegation from Sweden, where Mr. Heinz once ran a nonprofit that specialized in sustainable development.

There will be no Pittsburgh officials among the approximate 25 featured speakers, Mr. Oliphant said, except William Demchak, president and chief executive of PNC Financial Services Group. Summit organizers believe the bank’s construction projects in recent years best exemplify green, sustainable construction in the city.

On the second day, a smaller group of participants will tour three sites in the city where redevelopment is being planned or is underway: the sprawling, former J&L site in Hazelwood known as Almono since the endowments and three other foundations bought it and named it for the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers; the Oakland/​Uptown EcoInnovation District, a project of government and the Port Authority of Allegheny County to develop portions of Forbes and Fifth avenues between Downtown and the university center of Oakland; and Envision Downtown, a newly created public-private partnership focused on future transportation, land use and design in the city’s urban core.

Such projects are part of the “largest wave of major development for 30 years or more” in Pittsburgh, Mr. Oliphant said.

To make the developments sustainable and global models, he and Mr. Peduto said they need to include housing, energy-efficient buildings with street-front retail shops, accessible transportation and open spaces that will draw people to live and work in the city.

Such urban environments are at the cutting edge of sustainable development, while suburban-style developments such as North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, a business and research center established outside of Raleigh in the 1950s, “are dying,” said Mr. Oliphant. Research Triangle Park currently is redeveloping 100 acres for a mix of housing, retail and recreation “for people to live, close to where they work, or stay while they are visiting,” according to the center’s website.

By holding the summit here, “Pittsburgh is throwing down the gauntlet to itself and the world” to demonstrate how sustainable development needs to occur, said Mr. Oliphant.

The summit’s focus on how Nordic nations like Sweden are tackling the issue is largely a result of Mr. Heinz’s strong connection to that part of the world.

“Andre came to this with the perspective of what Pittsburgh could learn from Nordic countries,” said Mr. Oliphant.

The son of Teresa Heinz Kerry, chair of the endowments, and her late husband, Sen. H. John Heinz III, Andre Heinz, 45, in 1995 co-founded the first U.S. office of The Natural Step, a nonprofit based in Sweden that educates and consults about sustainable development issues.

After earning a master’s degree in environmental studies at Yale University, he ran the nonprofit’s international office based in Stockholm. In 2007, he founded Sustainable Technology Capital, a private investment firm that targets investments in renewable energy and materials especially clean-tech ventures in Nordic regions.

Mr. Heinz, who oversaw the launch of environmental grant-making for the Vira I. and Howard Heinz endowments before they merged to become the Heinz Endowments with assets of $1.5 billion, spends part of every year in Sweden and France, said Mr. Oliphant.

By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette