Taking on climate change at the city level [USGBC+ Mar/April 2016]
This article was originally published as "City Lights" in the March/April issue of USGBC+. Read the original version.
"I am convinced that our people want clean air,” declared the mayor of Pittsburgh in his inaugural speech. “There is no other single thing which will so dramatically improve the appearance, the health, the pride, the spirit of the city.”
These words were spoken not by Bill Peduto, the city’s current mayor, but by former Mayor David L. Lawrence at his 1946 inauguration. Lawrence campaigned on a slogan of “Smoke Must Go” and championed local clean-air legislation after decades of dense industrial activity had earned Pittsburgh the nickname “the Smoky City.” Photographs from the time show a city choking on smog, with dark clouds obscuring building tops and enveloping everything else in an ashy haze.
“Seventy years ago, trees couldn’t grow on our hillside,” says Peduto, mayor since 2014. “Our streetlights would come on at noon because of the soot from the pollution. We had destroyed our environment.”
At 51, Peduto isn’t quite old enough to remember the city’s smoggy heyday. Lawrence’s 1949 anti-pollution legislation lifted the smoke clouds, and although the city’s industrial reputation lingers (its pro football team is the Steelers), over time the local economy has come to revolve around universities, nonprofits and financial institutions more than it does smokestacks.