There were chuckles when Pittsburgh was announced as the site of the G-20, but no one's laughing anymore: It's been made quite clear that, though Pittsburgh is no London or Beijing, it was selected as a symbol of the American ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Obama has a crush on Pittsburgh because the city is a symbol of recovery, and of how a green economy can be a force of revitalization. (Full disclosure: I was born and raised there.) So why is Pittsburgh deserving of its host status? Here are some of the ways that the city is green.
1. It's not the smoggy steel town it once was. Though the steel mills that inspired the name of the city's championship football team remain an important part of its history, their decline made Pittsburgh a cleaner place to live. These days, employment in Pittsburgh is dominated by healthcare and education. Those smog and smoke-spewing factories downtown have been turned into condos and lofts with waterfront views of three clean rivers.
2. Instead of steel, Pittsburgh is a place for high-tech, green jobs. Biofuel, wind turbine, and solar cell makers have placed their headquarters in Pittsburgh, where there is no shortage of engineers from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh to employ. Better yet, many of the laid-off steelworkers have found new futures with clean energy corporations. The choice of Pittsburgh as the G-20 site further emphasizes the city's green revival, and will make it an even more attractive destination for job-seekers.
3. Pittsburgh builds green. There are more than 30 LEED-certified buildings in Pittsburgh, including the Gold LEED-certified David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the site of the G-20 meeting. Built on an urban brownfield, the convention center was constructed using local materials, and is designed to conserve water and maximize the use of natural light. After it was completed in 2003, it was considered the largest LEED-certified building in America; it currently ranks in 6th place.
4. Recreation is green here, too. One of the sites where the G-20 leaders will meet is the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a gorgeous and LEED-certified, glass-domed greenhouse of exotic plant specimens. Another popular activity for visitors is to ride one of the city's inclines, which are old-fashioned cable cars that traverse a steep hill. They're still used as public transportation for commuters. Despite the hills and bridges (Pittsburgh has more than 400 of them) it's easy to take a bike around the city—or further afield. The Allegheny Trail Alliance has restored old railroad tracks to establish a bike trail that connects Pittsburgh to Washington.
5. But it still has work to do. Despite the city's revitalization and media attention (it has been named on several lists of Best Places to Live by U.S. News and other publications), the city's population is still declining and unemployment, while less than the national average, is at its highest in years. Coal, too, is a part of Pittsburgh that isn't going anywhere soon. And not all areas of the city have benefited from the magic green touch that revitalized the waterfront. In preparation for the G-20, one building was deemed so ugly and blighted that officials merely covered it with a tarp.