Pittsburgh Then & Now

Pittsburgh’s “green story” is a remarkable tale still being written about one of the most dramatic environmental transformations in American history.

Pittsburgh established itself as a center for industry due, in part, to its strategic location at the confluence of three rivers and the region’s abundance of coal, oil, limestone and sand.  These assets paired with the ingenuity of early industrialists and entrepreneurs, the skills and manpower afforded by a large and diverse immigrant workforce, and a tenacity for hard work forged Pittsburgh’s success as a manufacturing powerhouse. By 1911, Pittsburgh was producing half of the nation’s steel, but that progress came at a price.

Steel mills, factories, and coal mines contributed to air and water pollution, creating smoke and grime that settled with such thickness that streetlights were lit by 3 p.m. and workers changed their sooty shirts after returning to their offices from lunch. Visiting the city in 1868, James Parton, writing for Atlantic Monthly, described the city as “…Hell with the lid taken off.”

Recognizing that the city’s image would impact future growth, civic and business leaders launched efforts in 1946 to clean and revitalize the region’s urban center through smoke control, restoration and redevelopment projects, and brownfield site reclamation. After the collapse of the steel industry in the late 1970s, Pittsburgh continued the hard work of reinventing itself, including the transformation of miles of riverfront along its three rivers—the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio— to the green public parks, trails, and facilities of today.

We have always been a city of innovation, but instead of steel we are now innovating in education, medicine, and technology everyday. This video from the City of Pittsburgh’s 2017 Smart Cities Challenge application shows our evolution and the work still left to do:

Pittsburgh is well recognized and widely ranked as a center for finance, education, healthcare, technology, energy and sustainability – and as has been listed as one of America’s Most Livable Cities. See why:



But while Pittsburgh has been recognized as one of the nation’s Most Livable cities, that has not been the experience of everyone who calls it home. A report released by the city’s Gender Equity Commission found persisting race and gender disparities across the region, and highlighted the fact that Pittsburgh is one of the worst cities for health and economic outcomes for Black women. As the city continues to evolve, the hard work and determination once used to build the nation is now being channeled toward building equal opportunity within our own region.