May 17, 2017

Pittsburgh’s universities have a unique role in powering the city’s renewal

In the latest Allstate Renewal Project Poll, Pittsburgh residents express their support for public-private partnership

Carnegie Mellon University photo by Flickr user GPS via Creative Commons

Between 1970 and 1990, Pittsburgh lost approximately 31 percent of its population. With the industry that served as the backbone to the city’s economy in collapse, residents left the city in droves.

Today, Pittsburgh looks very different. No longer reliant on steel to power its workforce, area colleges and universities have stepped in to play an important role in driving renewal in the area. Pittsburgh’s citizens are taking notice.

According to the latest The Allstate Renewal Project Poll, 77 percent of Pittsburgh area residents polled said that local educational institutions are helping to renew the area; 35 percent said a great deal, and 42 percent said somewhat.

Colleges contribute to renewal

How much do you believe that the colleges and universities in the Pittsburgh region are helping to renew the area?

Source: Allstate Renewal Project—Pittsburgh Poll

However, Pittsburgh’s relationship with universities is complicated. According to data compiled by The Brookings Institution and CityLab, Pittsburgh is the 10th worst large U.S. city at retaining its college graduates: the city boasts a 50 percent retention rate, compared to 77.7 percent in Detroit.

This is where public-private partnerships come in. Universities in Pittsburgh have taken ownership of the issue of graduate retention, and collaborate with local government to attract employers to the area.

“We can have a great quality of life and [Pittsburgh] can be a great place to live and where you would want to stay but if there isn’t a job that will keep you here we’re going to lose college students,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told The Pitt News. “The potential of having thousands of new jobs just in that one industry, that’s the type of partnership that needs to happen between the community and the universities.”

To that end, Peduto has worked with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh to attract Uber, Ford, and a number of other automotive and tech industry leaders to the region.

The residents of Pittsburgh overwhelmingly support these kinds of public-private partnerships as a method of revitalizing their city. When asked about the role of public-private partnerships, specifically in the redevelopment of formerly industrial sites, 82 percent of residents polled said that public-private partnerships have been “very” or “somewhat important” to Pittsburgh’s renewal.

“Our public-private partnerships have been a fantastic success story,” Richard Florida, urban theorist and professor of business and creativity, told Knowledge@Wharton, the online business journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “I lived in Pittsburgh for nearly 20 years, a city that was down on its knees. Local government was broke. What kept that city going was … local corporations and community neighborhood development entities that pooled resources and rebuilt and stabilized neighborhoods.”

Read the full results of the Allstate Renewal Project—Pittsburgh Poll.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.