Tom Murphy, the former Mayor of Pittsburgh was faced with a challenge – what to do with a polluted, run-down, economically disadvantaged downtown Pittsburgh. Going from abandoned steel mills to new mixed-use developments and thriving waterfront parks took time, creativity, and a strong private-public partnership.
This is just one example of a city repositioning itself for stronger growth. Murphy believes that cities must demonstrate they are innovating themselves in order to attract growing companies, establish the new employers, and then be able to expand housing, retail, and entertainment options in a way that will be financially viable.
Murphy asserts that the Twin Cities is at a turning point in its growth history, projected to add 400,000 people to the population over the next 10 years. The Twin Cities, Murphy believes, needs increased investment in research and development, specifically via the Mayo Clinic and U of M. According to residents of other US regions, Minnesota, despite having a thriving urban region, is still known as “cold” and for being the “home of the Mayo Clinic.” If the Twin Cities can capitalize on its medical and scientific facilities, this intentional effort could result in more companies springing up around the area, which will lead to increased venture capital investment.
As for Pittsburgh, Murphy gives examples of some of the “tough decisions” he had to make as mayor in order to pave the way for the city’s future. When he took over as mayor in the 1994, the city had lost 500,000 if its citizens to other areas after a reduction in manufacturing jobs by 150,000. Murphy reduced the city staff in order to provide funding for development, and he solicited matching donations from area foundations.
A redevelopment authority was established to manage the development fund, which launched projects from the new PNC Park baseball stadium and cultural district to a “Collaborative Innovation Center” at Carnegie Melon to an urban Home Depot store at a vacant Sears site. The combined effort to reinvent the city resulted in positive growth including Google establishing a corporate office and the city continuing to undertake development by creating an enormous residential community on a former brownfield “slag dump”.
Throughout the many projects Murphy emphasized using his vision to unite the city via riverfront trails and park space.
He reminds us that cities should “build something spectacular, not just what will do,” if they want to attract new investment.
An example he used is Millenium Park in Chicago, which has created a new focal point for the city. “Cities that are doing okay now,” says Murphy, “are watching the world change around them.” Twin Cities – it’s time to get to work!