Making Southwestern Pennsylvania
One of the World's Greatest Regions

Key Strategy #4:

Quality of Life

Question:

Which region in the country has been ranked as one the top 20 most livable for two straight decades?

Answer:

The Pittsburgh Region.  

Although many people remember that Places Rated Almanac ranked Pittsburgh as the “Most Livable City” in 1981 – #1 out of 328 communities in the country — most people don’t know that Pittsburgh ranked #4 in 1981, #3 in 1989, #5 in 1993, #14 in 1997, and #12 in 2000 – the only region to rank in the top 20 livable cities every year, according to the authors.  

No ranking can accurately capture and weigh all of the factors that go into “quality of life.” Moreover, rankings differ from year to year and from publication to publication, depending on which types of data and weightings are used.  But most rankings consistently give the Pittsburgh region high marks on quality of life.  The American Electronics Association’s Cybercities report in 2002 ranked Pittsburgh 25th on quality of life – ahead of Portland and Seattle.  Cities Ranked and Rated ranked Pittsburgh 28th in 2004.  

In 2005, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Pittsburgh as one of the two most livable cities in the United States, and the 26th most livable city in the world.  

What about young people?  Forbes Magazine’s “Best Cities for Singles” ranked the Pittsburgh region as 29th out of 40 communities in 2005, up from last place in the previous edition. But look behind the overall ranking and you’ll see that Pittsburgh ranked 4th best on living costs, 14th best on nightlife, and 19th best on culture, ahead of Austin, San Diego, and Seattle on all three measures.  If Pittsburgh had more job growth, and more singles coming for those jobs (two of the other three measures weighted in the ranking), Pittsburgh would probably have been in the top 20.

But is Pittsburgh’s quality of life good enough to attract jobs?

Yes!  For example, Google is opening a research center in Pittsburgh because the talent it needed was in Pittsburgh and wouldn’t move.  Craig Nevill-Manning, who run’s Google’s engineering center in New York, said that when Google tried to recruit people from Pittsburgh, “The response [always] was, ‘I really like living in Pittsburgh.’  If we were gonna hire these people, we’d have to open an office here.” (quoted in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/16/05.)  

What’s great about the Pittsburgh Region?  Many things, but several are key:

Low Cost-of-Living

The Pittsburgh Region isn’t just a little more affordable than other centers of technology, it’s a LOT more affordable.  Housing costs here are less than 2/3 of the national average, less than ½ of what they are in Portland and Seattle, and less than 1/3 of what they are in Boston and San Francisco.

Metro Region

Median Housing Price
in 2005
(3rd Quarter)

Comparison to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

$122,600

 

U.S.

$215,900

76% more expensive

Boston

$430,900

3.5 times as expensive

Portland

$249,100

2 times as expensive

San Francisco

$721,900

5.9 times as expensive

Seattle

$325,000

2.7 times as expensive

Does housing cost matter?  Ask the leaders of Boston, where employers cite housing costs as the number one concern when it comes to attracting and retaining a qualified workforce. In December, 2004, 46% of Massachusetts’ residents said that they or members of their immediate families had considered leaving the state because of the high cost of housing.

Low Crime Rate

The Pittsburgh Region has one of the lowest rates of serious crime of any large metropolitan area.  

Environmental Quality

The fact that the Bassmaster Fishing Classic – the “Super Bowl of fishing” – came to Pittsburgh in 2005 was testament to the dramatic improvements in water and air quality achieved in the Pittsburgh Region over the past 50 years.  Read about the history of the region's environmental transformation at PittsburghGreenStory.

Cultural and Recreational Amenities

The Pittsburgh Region can boast world-class cultural amenities within an hour's drive of outstanding recreational amenities.  For a comprehensive look, go to GreenPittsburgh.net.

Action Agenda

Maintain existing quality of life assets through environmentally sound economic growth

Many of the assets in the Pittsburgh Region that contribute to its high quality of life reflect decades of planning and investment. Although residents of the region often take them for granted, maintaining and improving those assets will require effective planning, management, and funding.

Although the specific needs vary, there is one need that is common to all of the region's quality-of-life assets — adequate funding to sustain them.  A world-class symphony cannot continue to be world-class without adequate funding.  A beautiful park cannot stay beautiful without funding for maintenance.  

How can we assure sufficient funding to preserve and improve our key quality-of-life assets?  Although short-term fixes may be necessary, the long-term answer is stimulating regional economic growth.  

To be maximally beneficial, economic growth must also occur in an environmentally sound way, so as not to damage the unique recreational and environmental amenities in the region. Pittsburgh, perhaps more than any region in the country, knows about the environmental problems that can occur from poorly planned and regulated economic growth. Although the Pittsburgh Region is not currently at great risk of the kind of rampant economic growth that has severely damaged the quality of life in places like Atlanta and Silicon Valley, similar negative impacts on the environment can occur more insidiously with slower economic growth over a longer period of time.  Effective regional planning and regulation is needed to insure that adequate infrastructure is located in areas that will be attractive to businesses while minimizing negative environmental impacts.

At the same time, however, overly cautious or stringent regulatory processes, while intended to protect the environment, can result in the loss of job creation opportunities to other regions.  In an increasingly fast-paced world where business opportunities can be lost if new facilities cannot be created and occupied quickly, businesses will avoid regions that cannot respond quickly or that impose unnecessary burdens of time and cost.  Environmental regulations and regulatory processes that seek to facilitate economic growth and preserve environmental quality are essential to providing an attractive business climate and a high quality of life.   

How can the region encourage increased economic growth?  By pursuing all of the five key strategies described here.

Make strategic investments to expand and improve quality of life assets

There are a number of projects currently underway to create new cultural and recreational amenities in the Pittsburgh Region or to significantly improve existing amenities.  

Projects such as Three Rivers Park — creating a waterfront park around Pittsburgh's three rivers, centering on a significantly improved Point State Park; creating the Great Allegheny Passage — a trail connecting Point State Park to Washington, DC; and building the African American Cultural Center - a new facility in the Cultural District celebrating the contributions of African Americans in American life, would all represent significant enhancements to the region's quality of life and be highly visible.

Projects like these, because of their nature, require significant governmental and charitable funding to create.  As a result, it is critical for the region to set priorities and focus on completing the most important projects.  Although a number of criteria should be considered, two are particularly important in priority-setting from the perspective of a regional growth strategy:

Comments?  Suggestions for changes or additions?
Send an email to Comments@PittsburghFuture.com

ACTION AGENDA:

Green
Pittsburgh.net

This site provides an interactive map showing the Pittsburgh Region's environmental, recreational, and cultural assets.

Pittsburgh Green Story

This site documents the history of Pittsburgh's environmental transfomation and describes some of the current opportunities and challenges facing the region.