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Straight Talk: Your Wisdom Requested: Beyond Bromides — Truths and Pathways for a Sustainable Pittsburgh Region

As the balance of power shifts from federal to local entities, America’s states and metros are increasingly called upon to take charge of their destinies.  In the new world order, local problem-solving is where it’s at.  As Bruce Katz of Brookings asserts, “Many of the social and environmental issues cities currently face will not wait for nation-states’ leaders to sort out their dysfunctions and ideological battles.”

Rising to this call for local self-determination, our region not so long ago established the Power of 32 initiative, a common vision based on the shared aspirations of the 32-plus counties across parts of four states with Pittsburgh occupying the center and denoting the practical geography for getting things done on issues which play out so often without respect to boundaries.  Through 156 community conversations in every one of the 32 counties, the Power of 32 collected more than 15,000 comments from diverse people who offered their perspectives on our strengths and challenges, their hopes for our brightest future, and how best to ensure it.  The message was clear: If the region is to thrive, all stakeholders must work together on common issues and not be stymied by political and parochial boundaries.  The Power of 32’s work continues through targeted projects.

In light of the increasingly vital need for regional leadership, it is instructive to see that the Power of 32 initiative’s Vision Statements for a Thriving Region in 2025 provide a solid foundation for continued guidance.  Do have a look.  The six themes that emerged from those Power of 32 community conversations are expressions of what the people across our communities want to work toward.  The collective vision is timeless.

Our region has much going for it.  Like anywhere, we also have stumbling blocks.  The prospect of realizing our vision, experience shows, depends on sober assessment of what holds back progress.  Now is an important time to identify the stumbling blocks and double down on work-arounds.

Sustainable Pittsburgh invites you to weigh in.  What are the high-level, systemic conditions that hold our region back?  Also, what are the advantages that position the region to usher in its best, sustainable future, one in which the economy, environment, and social equity are one in the formula for getting things right?

Let’s endeavor to go deep to identify the overarching speed bumps and points of acceleration.  What is undeniable, that needs to be addressed in order to progress?  What are our greatest advantages to be built upon?  The answers may be elusive but need to be identified, debated, and elevated as regional priorities.  With the two lists determined, the next step will be to consider what is ripe to be done to further mitigate the challenges and accentuate the strengths along systems-level leverage points for positive change.

Thanks in advance for sending along your insights to  Consider this format:  A.  What are the region’s greatest systems-level assets*?  What factors protect the given asset, and what factors put it in jeopardy?  B.  What are the greatest systems-level points of adversity*?  What factors perpetuate and what factors mitigate?

All comments will remain confidential.  Sustainable Pittsburgh will report back the consolidated work in a future issue of Sustainable Pittsburgh Insider and also share the body of work with regional planning initiatives underway.

Thank you.

* Identifying systems-level influences can be challenging.  It tends to be easier to identify symptoms than the factors underlying the status quo.  To arrive at the highest level of the issue, keep asking the question, “what is the larger driver or force at play here?”