Richard Florida Feb 8, 2018
Pittsburgh’s mayor talks about the city becoming the capital of autonomous vehicles and the challenge of including everyone in its renewal.
Thanks to pioneering research at Carnegie Mellon University, and new labs for leading tech companies like Uber and Google, Pittsburgh has become a global leader in robotics and autonomous vehicles. As in other tech hubs, however, recent economic growth has not been widely distributed enough. In response, Peduto has launched a number of programs aimed at more inclusive prosperity.
When I was living in Pittsburgh back in the early 2000s, my students would move to places like San Francisco or New York immediately after they graduated. But now we’re starting to see people decamping from those places to come to Pittsburgh. What’s behind that change?
When you were living here, the rest of this country was booming. Panera Breads took over every street corner, Starbucks right next to them. But Pittsburgh’s economy was still coming out of a depression. There was no investment being made here when the rest of the country became “Anywhere USA.”
In Pittsburgh, you still have the neighborhood bakery, which is reflective of the ethnicity of the neighborhood in the 1940s. You still have neighborhood business districts even in the most popular areas of the city, where the people behind the cash register are the owners. Look at Lawrenceville. There [are] barely any national companies that have moved in—they’re all mom-and-pop shops. And you find that throughout the city, in 90 unique neighborhoods. [Pittsburgh] has the most neighborhoods per capita in America. It’s a city of small towns.
Universities are key drivers of the knowledge economy. And I know firsthand that Pittsburgh has great ones. Could the city have turned around without these institutions?
There is no question that what sets Pittsburgh apart from our Rust Belt brothers and sisters is the fact so much investment has come out of our “eds and meds” [educational and medical institutions]. At CMU, we’re seeing an autonomous revolution of everything, not just vehicles. The University of Pittsburgh was able to use National Institutes of Health grants to transform a small medical center into the largest employer in Pennsylvania. Without these anchors, it’s hard to imagine how we would be anywhere beyond still digging a manufacturing economy out of a depression.
When I was at Carnegie Mellon, I remember seeing robotic tanks driving around the parking lot, but I never would have thought that self-driving cars and robotic technology would be part of the reinvention of Pittsburgh. It was something that I don’t think anyone could have planned for. Yet now, it’s an industry cluster. How do you think that emerged?
Then years later, Uber approached us about doing an experiment on public streets, and what they didn’t realize was that Carnegie Mellon had already been doing it on public streets for nearly 10 years. Pittsburgh was already a decade ahead of the rest of the world. And there was the talent that Uber needed. There was the ability to move very quickly in this field, and there was a willingness from city government, because we already had this relationship with Carnegie Mellon.
So we became the first city in the world to have autonomous vehicles on demand. Now we have five companies running autonomous vehicles on our streets. We have Ford with Argo AI; BMW with Delphi; Carnegie Mellon with General Motors; Uber; and Aurora with Audi.
When you come to Pittsburgh, you’ll see them. It’s not something that’s happening in a field in the middle of nowhere: It is happening right on the streets of Pittsburgh.
Our partnership with Carnegie Mellon has actually gone to the next stage. We now have a Memorandum of Understanding with the university, the first of its kind in this country’s history, that allows us to have the university as the research and development arm of city government, and allows the city to be CMU’s urban laboratory. So, if I want to develop the next generation of traffic lights that use real-time data and sensors that are able to move traffic much more efficiently, I don’t have to put out an RFP. I can just pick up the phone, call the university, and say, “I need your team to develop this for me.”
You were a big supporter of Uber’s initial move to Pittsburgh in 2014. But last year, you criticized Uber’s lack of corporate responsibility, telling the Wall Street Journal that “they have a moral obligation to society.” How has Uber’s relationship to the city evolved since then?
I would say that they are learning. There is a completely different culture between Ford—which has been around for 100 years, which stands in partnership with its workers and unions, understands workers’ rights, and is from Detroit—and Uber, which has a Silicon Valley background. It’s going to be in places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Detroit where Silicon Valley learns the lessons that we had to learn the hard way for 100 years. What that means is that workers can’t be treated as interchangeable “parts” of a new emerging industry. They have to be looked at as partners. If you look at Ford’s bus service, Chariot, none of the drivers are 1099s [independent contractors]; they are all W-2 [full-time] union employees.
“It’s going to be in places like Pittsburgh … where Silicon Valley learns the lessons that we had to learn the hard way for 100 years.”
But here’s the challenge. Go 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh and you are taken back to the 1990s, and you have people who were the most progressive force in America—people who created the Mine Workers Union, who created child labor laws, who created the weekend, people who are multigenerational Democrats, who fought for social justice—now, all of a sudden, they’re turning and voting Republican. Why is that? Because we have given them no indication of where their place is in the future.
Going back to conversations we’ve had for decades, it’s finally here: Cities and metros are the impetus of change. They are where this country is seeing its greatest potential. There are conversations happening on a daily basis between mayors from all over the country in a way that has never happened before. It’s even crossing over the oceans into international conversations. The new normal is not relying upon federal or state governments; it’s figuring out how to creatively solve all problems on a local level, whether it’s homelessness, economic development, or transportation and mobility.
I would urge Democratic leaders not to fight fire with fire. Don’t go after a reality TV star with a Hollywood type. Find the water that can combat fire, that is professional, in the model of a Macron or Trudeau. I certainly would like to see diversity on the ticket, but I would like to see it not through personality but through professionalism.
The knowledge economy is spiky, divisive, and unequal. Perhaps the biggest issue facing cities and the nation today is how to create a more broadly shared and inclusive prosperity. You’ve tried to do that with your Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation. Tell me about that.
First off, there’s no easy fix. If there were, everybody would be doing it. It requires hundreds of smaller initiatives. The digital divide is real. And if it isn’t addressed proactively, it will grow wider and it will leave people out of the economy.
The original story can be found at https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/02/bill-peduto-pittsburgh-was-already-a-decade-ahead/552731/