Pittsburgh makes list after list for being one of the most livable cities and I can see how but there’s no such thing as growth without growing pains.
October 2018 I started a fellowship (an internship-like position) with PublicSource and attended the EcoDistrict Summit in Minnesota. Who knew that a summit focused on racial equity, climate resilience, and community development would lead me to the realization that there’s another Steel City?
Did you know that 280 miles away sits Hamilton, Ontario — the other Steel City? Not only does Hamilton have the most waterfalls per capita but it also supplies Canada with most of their steel. To me, that juxtaposition of titles didn’t seem like it would go together but somehow it works.
The more I read about Hamilton and speak to its residents; I learn that Hamilton isn’t so different from Pittsburgh. They’re both in the midst of creating new identities, dealing with gentrification, and figuring out how to environmentally deal with their industrial backgrounds that they’re so famous for.
The thing that makes Hamilton and Pittsburgh so interesting is the fact that they have some of the same struggles when it comes to environmental sustainability and gentrification.
Throughout the years, Hamilton has evolved into a 21st-century city proving it’s more than just steel. With a population of 759,203 people and a median income of $45,990 CAD ($33,867 in U.S. currency), Hamilton is a major part of the Canadian economy. It produces 4 million tons of steel a year, making it Canada’s steel hub. The most popular industries include manufacturing, agriculture, education, and law.
Once upon a time, everyone knew someone that worked in the Pittsburgh steel industry. Pittsburgh may not produce the most steel in the world but it’s still in the top 10. With a population of 306,500 and a median annual salary of $53,496 ($72,640 in Canadian currency), Pittsburgh has evolved from being a heavily industrial town to mostly medicine and technology. The top industries include advanced manufacturing, healthcare, energy, financial and business services, and information technology. Pittsburgh still identifies with its steel roots even on the path to reinvention.
Hamilton, Ontario shaped a new identity with rebranding and redevelopment. The rebrand focuses on all things Hamilton has to offer and sustainability. This redevelopment is great for most residents and for others not so much. In February 2018 rebellious residents protested new changes by destroying new properties and rioting in response to gentrification.
Setting up coffee shops, rebranding the neighborhood and bringing new people and ideas sounds like good ideas in any neighborhood. They sounded good for Pittsburgh’s East Liberty until they weren’t. Some people who lived in the neighborhood their entire lives moved away because they couldn’t afford the rent.
Ryan Moran is a 35-year-old marketing manager, writer, and entrepreneur in Hamilton. He said he knows that gentrification could be a big issue in his area in the future. He’s lived in Hamilton his entire life but does fear that Hamilton isn’t gentrification-proof. “[Gentrification] is not as prominent here as it is in other cities. We don’t have redevelopment guidelines, though, preventing displacement.”
The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) is a driving force behind affordable housing in Pittsburgh. The URA boasts that in 2018 they created 286 affordable homes. They provide guidelines to developers to ensure that Pittsburgh housing projects are accessible to everyone.
Affordable housing isn’t much of a focus in Hamilton. One of the city’s main focuses is creating initiatives to ensure that the Lake Ontario shore and beyond are as green as possible. Hamilton City Air and Climate Change Coordinator Trevor Imhoff said he knows that ensuring environmental greenhouse reduction isn’t going to be easy but he is “cautiously optimistic.”
Current Hamilton green initiatives include The Bay Area Climate Change Office (BACCO). Hamilton partnered up with a neighboring community and college to ensure they could accelerate climate action across the city and BACCO was born. “Our mission is to protect human and environmental health,” Imhoff proudly states.
Pittsburgh also has environmental sustainability initiatives. The city has a climate action plan and the advocacy group Sustainable Pittsburgh makes it their mission to help communities and businesses make decisions that benefit economic, social equity and environmental sustainability. One of their recent undertakings included creating a more sustainable YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh by ensuring the building itself was energy efficient; funding was acquired, and they even taught composting to summer camps. Ensuring reusable things aren’t wasted is important to sustainability.
Pittsburgh’s environmental architecture firm EvolveEA is helping local businesses build for the future by creating award-winning eco-friendly architecture. The use of garden rooftops, solar power and creating living buildings that work with the environment and not against it helps better the community and environment.
Pittsburgh needs greenery and sustainability projects because as if steel wasn’t enough, The Shell Corporation is putting an ethylene cracker chemical plant in Beaver County and a pipeline to deliver natural gas to it. Many residents are opposed to these plans. Shell argues that it’s going to create 7,400 permanent jobs but many residents are worried about the long-term effects of air quality.
The other major concern about the pipeline is the fear of it rupturing and ruining the land. These concerns aren’t an imaginary crisis as residents don’t have to look far to see what such a plant could do to the community. Recently The Allegheny County Health Department advised 22 Mon Valley communities to stay indoors because of a fire at the Clairton Coke Works that exceeded federal standards for sulfur dioxide emissions. These emissions are especially harmful to young children, asthmatics, and the elderly. Residents went weeks without knowing anything about the fire. Beaver County residents fear that something like that could affect their community.
There’s more to both Hamilton and Pittsburgh than steel. Both cities are rebuilding for a greener tomorrow but remembering not to forget the strong steel histories that built their legacies. They may have long ways to go when it comes to gentrification and sustainability but that doesn’t mean that they won’t stop trying to ensure a greener and affordable future for all. The next EcoDistrict Summit is in April in Pittsburgh, PA. If you are interested in resilience, redevelopment, and racial equity this is a one of kind experience and honestly, EcoDistricts could be a post by itself. Have you checked out EcoDistricts? Have you ever checked out Hamilton, Ontario?
Special thanks to:
Trevor Imhoff, City of Hamilton Climate Change Coordinator
Ryan Moran, Writer for Urban City