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In this episode, Bryce and Mayor Peduto discuss:

  • Pittsburgh’s transformation into a city at the forefront of AI, robotics, technology, and green energy
  • How AI and big data have played a role in transforming Pittsburgh into a smart city
  • How Mayor Peduto got involved with public service and Pittsburgh politics
  • The role of education and training in encouraging Pittsburgh’s industrial and economic innovation
  • The P4 framework – people, planet, place and performance – and its role in the changing landscape of Pittsburgh’s economy
  • How the Mayor and the City of Pittsburgh use data to drive policy
  • Pittsburgh’s approach to attracting and retaining a talented workforce

“The transformation from a steel city to a modern manufacturing and technology hub happened over decades starting with the first robotics program at Carnegie Mellon in the 1970’s.” — Mayor Bill Peduto

Speaker Bio

Mayor William Peduto was elected to the office of Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh in the General Election on November 5, 2013, and took office as Pittsburgh’s 60th Mayor in January of 2014. Prior to taking office, he worked for 19 years on Pittsburgh City Council – seven years as a staffer then twelve years as a Member of Council. Since taking office, Mayor Peduto has lead a collaborative effort to make Pittsburgh a leading 21st Century city. The Peduto administration has partnered with the White House on numerous initiatives, resulting in direct access to federal support related to affordable housing, education, economic development, energy efficiency, immigration, manufacturing, community policing, workforce development, technology and transportation. In 2015 Mayor Peduto signed a unique agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to make the city a world leader in district energy production and Pittsburgh joined the UN’s Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of climate leaders committed to local action and global impact.


Bryce Meredig: Welcome to DataLab, a materials informatics podcast with Bryce Meredig, Chief Science Officer at Citrine Informatics. Our guest today is Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto. Mayor Peduto took office as Pittsburgh’s 60th mayor on January of 2014. Prior to taking office, he worked for 19 years on Pittsburgh City Council, seven years as a staffer, then 12 as a member of council. In 2015, Mayor Peduto signed a unique agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to make the city a world leader in district energy production. Pittsburgh joined the U.N.’s Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of climate leaders, committed to local action and global impact. Mayor Peduto is also a founding member of the MetroLab Network, a national alliance of cities and universities committed to providing analytically-based solutions, to improve urban infrastructure, services and other public sector priorities. Mayor Peduto, welcome to the DataLab podcast.

Mayor Peduto: Thank you, Bryce.

Bryce Meredig: It is tradition for this podcast to start with a fun fact about our guests and an obvious place to start with you, as a leader of a major U.S. city is, to tell us the story of how you got involved in politics in the first place.

Mayor Peduto: Well, I was going to say, the interesting fact, for me, would have been two weeks ago. I had the opportunity with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in Dharamshala, India, at his residence. That’s not how I got into politics. The way I got into politics was being the youngest of four boys, who, every Sunday, would have the family over for dinner. The men would always stay around in the dining room and talk about what was happening and have arguments about the issues of the day, even though they were far from being any experts. Just being fascinated by that, and then, I think it was a combination between that and a love of history, that really set the wheels in motion, very early in life, that what I wanted to do in life was public service.

Bryce Meredig: Great. Well, we can also touch on the visit that you mentioned, with the Dalai Lama. How did that come to be?

Mayor Peduto: That’s been through a lot of work that we’ve been doing in Pittsburgh with His Holiness’ personal physician, Dr. Barry Kerzin. He’s been working with our leading hospital, UPMC, in training nurses in mindfulness and compassion. Working then, with them and their patients, in being able to provide it, and now looking to expand it to our senior centers and our rec-centers. As people age and depression becomes prevalent, we’ll be able to help them through that. Little Pittsburghers who are faced with trauma at an early age, being able to help them as well. A visit was arranged and the head of UPMC Health, Scott Lammie and Bill Strickland, who is an amazing entrepreneur in Pittsburgh and has an organization called the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, has built 11 job training centers around the world and is looking to expand into India.

Bryce Meredig: Well, I think the training that you’re talking about, for the folks at UPMC is a great example of the innovation that’s going on in Pittsburgh right now. The tendency to try to imagine what the future of, for example, medical care could look like, or, for example, the topics of this podcast, we end up discussing, very often, AI, machine learning, how technology is starting to transform materials and manufacturing. Pittsburgh’s a city that sits at the intersection of those two areas, certainly. Over the course of your life and also your career in politics, could you tell us a little bit about how you’ve seen this transition happen, from the Steel City, which of course, materials and manufacturing is still alive and well there, so now, a city that’s attracting AI, robotics and technology companies. What has that experience been like?

Mayor Peduto: It’s been remarkable, being a part of it and watching it occur. The council district that I represented is the home to four universities; Carlow, Chatham, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. A multitude of hospitals and really, was and still remains, for all of Western Pennsylvania, the engine of economic growth and change. You have to go back decades, in order to be able to see how that transformation occurred. At the same time, the City of Pittsburgh was dying. In 1979, the Pirates won the World Series, the Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl in six years, and Pittsburgh died.

Mayor Peduto: Our economy was ripped out of us. The steel industry had collapsed. We watched hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost in the course of just a few years. We got up to 20% unemployment. During that same year, Carnegie Mellon was creating the first program in robotics. By the mid-1980’s, they had created the PhD in Robotics and people from around the world were coming to Pittsburgh, in order to be able to study the field of artificial intelligence, which really began at CMU in the 70s, with Dr. Herb Simon, the Nobel Prize-winning professor. So, you started to see those seeds being planted.

Mayor Peduto: At the same time, across the street, at the University of Pittsburgh, a small medical center that was operating out of one hospital, was getting grants through federal programs, to become the fourth largest grant recipient research facility in the nation. Today, UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is the largest employer in the entire state of Pennsylvania. Much larger than any steel giant was during the heyday of the industrial revolution. Quite ironically, UPMC’s letters sit atop the U.S. Steel Tower. It’s a transition that we’re still in the midst of and it’s one that we look to the past, in order to create the future.

Mayor Peduto: In the 1920’s,-1930’s, Pittsburgh was building out heavy industry, but at the same time, we had the greatest disparity in U.S. history between the haves and the have-nots. Between those who were working in the mills and the mines and those that owned and operated them. We created air that was dangerous to breathe and water that was poisonous to drink. It took us decades, in order to be able to solve those, creating the first Clean Air Act in American history. Going forth and working through a corporate-civic partnership in order to clean our water. Being the birthplace of the modern labor movement and creating good jobs through unions, that built not only America, but the middle class.

Mayor Peduto: So, we don’t want to wait 30 years as we see this transition with this new economy. We want to build into it, opportunities for everyone to be a part of it. No matter where you live, we want you to have an opportunity to be a part of a growing economy of an inclusive innovation sector. We want to create the highest quality drinking water in this country. We continue to work to improve our air quality as well. Those are the principles that we try to guide this transition through.

Bryce Meredig: Well, when you were discussing this transition, you touched on something that I think is extremely important, which is the role that Pittsburgh’s great research universities have played in AI and changing healthcare and so forth. Of course, a lot of people have concerns around how automation, AI, robotics are changing manufacturing, changing the nature of work. How do you think education, training, research universities, those in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, can help enable a smooth transition for the workers of the future?

Mayor Peduto: I don’t think that we have a good history, in this country, when we look at the changes that occurred through the 19th Century, from agriculture to industrial, and then, the big change that occurred when we were able to electrify manufacturing, and, at that point, create the heavy industries of the early 20th Century. We went through a lot of failures, in trying to be able to create an economy that benefited people. I think that, when you look at a city like Pittsburgh, we’re a perfect example of what those mistakes were, and our dedication not to do them again. I think that’s what separates cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit and Cleveland from Silicon Valley.

Mayor Peduto: A lot of what you’re seeing in the disruption, is not coming with an understanding of how it affects what we call P4; People, Planet, Place and Performance. We use that as an actual metric in measuring what we invest in, in this city. You saw it with ride-sharing and what happened in cities like New York with taxi drivers. You see it, as well, as we start to look at autonomous vehicles and the need, not only for them to be autonomous, but also to be shared, so we’re lessening the amount of traffic on our streets. Making our streets safer for people aren’t in vehicles and electrifying those vehicles, so that we’re improving our planet. Putting those types of regulations, you can call them, or rules, into place, is something that you hear about in Legacy Cities that had to learn that lesson the hard way.

Bryce Meredig: You’ve mentioned the idea of sustainability and how important that is to you and to Pittsburgh a few times. How do you see new technology, new software technology, for example, AI – of course, at Citrine, we work on applying AI to materials and chemicals, specifically – how do you see some of these new technologies putting us in a position to achieve sustainability goals more effectively?

Mayor Peduto: Well, they’re going to be a critical component of it. For one thing, at the very beginning, right now, is cities around the world, working off of one set of metrics. To be able to measure, not just carbon reduction, but all different types of categories of ways to improve our environment. The technology behind that will be absolutely critical, in assuring that, as we compete against other cities, that we’re doing so in a measured and standardized way. Artificial intelligence is already being implemented in smart city applications like traffic signals. Where we used to just rely upon timing – determining how long a light should stay red, or a light turning green – we’re now able to network all of the lights, put in software that allows traffic signals to actually learn, so that they know when the traffic peaks at certain hours, adjust, and so on a time basis, while at the same time, constantly monitoring an entire network of traffic signals, not just one.

Mayor Peduto: Now, imagine that, with the ability to use the sensors that are utilized on autonomous vehicles and then, add to that the way that capture data. Then, use it through artificial intelligence, with sensors, throughout a city. You can move people, in a much more efficient, effective way, reduce the amount of idling time, reduce the amount of carbon entering into the neighborhood, and be able to make people’s lives better. If you think about AI and big data together, and the use of sensors and the technology that is already being implemented, it can change everything.

Bryce Meredig: It’s clear from these stories that you’re sharing that you and your administration are taking a very data-driven approach to running and improving the city. Is that a trend that you think other American cities, and cities around the world, are adopting as well?

Mayor Peduto: One of the things that I really enjoy is, I get to be the U.S. representative for the Global Covenant of Mayors. This is an organization of over 9200 cities around the world, where we learn from one another. The committee that I serve on has about 15 mayors from every continent on earth. The ideas that we’re talking about in Pittsburgh are being shared throughout cities all over the world. A common denominator though, are the cities that have universities and research facilities within them. It seems that, if you look at the cities that are leading, through different types of smart city applications, it is being generated on university campuses, then being implemented at the local level. All great change that is occurring right now, in the delivery of services in the public sector, is not happening at a federal level. It’s not happening at a state level. It’s happening at a local level, and it’s due to the partnerships that are being created, between cities, universities and research companies.

Bryce Meredig: The universities that you’ve mentioned are clearly a major engine of the growth story that Pittsburgh has experienced over the past several decades. In general, when you talk to business leaders, maybe companies that are considering opening a presence in Pittsburgh or setting up shop there, what do you think is so appealing to them about moving to Pittsburgh?

Mayor Peduto: Talent. Talent is the single greatest contributor to the ability for mid-sized cities to be able to compete against the major areas. It was interesting, during Amazon’s HQ2 process, that there were distinctly two different categories of cities that they made as part of the final 20. About half of them were global cities, like New York , Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto. Then, the others regional cities, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Indianapolis. You had this competition. What we like to pride ourselves in, in Pittsburgh, is that we can provide the talent of any of those global cities, but for a fraction of the cost.

Mayor Peduto: So, when companies want to look at locating in Pittsburgh, they want to have a presence, because of the companies that are already here, the research that is being done, and the students that are being churned out of the universities. And because the cost of doing business here is so relatively low, compared to the cities that we compete against on talent. Just as steel mills were built along river ways and along railroad tracks, to get the product to market and get the materials to the mill, the tech companies in the 21st century companies want to be located near the universities, research facilities, and other tech companies, in the access to talent.

Bryce Meredig: As you look ahead to the next few years in Pittsburgh, what are some developments, maybe some upcoming policy initiatives that you’re particularly excited about?

Mayor Peduto: There’s one in particular, we’ve been working on it for the past several years. We’ve been in partnership with organizations like Bloomberg Philanthropies, Rockefeller Foundation, Harvard, RAND Corporation, Brookings, CUNY, PolicyLink, and other organizations. In building out what is basically our resiliency plan. Looking very carefully at what are the shocks and the stresses that we can imagine, over the course of the next 12 years, that will set us back. They’re not just things that you would think about, like flooding or landslides, but they involve different areas, like affordable housing and the opportunity for pre-K education for all of our three and four-year-olds.

Mayor Peduto: They involve issues such as eradicating homelessness and hunger, and building out a green infrastructure plan that will be able to sustain this city through climate change over the course of the next 50 years. As we put all of that plan together, we are able, then, to put a price tag on it. When we put that price tag on it, we know that, as a government, we’ll never be able to afford to do it. So we look out to our universities, our hospitals, our foundation community, other government agencies, and our corporate community. We say, “If we’re going to do this, we need to do it as one. One PGH.” That’s what we call it, we’ll be unveiling that later this year, and talking and working, over the course of the next several years, on being able to provide the resources to get it done.

Mayor Peduto: It’s 10 specific areas, that need to be proactively addressed, through 46 separate projects. Some people may say, “Look, you can’t do more than three at a time. Just concentrate on the important ones.” All 46 are the important ones. We have to know how to put out fires and pave streets. Government doesn’t get the opportunity to not do what is necessary. It becomes contingent upon us, to recognize that the role of government has changed drastically, especially local government. We can’t believe that we can be reliant upon the federal government, or even state government to do these things. We have to do what Pittsburghers do, which is roll our sleeves up and do it, but we have to do it in the Pittsburgh way, which is by working with all our partners.

Bryce Meredig: Yeah, it’s clear that, to be successful at these sweeping initiatives, you need an extraordinary level of collaboration, cooperation, and buy-in from all these different stakeholders that you mentioned. I was looking back and I noticed that, in the last mayoral election, you won over 90% of the vote. Now, I’m not a political analyst or pundit, but I think that means that people in Pittsburgh really like you and the message. What do you think has been so resonant about the platform and has enabled you to take on these massive initiatives, that maybe others would say are just too big or not possible?

Mayor Peduto: I think it’s more about timing. I had run for mayor, I like to say two-and-a-half times. I ran once, I finished second. I ran a second time and I dropped out of the race, because I had no support. Then, the third time that I ran was the time that I won. Over the course of the past several years, you realize that timing is everything and the timing was really right. I’m 54-years-old, so I grew up in the heyday of Pittsburgh, when Pittsburgh was the third-largest corporate center in America. The number of Fortune 500 companies, most were in New York, second most in Chicago, third, Pittsburgh. I remember the mills, I remember both of my grandfathers worked in the mills. In fact, my one grandfather died at the age of 50 at J&L. My other grandfather, who came over from Italy, spent his entire life working at Columbia Steel in Carnegie.

Mayor Peduto: I’ve got this very good and grounded idea of what Pittsburgh was. A very strong pride in that heritage, but I also was the person who had the ability to work for 12 years, and 7 before that, helping to build out this new economy. Working with people who are now my friends at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, working with people who have worked in the hospitals, and seeing that expansion occur through a very organic process. One that has taken root and is much more stable and sustainable than industries of the past. Having both of those opportunities, while at the same time, understanding that, although Pittsburgh is a blue-collar town and it’s a tough town and we take pride in that, it’s also a very compassionate town.

Mayor Peduto: We want to take care of our neighbors, especially those that have less, or don’t have that same opportunity that many of us have. Putting all those ingredients together, I really feel that I’m blessed to be able to serve in this job, at this time. There’s something to be said about timing is everything. Had I won that election in 2005, I probably would have been a pretty crummy mayor.

Bryce Meredig: Well, Mayor Peduto, that brings us to the end of our time here on this podcast. I just want thank you, again, for joining us. It’s been an extremely interesting conversation and it’s obvious that there’s some big things brewing in Pittsburgh. So, it was great to hear about those.

Mayor Peduto: It’s a good time to be in Pittsburgh.

Bryce Meredig: Thanks for listening to DataLab. If you have questions or an idea for an episode, contact our team at: podcast@datalabmi.com.