Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Resilience Strategy

The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania released its Resilience Strategy in March 2017 to provide a holistic strategy for helping the city to manage challenges from a changing environment, globalization, and urbanization. The Strategy sets goals, objectives, and action organized around a “P4” community-centered framework addressing resilience in terms of People, Place, Planet, and Performance.  The Strategy is intended to be a blueprint to help the city prepare for resilience challenges by helping the city improve coordination among government and non-governmental organizations, improve budgeting and capital coordination citywide, ensure the institutionalization of resilience practices, and increase resident engagement and empowerment. This plan was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative.

The Strategy lays out short-term immediate next steps for the city to take to support uptake, integration, and the long-term sustainability of the plan, including recommendations to:

  • Convene action leadership groups - to engage a diverse group of organizations working across the range of resilience challenges in the city and to improve coordination between city departments and external stakeholders.
  • Establish a governance and institutionalization framework – to ensure that the strategy is integrated into city decisionmaking regardless of changes in personnel or political leadership.
  • Establish a measurement framework – to help the city document progress and monitor the effectiveness of resilience-building actions and initiatives, to improve coordination of data collection and sharing, and to provide a comprehensive and uniform assessment tool for evaluating the benefits and impacts of projects
  • Integrate resilience-building into civic engagement and public events – to engage residents, businesses, and institutions about resilience through engagement initiatives and city events; and to ensure long-term support, integration, and sustainability of the City’s Resilience Strategy.


Pittsburgh identifies inequity as its core resilience challenge (p. 11). Social, racial, and economic inequities are endemic stresses that have persisted in the city for decades and disproportionately affect some of its most vulnerable residents, including low-income residents, communities of color, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, and others. This strategy seeks to apply synergistic solutions to reduce inequities in housing, health, food access, public safety, education, employment, income, and mobility.


Examples of visions and solutions for equity, primarily within the People and Place sections of the plan, include:

  • Food security and healthy food programs to address disparities in health, access, and emergency preparedness
  • Job and training programs for Pittsburgh’s youth of color to improve economic opportunity, community connectivity and cohesion, and workforce diversity

For the Resilience Strategy itself and across the city, Pittsburgh seeks to achieve maximal and inclusive community participation in planning. The Program for Deliberative Democracy, for example, works to improve local and regional decision-making through informed citizen deliberations. Its public forums typically include facilitated small group discussions, the opportunity to ask questions of an expert panel, and a survey.

Another innovative program is the Pittsburgh Peace and Justice Initiative (P&JI), which is led by the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition. The program seeks to create or facilitate 1) an ongoing and systematic black community engagement process, 2) a resident-informed Peace and Justice Policy Agenda, and 3) a stronger partnership between city, county, and state governments and Pittsburgh’s black communities to improve public safety and overall quality of life in those communities.

The Strategy includes a section describing the general characteristics of the city (including its population, economy, socioeconomic demographics, topography) and the city’s risk profile to both shocks and stressors. This section also describes the current state of the city’s infrastructure and natural resource amenities (like rivers and greenspace).  The resilience challenges the city has identified include aging infrastructure, persistent socioeconomic inequities, fragmented governance and service delivery, poor air and water quality, housing affordability and gentrification, an aging population, and more potential for acute shocks from climate change including flooding, landslides, and extreme temperatures.

The Strategy then articulates a range of goals and actions for addressing these resilience challenges:

  • Housing: preserve and develop affordable housing, promote equitable development that ensures everyone participates and benefits from the region’s economic growth, create green and healthy homes, and support veterans and homeless
  • Public Health & Food Security: address the opioid epidemic, improve air quality, support aging residents and those with disabilities, and support urban agriculture
  • Public Safety: improve community-police relations, confront and overcome structural barriers and racism, improve disaster preparedness and response, encourage neighborhood-based efforts, enhance civic education and engagement, upgrade and improve the resilience of critical infrastructure (energy and transportation)
  • Education & Employment: provide pre-K for all children, provide 21st century education, integrate data systems, and integrate social services into public schools, develop and retrain workforce, stimulate small-business development, establish welcoming and diverse community, promote innovation and incubation of new technologies and businesses
  • Transportation: enable multi-modal transportation, develop a smart-transportation system, support aging and disabled residents
  • Infrastructure Rehabilitation: use strategic investment and maintenance plan to put city facilities to best and highest uses, design infrastructure to reduce impacts to public health and the environment
  • Mixed Use Development: design and construct smart sustainable redevelopment projects, promote equitable redevelopment
  • Natural Resources, Vacant Lands & Open Space: conserve, invest in, and connect the city to nature, recycle vacant lands for best and highest use
  • Water: provide access to clean water for drinking and recreation
  • Energy: increase local renewable energy production, upgrade, improve the resilience of the power grid (including deployment of microgrids), establish future GHG reduction goals
  • Engagement & Outreach: enhance civic education and engagement, provide opportunities for community service and volunteering, encourage neighborhood-based efforts, enhance city government to citizen communication
  • Governance & Measurement: institutionalize resilience in city processes, measure the city’s resilience and well-being using the Pittsburgh Survey 2.0, increase data sharing and integration, enhance city-to-city collaboration, explore creation of a Resilience Institute

The Strategy also highlights initiatives that the city is already taking that will help it achieve its goals, including the following:

  • The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, in partnership with community-based organizations is develop recommendations to help the city address access to affordable housing and to facilitate development of financing programs to improve the quality and sustainability of the city’s housing stock.
  • Pittsburgh and Glasgow Welding Health Equity and Resilience Together is a project designed to accelerate the development of an actionable Health Equity Strategy for the City and will blend considerations of both health-equity and resilience thinking.
  • Love Your Resilient Block Grants is an initiative where the city provides small grants (up to $1500) to organizations to implement projects to build resilience. Projects can include creating green spaces, implementing stormwater capture, streetscaping, and building emergency preparedness, among other activities. 
  • A Complete Streets Executive Order was signed by the Mayor in April 2015 to call for a city-wide complete streets policy and the development of design guidelines to ensure the redesign of city streets meets the needs of all users. The policy will be integrated into the city’s comprehensive planning process and development of a mobility plan.
  • The city’s Ecoinnovation District Plan focused on the neighborhoods of Uptown and West Oakland and the plan will create model for urban redevelopment to ensure inclusivity, innovation, and environmental sustainability.
  • Open SpacePGH is the city’s first comprehensive plan for vacant, green and recreational spaces and is designed to provide guidelines for land-use and infrastructure decisions and instructions to city agencies on land ownership, management, maintenance, connectivity, and programming of the city’s open space amenities.
  • The city’s City-Wide Green First Plan provides an outline for using green infrastructure as cost-effective and innovative approach for managing stormwater and to help the city comply with an EPA combined sewer overflow consent decree. The plan looks at short- and long-term benefits from green infrastructure including job creation, air quality improvements, neighborhood revitalization, and increased property values using a Triple Bottom Line analysis.
  • Negley Run Watershed Resilience Accelerator, the city also worked with Arcadis to host a workshop to look at strategies for implementing green infrastructure in the Negley Run Watershed, a 3,000-acre watershed in a densely developed urban area of Pittsburgh with residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional development throughout. The workshop explored opportunities for improving intergovernmental coordination and for financing, implementing, and evaluating projects in the watershed. 
  • Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation lays out city initiatives to promote innovation in social groups, companies and individuals and action steps the city can take to reduce the digital divide, empower engagement, provide open data, improve city operations and capacity, advance the clean tech sector, and promote local businesses.
  • Pittsburgh Survey 2.0 will provide a framework for measuring progress and effectiveness of city resilience work; it will help integrate data collection about city progress and serve as a tool to support prioritization.

In Appendix A to the Strategy, action items are organized by the stage of implementation :

  • Initiate – describing actions to get a program started, to identify steps and key organizations, to assemble working groups, and develop work plans. 
  • Coordinate - describing actions to coordinate multiple parties and partners, and to determine governance processes, roles, and responsibilities. 
  • Amplify – describing actions to expand the scope, reach or impact of a project through additional work, funding, plans, or proposals. 
  • Accelerate – describing actions need to support implementation or uptake of existing actions and to develop action plans to fast-track actions. 

Pittsburgh Resilience Strategy was developed by the RAND Corporation. 

Publication Date: March 2017

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User Comments:

  • March 17, 2017
    Kimberly Hill Knott, President/CEO at Future Insight Consulting, LLC

    This is an excellent report. I really like the layout and especially the wide range of acknowledged resilience challenges. It's also a very easy and compelling read. I really like the P4 strategy, which resembles the triple-bottom-line concept. Lastly, I appreciate the attention given to the institutionalization framework, which serves to protect the work regardless of changes in leadership and it also ensures that various departments in city government are actively involved in the process,building ownership and buy-in. Great Job!!