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Former HUD chief Cisneros advises Pittsburgh to think young

| Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

The city of Pittsburgh should think young, according to Henry Cisneros, a former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and now executive chairman of Cityview, a Texas-based real estate investment and development firm.

"That's one of the challenges facing the city," said Cisneros, but that wasn't the only challenge expressed at the 11th Annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Smart Growth Conference, held in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

Other challenges include encouraging city residents to work to benefit not just their own neighborhoods but adjoining areas as well as the entire city, and having the city's public leadership work to resolve existing stormwater problems that cause flooding and other damage.

Cisneros, a former mayor of San Antonio, said unless Pittsburgh concentrates on attracting young couples and their children, the city population will continue to age, causing it to spend more on an older population while obtaining less tax income.

An older population does not allow a city to grow, he said. It becomes less vibrant.

"Pittsburgh also needs to attract immigrants -- Latinos and Asians -- who not only fuel the city's ranks but provide a source of people eager to grow and prosper," he said.

Cisneros praised the city's private and public leadership for helping to create a Downtown offering not only jobs, but also housing, entertainment and retail activities.

Perhaps one item that's missing in Pittsburgh is residents' ability to think beyond their own neighborhoods, according to a panel of residents.

There are instances in which looking beyond one's neighborhood has happened, such as in the East Liberty-Larimer area, said Todd Reidbord, president of Walnut Capital, developer of Bakery Square, which is in that area. Other panel members remarked how residents tend to deal only with their neighborhood on housing and developments.

That was true initially in the North Side, but now neighborhood groups work together for the benefit of the entire area, said Audrey Murrell, a panel member. One advantage has been promoting housing for all sectors of the population, primarily the middle class, said Murrell, a University of Pittsburgh associate professor of business administration, psychology, public and international affairs, and director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership.

A major infrastructure problem is the region's water supply, particularly how to control stormwater runoff.

"If we can control one inch of rain, we can remove 6 million gallons of stormwater from the Alcosan system," said John Schombert, executive director, 3 Rivers Wet Weather of Pittsburgh.

Help for public wastewater systems may be on the way now that the Environmental Protection Agency allocates up to 20 percent of its funding toward those systems, said Dominique Lueckenhoff, director of the EPA Office of State and Watershed Partnership.

She said use of green roofs on structures can help prevent 80 percent to 95 percent -- or higher -- of stormwater runoff.

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