OPINION: Gallagher and Fitzgerald support density and dynamism for Oakland

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary from Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was first published on July 14 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It is reprinted here with permission from the Post-Gazette.


Oakland is one of the most culturally and economically important neighborhoods not just in Pittsburgh, but in all of Pennsylvania. We have a duty to make sure it continues to fulfill its potential, and that means increasing the density of development while honor neighborhood for what is, has been and can become.

Oakland is the third-biggest job center in all of Pennsylvania. Dynamic growth here doesn’t just benefit the neighborhood itself; it emanates out to the entire city and region. But we have to build out, and are currently building out, the infrastructure to make it possible. That includes crucial investments in affordable housing, sustainability, reliable transportation and more.

We are seeing historic momentum in Oakland and throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. Over the past 30 years, the institutions that call this area home have grown considerably. The University of Pittsburgh, for instance, has evolved into a world-class research powerhouse, pulling in nearly $1 billion in annual research funding each year. Pitt’s recent investments — at Hazelwood Green and in Homewood, the Hill District and Oakland — are becoming critical new anchors of economic stability and opportunity for the region.

But now, it’s past time to invest on the other side of Forbes Avenue, which for too long has been synonymous with blight. Our community members, from residents to business owners and institutional leaders, recognize the importance of growing together and keeping our talent here. And the public sector is committed to building the city’s potential as a talent magnet, while giving longtime residents an even more welcoming neighborhood to call home.

That vision for Oakland can be seen in three transformative projects that are poised to usher in a new era in regional growth.

First, City Council voted 8-1 to approve the zoning needed to allow for the mixed-use Oakland Crossings project. The project will bring a new grocery store, additional green space, safer pedestrian routes and affordable housing to an area of the neighborhood that can become a hub of activity for the entire city.

Second, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) has approved funding to widen Bates Street, a critical gateway to this job center. For several years, the SPC has studied the corridor and examined how best to respond to current demand, and to prepare for the future. That future includes the development occurring at the other end of Bates Street, along Second Avenue, which has become one of the fastest growing and desirable areas in the region, especially for technology research and development..

And finally, work for the long-awaited bus rapid transit continues forward. The core route of dedicated bus lanes will improve accessibility, offer shelter and amenities for waiting passengers, improve transit reliability and efficiency, ensure that communities of greatest need benefit from these connections, improve conditions for pedestrians, riders and bicyclists, and improve air quality through the use of battery electric bus technology.

All three projects will provide vital connections among Oakland, Hazelwood Green, Second Avenue and Downtown. They also pave the way for people — from the 100,000 workers and students who commute to Oakland each day to the generational residents who have watched this growth over the years — to experience an influx of opportunities and quality-of-life benefits.

Reaching this point has not been seamless, but these three projects serve as a true rallying cry for growth in Pittsburgh. Keeping things the same as they are might be comfortable for some, but it results in stagnation for all. By working together in a true spirit of collaboration, we can make change that moves everyone forward.

Consider the remarkable success of Bakery Square. Before the Nabisco Plant closed, it employed 400 workers; today, 4,000 people work at Bakery Square. Envision these same results in Oakland, Hazelwood Green and beyond.

We’re excited to continue moving forward in Oakland by building the infrastructure, and removing the barriers, that will allow explosive growth to continue. Pittsburgh City Council is already considering more zoning proposals in Oakland that will lay the foundation for a denser, more dynamic neighborhood. It’s an exciting time of transformation that, we hope and expect, is just beginning.