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Chester County Press

Communities succeed through partnerships, strategy, leadership and design

04/30/2019 09:41AM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

If the convergence of several initiatives like vision, technology and partnerships helped revitalize the City of Pittsburgh 20 years ago, the city's former mayor told a local group of engineers, builders, planners and architects on April 23 that the same formula can also revive smaller communities in Chester County.

Tom Murphy, the former three-term Mayor of Pittsburgh who served from 1994 to 2006, delivered “Intentionality: Communities Succeeding in the 21st Century,” the keynote address at an event held at the Mendenhall Inn that was co-sponsored by S.A.V.E. (Safety, Agriculture, Villages & Environment, Inc.) and the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance.

An eight-term member of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, Murphy is currently a senior resident fellow for urban development at the Urban Land Institute, which provides leadership in the responsible use of land and helps create thriving communities around the world.

Chester County, Murphy said, is not alone in confronting the challenges of effectively moving its communities forward.

“As the former mayor of a city and after having visited over 100 cities during the last few years, I've come to realize that things don't happen by accident,” Murphy said. “Great places happen because people are very intentional about it. Whether you're trying to protect the land or great cities, the choices a community makes have an impact on their future.

“Those choices are becoming increasingly important, because ultimately, the rules are getting turned upside down – the rules that we have based our decisions on in the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties.”

Murphy ticked off six converging forces that are currently having a major impact on how communities plan for their future: globalization, environmental regulation, technical innovation, demographics, the recruitment of talent and finding the money to pay for all of it. In order for a city or a community to meander through the thicket of potential roadblocks, Murphy said, they will need strategic vision and collaboration between government and the private sector.

“[Cities and communities] need to know where they want to go,” he said. “I'm not a believer in government solving these problems. I'm a believer in government being in partnership with the private market, who are the primary drivers in strategic planning, while it's government's role to encourage the private market to take risks.”

Murphy said the most important investment that can be made in a city or community is in “Tomorrow. How are you investing to position your city to compete in a world that is changing?”

While Murphy reeled off the stories of U.S. cities that he said are successfully reinventing themselves – Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati and Greenville, S.C. were among those he mentioned – he spent most of the presentation discussing how, during his three terms as the Mayor of Pittsburgh, the city reinvigorated its economy, grew its population and repurposed its abandoned steel mills into vibrant and walkable centers of housing, open space, business and retail.

Murphy said that during World War II, Pittsburgh was responsible for making 60 percent of America's steel, but after most of the mills closed between 1970 and 1995, the city lost an average of 50,000 residents a year – about 60 percent of its previous population – and its unemployment rate grew to 22 percent. Clearly, a change needed to be made, Murphy said, so during the first 18 months of his tenure as Mayor, the city purchased 1,500 acres of property that had previously housed steel mills, with the intention of cleaning them up and giving them a new definition.

Thirty-four of those acres later became the site of SouthSide Works, an open-air retail, office, entertainment, and residential complex located just across the Monongahela River from the Pittsburgh Technology Center, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The $300 million complex opened in stages between 2002 and 2004.

The SouthSide Works initiative was completed in concert with the urban investment the city was making in several other abandoned factory buildings in Pittsburgh. As a result, several retail stores are now thriving in the city, such as Whole Foods, Google, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus. It's an example of a great public-private partnership, Murphy said, an initiative that has led to the creation of several smaller businesses which have followed the lead of their larger colleagues and set up in the downtown vicinity.

Pittsburgh has also seen the residual economic benefits from having built two new professional sports stadiums on the riverfront near the downtown district  – Heinz Field and PNC Park – that have kick-started the opening of several tourist attractions, retail stores and bars and restaurants.

“We made a fundamental decision in 1994, when I was becoming Mayor, that we were going to pursue a take-no-prisoners kind of approach,” he said. “We needed to fundamentally change how we thought about Pittsburgh, and so we began to re-evaluate our city.”

Murphy advised those in attendance to have the willingness to take risks; recruit great leadership; create partnerships between the public and private sector; and to not be afraid to delegate money in order to engage in bold initiatives that attract jobs and recruit talent.

“Finally, if you're going to build anything, build something great,” he said. “Those are your choices, and cities all over the world who are making the right choices and taking risks are succeeding. Those who are trying to protect the status quo are struggling.”

The event also invited Sonia Huntzinger, the economic development administrator for 2nd Century Alliance, a strategic action plan for the City of Coatesville, to discuss the status of the plan.

To learn more about S.A.V.E., visit  To learn more about the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].