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Creating Sustainable Communities: Pittsburgh Engineers & Others Lead Annual Sustainability Conference

18 Jun 2015 9:51 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

Article by Djuna Gulliver

Mayor Fetterman welcomes conference attendeesOn May 5, 2015, the Environmental Water Resource Institute Chapter (EWRI) of ASCE-Pittsburgh and Sustainable Pittsburgh came together for the 7th Annual Sustainability Conference.  The conference was a series of seminars focused on “Practical and Innovative Solutions for Creating Sustainable Communities.”  The theme of the day was how Pittsburgh could revitalize its efforts to promote a sustainable future.

What better place to hold a conference about city revitalization than the nearby neighborhood of Braddock. Braddock was once a vibrant city of 20,000 residents that has since fallen to 2,500 residents after the collapse of the steel industry. But with the motto “Reinvention is the only option,” Braddock is on a revival, led by public figures, such as Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, and innovative local companies, such as Braddock Farms and Fossil Free Fuel.

Councilman O'Connor presenting on plans for his districtThe all-day conference was held in Mayor Fetterman’s residence, and had a line-up of engineers, educators, and policy makers presenting forward-thinking initiatives. In the opening seminar, Councilman Corey O’Connor discussed city plans that would benefit his diverse district, from Squirrel Hill to Greenfield to Hazelwood. Plans include an outdoor grocery store, new library, and spray park in Hazelwood. Councilman O’Connor discussed his strong support for linking the Pittsburgh communities, and called the new Bike Share program, “A great way for the public to get around our city.” And, of course, there was mention of the much talked about demolition and rebuilding of the Greenfield Bridge, or as Councilman O’Connor called it, “The bridge that catches the crumbling bridge.”

The keynote speaker, Erin Molchany, Southwest Director for Governor Tom Wolf, presented on the new budget proposal for the Commonwealth. “This budget is bold, this budget is risky,” she stated. “It’s really an exciting proposition.” The budget focuses on community and economic development, aiming to rebuild the middle class by investing in education, decreasing the tax burden of homeowners, and developing jobs that pay. The budget accounts for incoming funds by removing about 35 sales tax exemptions. The budget also calls for a severance tax on the Marcellus Shale industry, as Pennsylvania is the only state that does not currently collect such a tax. “This budget really does invest in the people and the commonwealth,” said Molchany.

Amy McCrae-Kessler, EVP and Head of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for Turning Earth, LLC, spoke about a novel process that utilizes organic waste to create both methane for energy and compost for agriculture. Organics, which represent around 30% of municipal waste streams, are integrated into a single reactor that first undergoes anaerobic digestion for methane production, followed by aerobic composting. The addition of composting in the same reactor reduces odor issues. Kessler states that implementing this type of technology will result in four sustainable jobs for every one job in a landfill.  “Those are high quality jobs that aren’t going anywhere,” says Kessler. “You can create businesses and opportunities by doing the right thing for the environment.”

Dr. Walker presenting on the sustainable Eden Hall campusDr. Peter Walker from Chatham University, presented on the new Eden Hall Campus in Richland Township. The self-sustaining campus is powered by geothermal and solar energy, recycles stormwater and utilized water, and plans to provide food that is entirely onsite-farm-to-table. All campus buildings meet LEED-platinum standards, and built below the treeline to ensure a grand view of the 388-acre plot of land atop a bluff. “If you think in a place with big views, you think big ideas,” says Dr. Walker. The campus is currently home to the Falk School of Sustainability. Dr. Walker claims that building the physical campus was the easy part; the tough part will be building a social structure and developing a vibrant campus community. “The first group of students are really going to be pioneers,” he says.

The 7th Annual Sustainability Conference closed with a panel discussion with Michele Acitelli of PennDOT, Natasha Ozybko of FORTA Corp, Chris Sandvig of Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG), and led by Gregory Scott of Buchart Horn.  This diverse panel group discussed a range of infrastructure challenges, such as incorporating equals amounts of design and engineering to ensure optimal benefit for the overall public.

Sina Arjmand presenting his student posterStudents from Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University and the University of Pittsburgh had the opportunity to display their research posters during breaks. A total of five posters were displayed ranging in topics from modeling of urban water demands in Los Angeles, California to potential environmental impacts of Shale Gas wastewater treatment. 

Breakfast and lunch was catered by Kaleidoscope Café, and after the conference, attendees were treated to beer from Brew Gentlemen. Conference attendees were encouraged to bring a donated item for Freestore 15104, a Braddock non-profit that redistributes everyday goods to neighbors in need.  Mayor Fetterman thanked conference-goers for the “Christmas pile” of donations that crowded one side of the room.


  • 19 Jun 2015 11:29 PM | Anonymous
    Great conference. Councilman Corey O'Connor's opening address was most relevant to the conference theme. The panel discussion was my favorite part - an effective learning tool, an alternative to conventional PowerPoint, and a simple way to engage the audience. Hats off to EWRI!
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  • 22 Jun 2015 10:59 PM | Kemal Niksic
    Great event. truly enjoyed Mayor's hospitality and inspiring sessions about some really cool initiatives happening in our region. great to see some familiar faces, and meet new friends.
    Link  •  Reply
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