When University of Michigan graduate students sought out a location for an “out-of-classroom” learning experience, Pittsburgh quickly rose to the top of their list. Annually, budding urban developers and regional planning experts from the university’s urban planning program travel to a different city where they meld academic theory with reality – expanding their scope of knowledge.

Why Pittsburgh for this go-round?

Was it our standing as an internationally recognized leader in public-private cooperation, which has propelled the region’s economic and environmental transformation over the past 30 years?  Or perhaps it had to do with the regional economy’s resilience despite a deep global recession. Or maybe it was as simple (or complex) as identifying the key ingredients in Pittsburgh’s “secret sauce” – those elements that have been crucial to the region’s comeback. With employment growth outpacing the national average and that of 14 other benchmark cities for nearly 36 months, tens of thousands of available jobs and a population that is trending younger after a lengthy period of being one of the nation’s oldest, Pittsburgh embodies urban transformation.

For Milwaukee native Mike Westling, a graduate student in urban planning at U-M, the willingness of both civic leaders and citizens in the region to take risks piqued his interest in traveling to Pittsburgh and exploring it as a model of urban redevelopment.

“You can have all of the great ideas in the world, but unless you’re willing to take risks, financial or otherwise, achievements will not be realized,” said Westling. “If people would come to Pittsburgh and see what it has become – see what taking risks can lead to – that could really go a long way to convincing people in other cities, especially politicians, that risks are necessary to get a pay-out down the road.”

Part of their program included a presentation organized by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its marketing affiliate, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. Showcasing Pittsburgh as a “Pioneer and Model for Urban Redevelopment and Renewal,” the session featured presentations and Q&A with experts including Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Rob Stephany.  The group gathered at American Eagle Outfitters headquarters at SouthSide Works – a development that exemplifies urban development and how Pittsburghers cooperated to transform a brownfield into accessible riverfront real estate. Watch the video below to hear takeaways about Pittsburgh from some of the U-M grad students and faculty.