Bonnie Pfister

When Pittsburgh netted its most recent “America’s Most Livable City” rating, it was the region’s recreational opportunities that pushed it to the top of list of 379 metro areas.

For some, recreation simply means the Steelers. And the Penguins. And yes, the Pirates. Not to mention a welter of college sports. But in its 2007 ranking, the Places Rated Almanac also stressed the amenities beyond spectator sports, namely 5,000 acres of state parks, 43,000 acres of lakes and rivers, 142 golf courses and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

Building upon sustainability — both for the region, and the individuals who live here — is Venture Outdoors. Founded in 2001, the non-profit works to encourage folks of all ages and levels of fitness to take greater advantage of our natural assets and singular topography. Global publications touting the region’s transformation from smoky to sustainable often feature photos with Venture Outdoors’ kayaks as a bright-yellow counterpoint to the skyscraper skyline.

Copyright Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press / The sun, nearing winter solstice, travels low across the sky in a multiple-exposure picture made in Maine in 2002.

But the organization’s impact is about more than just good PR. Between 2006 and 2011 membership doubled, as newcomers to the city as well as life-long residents embrace more active lifestyles and appreciation for the environment.

“We offer a lot of beginner-friendly activities to encourage people to get out of the house and into the outdoors,” said Lora Woodward, Venture Outdoors public program director. “We have programs throughout the year, but winter in particular is a perfect time to showcase western Pennsylvania and the forest and parks that we’re so thankful to have.”

Tonight’s Winter Solstice Hike recognizes the longest night of the year with three- to four-mile trail around the North Side’s Riverview Park. A more fast-paced 5-6 mile hike hike on Thursday, Dec. 27,  will burn up calories across bridges and through downtown. Hikes beginning on Jan. 1will traverse North, South and Schenley parks and several North Side neighborhoods, while other activities introduce snow shoeing. Dozens of activities continue throughout the winter throughout Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, and in the Laurel Highlands — including cross-country skiing to dog-friendly walks, yoga and hikes that culminate in tastings of locally made soups, stews and beers. Learn more at Venture Outdoors’ website or blog, or via Twitter and Facebook.

One other thing: Venture Outdoors may be one of the city’s best-kept secrets for the single-and-looking. Most VO events that I’ve participated in have had a strikingly high number of female participants (not a few of whom were themselves striking numbers). My theory is that as girls we often tended to be less exposed to outdoorsy activities growing up, and appreciate the support of a group when we finally realize what we’ve been missing. In any event, if you’re looking for a place to meet individuals who are reasonably fit – or at least game enough to try something fun – in a friendly, not-creepy setting, this could be it.

A version of this post originally appeared on ImaginePittsburghNow.com in December 2011.

Ben Kamber

A weekend of drama and intrigue returns to Pittsburgh when rising young hockey stars from around the world learn where they’ll be playing professionally. The National Hockey League draft comes to the CONSOL Energy Center Friday and Saturday, and while tickets have already been distributed, Pittsburgh fans can take in a variety of festive public events outside of the arena and around the region.

Pittsburgh last hosted the draft in 1997, and hockey has only grown more popular. Between the 140 players, 2,000+ family members and supporters, executives from the 30 NHL clubs and thousands of fans, this nationally televised event is expected to bring in $9.1 million in direct spending to the Pittsburgh region.

On Wednesday, several leading NHL prospects faced off on the Roberto Clemente Bridge against members of Pittsburgh ICE – a program that teaches hockey to economically disadvantaged students throughout the region. More community activities are planned for Thursday, including a special batting practice during the Pirates-Twins game.

The draft begins Friday night, but the whole day is packed with activities. From noon until 5:30 p.m., free skating is available on a synthetic ice rink near CONSOL’s  American Eagle Gate at Fifth Avenue and Washington Place. The first 200 guests can rent skates for free. (Regular ice skates can’t be used.) To learn more about the innovative material that allows year-round “ice” skating, check out this Our Region’s Business interview with Bob Gierl, the distributer of UltraSkate.

From 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., you can watch the nationally televised draft alongside other fans on the big screen at the public outdoor draft party at the South Parking Lot (across Centre Avenue from CONSOL). There will be live music from Lovebettie, barbecue and beer, interactive games and more. And if you’re able to make it over to the Trib Total Media Gate, you can catch a glimpse of the top prospects as they walk the red carpet at 6:15 p.m. before the first-round draft begins at 7 p.m.

Rounds 2-7 will be held Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. The outdoor “ice” rink will be open again, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information on all of the draft-related events taking place this week, click here.

Bonnie Pfister

Christmas may be over (though Epiphany comes this weekend, as does Eastern Orthodox Christmas for those on the Julian calendar) but the sustainable outings featured in ImaginePittsburghNow.com’s Five Golden Things series continue into January and beyond.

The 2011 Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens continues through Sunday, Jan. 8, but of course Phipps is worth a visit at any time of year — as a place of verdant beauty but also as a world leader in sustainability.

Seasonal decorations remain up through Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, which are a public tribute to the region’s immigrant past — and its future — year round.

And of course, Venture Outdoors offers outings through our region’s singular topography in every season, from cross-country skiing and high-octane hikes to strolls and beer-tastings through historic neighborhoods for people (and sometimes pets and/or children).

Five Golden Things highlights winter holiday outings that underscore the Pittsburgh region’s commitment to sustainability in many forms, including the use of wind power for some of the city’s most traditional and beloved seasonal icons. Read the entire series here. And if you haven’t already done so, please sign up for automatic blog updates via RSS feed to your email account, at Twitter.com/ImaginePgh or Facebook.com/PittsburghRegion.

Here’s to a healthy, sustainable 2012 — for our region and us, every one.

Bonnie Pfister

FIVE GOLDEN THINGS: Third of five posts on holiday outings that underscore the Pittsburgh region’s commitment to sustainability in many forms.

Copyright Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press / The sun, nearing winter solstice, travels low across the sky in a multiple-exposure picture made in Maine in 2002.

When Pittsburgh netted its most recent “America’s Most Livable City” rating, it was the region’s recreational opportunities that pushed it to the top of list of 379 metro areas.

For some, recreation simply means the Steelers. And the Penguins. And yes, the Pirates. Not to mention a welter of college sports. But in its 2007 ranking, the Places Rated Almanac also stressed the amenities beyond spectator sports, namely 5,000 acres of state parks, 43,000 acres of lakes and rivers, 142 golf courses and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

Building upon sustainability — both for the region, and the individuals who live here — is Venture Outdoors. Founded in 2001, the non-profit works to encourage folks of all ages and levels of fitness to take greater advantage of our natural assets and singular topography. Global publications touting the region’s transformation from smoky to sustainable often feature photos with Venture Outdoors’ kayaks as a bright-yellow counterpoint to the skyscraper skyline.

But the organization’s impact is about more than just good PR. In the past five years membership has doubled to 8,500, as newcomers to the city as well as life-long residents embrace more active lifestyles and appreciation for the environment.

“We offer a lot of beginner-friendly activities to encourage people to get out of the house and into the outdoors,” said Lora Woodward, Venture Outdoors public program director. “We have programs throughout the year, but winter in particular is a perfect time to showcase western Pennsylvania and the forest and parks that we’re so thankful to have.”

The organization has two evening hikes this Thursday, Dec. 22: a four-to five-mile “Christmas Warm-Up Urban Fitness Hike” in and around Downtown, and an easier three- to four-mile “Winter Solstice Hike” around the North Side’s Riverview Park.

On Dec. 28 there’s a “High-Energy Hike” at Schenley Park in Oakland.  January and February bring more than 71 programs throughout Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, and in the Laurel Highlands, from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to dog-friendly walks, yoga and hikes that culminate in tastings of locally made soups, stews and beers. Learn more at Venture Outdoors’ website or blog, or via Twitter and Facebook.

One other thing: Venture Outdoors may be one of the city’s best-kept secrets for the single-and-looking. Most VO events that I’ve participated in have had a strikingly high number of female participants (not a few of whom were themselves striking numbers). My theory is that as girls we often tended to be less exposed to outdoorsy activities growing up, and appreciate the support of a group when we finally realize what we’ve been missing. In any event, if you’re looking for a place to meet individuals who are reasonably fit – or at least game enough to try something fun – in a friendly, not-creepy setting, this could be it.

Bill Flanagan
The Small Business Administration’s Karen Mills with (from left) CEOs Paul Otellini (Intel), Jeffrey Immelt, (GE) and Antonio Perez (Eastman Kodak)

There’s something about the “Power of Pittsburgh” that keeps attracting national attention.  In just the past two weeks, we’ve hosted a civic leadership delegation from St. Louis, the 16th from across the country since the G-20. This week alone, we hosted the national conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, here, and the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. (See links below.) The Community College of Allegheny County weighed in with a labor-management conversation involving Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and Nick DeIuliis, president and COO of CONSOL Energy, both native sons of our region.

There’s increasing interest in greater Pittsburgh’s emergence as a new Center of American Energy, with business investment and job growth across the seven energy-related sectors significantly outpacing the national average. As we’ve noted before, our region has nationally-leading strengths in producing, distributing and conserving energy. Last week, the Pennsylvania Economy League of Southwestern Pennsylvania released the results of a new analysis of our region’s energy sector.  More than 750 companies are supporting directly and indirectly 150,000 jobs and $19 billion in economic activity… on par with such core regional strengths as advanced manufacturing, financial & business services and eds & meds.  The job growth rate in these energy-related fields is significantly above the national average (so’s the average pay), one reason our region experienced only half the job loss of the nation as a whole during the recession.

It was great to hear President Obama during his remarks at the IBEW on the South Side reference Pittsburgh’s efforts to create jobs in under-served communities of the city in the energy and health care fields. The program received a $1.95 million federal grant just the week before. By hosting the Jobs Council, our region got the chance to showcase a number of the bright spots in our economy to the CEOs of GE, Kodak, DuPont, and other leading companies – from SEEGRID’s robots to Pitt and CMU’s Quality of Life Research Center at Bakery Square.

The Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh, staffed by the Allegheny Conference and Innovation Works, has launched its own effort to get out the word about the opportunities being created here to the workers and students with the potential to fill the two thousand or so vacant energy jobs, and thousands more that are sure to be created in the years to come.  The EAGP has launched PowerOfPittsburgh.com to provide a searchable database of open energy jobs and links to training opportunities in the region.  Be sure to check out the new “Energy to the Power of Pittsburgh” TV commercials that are running in the Pittsburgh Penguins broadcasts.  (You can also watch the first one here.) Please help us to spread the word by forwarding this link.

As always, thanks for your commitment to our region and for your interest in this occasional updates on the ripple effects from the G-20 summit, now more than two years ago.

Bill

Watch latest “Energy To The Power of Pittsburgh” ad.

 

Watch President Obama’s speech at the IBEW.

Watch the meeting or read the transcript from the third quarterly meeting of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.