Ben Kamber

There’s a profusion of commercial, retail and residential development underway in downtown Pittsburgh, so don’t feel bad if you need to do a double-take when walking by a ”coming soon” or recently opened restaurant, retail storefront or condo/apartment complex.

Yet, as I strolled through downtown’s Cultural District recently, I did a lot more than your standard, quick double-take. It was more of a stop-dead-in-my-tracks take.

So, what blew me away?

At 210 Sixth Ave., there’s a store named Fraley’s Robot Repair.  If this name alone doesn’t pique your interest, then what you’ll see in the large display window probably will:  a robust collection of robots in varying states of…umm…repair?  (Or is that disrepair?)

How did a full-service, “robot repair shop” literally pop-up overnight in one of the most heavily trafficked districts in downtown Pittsburgh?  Someone was probably trying to have a little fun by making curious pedestrians stop to gawk at these sorry-looking androids.  Unless Pittsburgh had magically morphed into some sort of science fiction futuristic world, this “robot repair shop” was more likely a “robot ruse.” Right?

Well, sort of.  The truth, as I discovered, is that robots are not actually being meticulously restored to mint condition in the heart of downtown. But this is no stale hoax either.

Part of Project Pop-Up: Pittsburgh, “Fraley’s Robot Repair,” is in reality a public art installation created by Toby Atticus Fraley, an artist from Washington, Pa. The installation, which was launched publicly during November’s 51st Annual Light Up Night, gives downtown passers-by a chance to glimpse into a future wherein robot ownership – and  the bothersome repairs that accompany it – may be quite commonplace.

Project Pop-Up: Pittsburgh is a program initiated by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in partnership with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Department of City Planning and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP).  The project aims to inject new life into abandoned downtown Pittsburgh storefronts, playing off of the many other positive downtown developments already underway. More than 90 entrepreneurs from throughout the nation submitted grant proposals in hopes of making their “pop-up” dreams a reality in Pittsburgh. These applicants were whittled down to 12 recipients – seven of which launched their projects in November.

Learn more about Project Pop-Up: Pittsburgh and the other six “pop-ups” by clicking here. And be sure to head into town for First Night on December 31 for the official launch of the program, during which the remaining five pop-up projects will be unveiled.

But, if you’re curious and don’t want to wait for First Night, “robot repair” is open for business right now.  Before you bring your own Rosie all the way into town for a tune-up, you might want to call ahead and schedule an appointment.  It is, after all, the busy holiday season.

Bonnie Pfister
Father Daniele Vallecorsa

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Latino community may be small and dispersed, but hundreds will gather Monday in celebration of a brown-skinned image of the virgin mother that helped knit together Europe and the Americas beginning 500 years ago.

Dec. 12 is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is said to have appeared to indigenous Juan Diego in the hills outside of Mexico City in 1531. Depending on who’s telling the story, her appearance to a Mexican peasant either underscored the worthiness of New World Christian converts, or was a brilliant stroke of marketing on the part of Spanish missionaries. In any event – and for better or worse — La Virgen helped bridge the gap between continents, cultures and people.

People of Mexican descent are only a fraction of the Latino community in Pittsburgh – Peruvians, Venezuelans, Colombians, Chileans, Argentineans and Spaniards are also well represented, as are Brazilans. But participants bearing the flags of many Spanish-speaking nations – as well as the American flag – are typically part of the procession of faithful at the annual mass honoring the icon the Vatican eventually dubbed the “Empress of the Americas.” Bishop David Zubik will officiate.

“This celebration of the Blessed Mother demonstrates the continued support of the diocese to the Latino community in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas,” said Father Daniele Vallecorsa, the diocese’s pastor of the Latino Catholic community. Weekly Spanish-language masses are offered at St. Regis Parish in south Oakland.

Pittsburgh has long been a melting pot. The region’s many churches displaying stained-glass windows and etchings in German, Greek and dozens of Slavic languages speak to the comfort and pride immigrants have always taken in their traditions, even as they make their way in a new land. The cycle continues as, for example, St. Paul’s Church in Butler, founded in 1867 by Irish immigrants, today offers a spiritual home to many Latino families.

Festival events begin Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m., with arrival of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe from Saint Regis Church to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Mass will begin at 7 p.m., followed by a reception in the cathedral social hall.

See the images below from the 2010 celebration.

 

Amanda Sennert

When I attended the One Young World Summit in Zurich earlier this year, I had the opportunity to hear Jamie Oliver speak on healthy eating and nutrition, and his efforts through “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” to change the way Americans and the world think about food. At one point he polled the audience on how many in the room could cook a meal from scratch, and by this he meant, not using a microwave, or heating prepared foods. About 50 percent raised their hands. Keep in mind this was a group of well-educated young professionals. He then asked how long we expected to live. Let’s just say the percentage expecting to live to be in their 80’s was VERY high, too high. As Jamie noted, we were dreaming. Diet-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease would be sure to shorten our lives significantly. I came out of his talk wondering, what is being done to address this issue in Pittsburgh? Where is the movement? The answer became clear at the “Let’s Move Pittsburgh” symposium hosted earlier this fall at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, an event co-sponsor and regional leader in the healthy food movement, and I jumped at the opportunity to hear what was going on.

“Let’s Move Pittsburgh” is an effort to capitalize locally on the momentum coming out of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program that focuses on three pillars of children’s health: healthy food, increased activity, and decreased time in front of screens  –TVs, digital games, computers, cell phones. One expert in childhood obesity prevention, Tufts University Ph.D Christina Economos, discussed her project,  “Shape Up Somerville,” which aimed to transform the behavior of an entire Massachusetts town by focusing on unnecessary weight gain among its children. She took a holistic approach to this diverse and far-reaching epidemic by identifying stakeholders and how they can work together to reduce childhood obesity in their community. She stressed the need for champions of the cause, focusing on professional development for teachers, and noted that education for parents is just as necessary as for the children. Lastly, she encouraged us not to ignore the importance of policy in creating healthy food norms.

I also learned that Pittsburgh-area child-health organizations and individuals are already well aware of – and hard at work on — these issues. Sponsors The Heinz Endowments, UPMC Health Plan and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens were joined by child-health leaders from Allegheny General Hospital’s Integrated Medicine Unit, Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and Chatham universities, Hill House, Pittsburgh Public Schools, regional food banks and child-care centers, and many more. They shared their efforts, challenges and aspirations in childhood obesity prevention. I was impressed at the number of groups represented, and hopeful that the “Let’s Move” initiative can help buoy the local mission.

More sobering is the challenge ahead for the region, as schools with high prevalence of poverty tend to have high overweight and obesity rates, and are increasingly strapped for funding and other resources. It’s also a painful irony that communities facing high levels of obesity are also facing hunger.

But there are positive developments on the national level that can help. Sam Kass, Assistant White House Chef and Senior Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, noted that retail giants like Wal-Mart have agreed to reduce the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables, and to reduce the sodium and sugar content in all products sold in their stores. This alone could reach as many as 40 percent of Americans. Also, the shift from educational talking points that highlight the food pyramid to the more intuitive “My Plate” approach – teaching children to visualize the appropriate portions of different types of foods — seems like a welcome, practical change. National and local efforts to increase nutrition awareness are increasing and I’m hopeful that national policy shifts, coupled with the continued efforts of local child health leaders, will create healthier communities in Pittsburgh and beyond.

ImaginePittsburghNow

You may not think you want a physically demanding career, but if four years of college is not for you and you have no other job-training plans, you may end up spending most of your working life on your feet anyway.

Service sector jobs – especially those that generate tips – can be tempting in the short run because we’ve all been to bars, restaurants and stores. We know what those jobs are about, and they’re usually not hard to get. But in five (or 10, or 20) years, you may find yourself still standing, still serving a not-always-pleasant public. Will you have any skills to help you land a more interesting gig (and one with health insurance and a retirement plan)?

Coal is an important part of both Pennsylvania’s and the United States’ legacies: it fueled the industries that made us a world power. Natural gas represents the new frontier, with our region’s Marcellus Shale shaping up to be the second largest gas play in the world. Jobs are available in these sectors, and pay far more than most service sector jobs.

Training is available through many high schools and at community colleges across the region. A smart guy or girl (women are always in demand for non-traditional jobs, and technology means raw physical power isn’t as important as other workplace strengths) can move up to foreman or other supervisory jobs that bring better working conditions and pay. And you’ll have a job you can brag about: I keep your lights on! I actually produce something, something that everyone actually needs.

Check out the interview below with Community College of Allegheny County President Alex Johnson, who explains how people can find out about job training opportunities across the region. While wages depend upon how much demand there is for a particular industry or job at a given time, entry-level roustabouts on a gas drilling rig can earn up to $75,000 a year. Some useful links are below.

Links: CCAC’s Energy Training Program; ShaleNET; PowerOfPittsburgh.com.

Energy to the Power of Pittsburgh is a public awareness campaign presented by the Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh, an initiative of nearly 100 companies, universities, government agencies and non-profits dedicated to making the Greater Pittsburgh region the leader in American energy in the 21st century. Learn more at PowerOfPittsburgh.com.

Jim Futrell

While there are certainly several resources for job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics, the Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area recorded its best October employment on record at 1,161,300. Employment grew 1.2 percent from September 2011 and 1.9 percent from October 2010. (You can read more about it on the website of Pittsburgh TODAY which compares the Pittsburgh region to similar, benchmark cities that include Philadelphia, Cleveland, Denver and Charlotte.)

So what was driving this job growth? One would suspect this to be part of seasonal trends, and while it is true that employment almost always gets a September to October bump around 5,000, this year’s jump was well over 13,000. Trade, transportation, and utilities, and government are two industries that are more significantly impacted by seasonal gains and losses.

Traditional strong-growing industries such as financial activities and professional and business services experienced minimal ups and downs over the past few quarters. Education and health services is a key industry, which has been gradually increasing over the past several months to its current peak of 251,000 employees, a record high.

Often the most interesting data can be found deeper within certain industries. Management of companies and enterprises (a sub-sector of professional and business services) saw its employment rise to 35,900 in October. This is not just the best October for this sub-sector, but the highest employment ever recorded in this industry. This again reinforces several previous analyses by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance on the importance of Pittsburgh as headquarters hub.

Colleges, universities, and professional schools, a sub-sector of the education and health care industry, saw its employment rise to 45,400, a record high. While some of this can be attributed to increased hiring for the school year, it’s still 10 percent higher than October 2010, and 21 percent higher than this time just five years ago. Pittsburgh’s college and universities are key contributors to this record-breaking October.

Before readers get too excited, remember, the labor force also increased in October, so this will not necessarily translate directly to a major reduction in the regional unemployment rate. According to the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis, October’s unemployment rate did drop to 7.0 percent, well below the state rate (8.1 percent) and national rate (9.0 percent). The region is moving in the right direction, fueled by a wide range of industries.

Bill Flanagan

A recent tip of the hat to our region’s thought leadership was the hosting of the TEDx Pittsburgh conference in November. TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design, and it was conceived in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from those three worlds to share ideas and collaborate on future possibilities.

Since 2009, creative thinkers outside of TED’s home base of Monterey, Calif. have been hosting independently organized TEDx events, and Leadership Pittsburgh did just that for about 150 community leaders at Nemacolin Woodlands. Participants shared ideas related to “Power” – in terms of energy, people and even politics. Given our region’s emergence as the new Center of American Energy, power was a timely subject for thinking across technology, entertainment, and design – the three hallmarks of a TED experience.

“Fierce Energy” was the focus of a presentation by Dr. Arun Madjumar, the Berkeley National Laboratory engineer tapped by President Obama to head up the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, known as ARPA-E. It was a real “get” for Leadership Pittsburgh to land Dr. Madjumar as a presenter.

I caught up with Dr. Madjumar for a quick video interview after he talked about the need to take “quantum leaps” in technology to provide for the nation’s coming energy needs. Check out the video below or over at PowerOfPittsburgh.com, the website through which the Allegheny Conference and the Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh are helping to raise awareness of the many energy-related jobs open now across the greater Pittsburgh region.

While I was at TEDx, I was immersed in a YERT.

What’s a YERT?  Well, it stands for “Your Environmental Road Trip,” a one-year adventure that took new Pittsburgh resident and filmmaker Mark Dixon to all 50 states in search of creative thinking about the environment. The road trip began and ended here, where Mark now makes his home. YERT is both a feature film and a deep website full of profiles of people across the country that can be used by educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders – anyone, really.

You’ll be able to see the actual Madjumar and YERT presentations within a few weeks on the Leadership Pittsburgh website. In the meantime, you can watch my interview with Mark Dixon below in which he talks about such innovations as “solar roadways” which could absorb sunlight, send power to electric grids and help pay for future highway construction – and hear why this Californian has decided to put down roots in our region.