High-Performing Places: A Design, Planning and Public Policy Roadmap for Pittsburgh

The upcoming mayoral election provides Pittsburghers a chance to consider what changes and growth we might like to see in the coming years. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Green Building Alliance and The Design Center have worked together to create a list of recommendations for the incoming administration, in hopes that our city might further develop its reputation as a leader in healthy and high-performance buildings.


We’ve developed a joint Public Policy Roadmap which recommends the prioritization of the following policies and actions during the next four years:

  1.  Zoning: implement a form-based zoning code that allows for significant flexibility in integrating renewable energy innovations, encourages transit usage and walkability, and emphasizes low-impact development in extreme hillside sites.
  2. Codes: adopt the International Green Construction Code and form-based code standards to codify energy and water efficiency, cool roofs, standardized renewable energy practices, and streamlined community development processes.
  3. Financing: establish a market-based public/private fund for high-performance building design; adopt best practices in private financing mechanisms including PACE financing and on-bill repayment.
  4. Leadership: position Pittsburgh as a national leader in design and sustainability through an administration wide focus on the built environment, establish a Chief Sustainability & Resiliency Officer within the cabinet, and strengthen relationships in Harrisburg and Washington.

We feel strongly that concerted action on these policy areas will significantly advance Pittsburgh’s standing as “America’s Most Livable City.” View the Public Policy Roadmap below and let us know what you think about these and other priorities that the city should consider for our built environment over the next four years!



Create Dynamic Management Strategies & Program Support

  1. Create Chief Sustainability Officer Position to oversee/empower existing Office of Sustainability. Integrate Office of Sustainability with Department of Planning and expand influence and role with all other agencies throughout.
  2. Require municipal leases in third-party buildings to achieve minimum of LEED Silver certification/similar green building certification.
  3. Formalize and support creation of Ecodistricts, expanding on current efforts in Larimer and other neighborhoods. Enforce Ecodistricts and conservation districts as zoning districts instead of broad Specially Planned Districts. Ecodistricts are yet to be defined and the City has the opportunity to modify each Ecodistrict to accommodate specific requirements of each community.
  4. Standardize community plans to include a category for sustainable planning and design. Adopt and enforce community plans.  Develop a framework within communities to empower local residents to update plans, and provide input to ongoing development and sustainability decisions.
  5. Invest in research, technology and data systems that allow communities, practitioners, and non-profit partners access to open and transparent information to share and increase sustainable practices where possible.
  6. Adopt phased energy and water building performance benchmarking [municipal/public schools by Year 1, voluntary private buildings by Year 2, mandatory by Year 4]. Support with mandatory commissioning of municipal/public schools every 5 years.

Financially Support High-Performance & Community Development

  1. Improve Pittsburgh’s access to government financing programs via expansion of funding advocacy in Harrisburg and Washington D.C.
  2. Establish market-based $100M public/private high-performance building design and investment fund.
  3. Adopt best practices of private financial mechanisms/incentives targeted for broader implementation throughout Pittsburgh: Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, and On-Bill financing in particular.
  4. Integrate LEED-ND (neighborhood development) training in existing Main Street programs to foster community development funding.

Adopt and Implement Pioneering Zoning and Green Building Construction Codes

  1. Adopt International Green Construction Code to target economic growth and green job creation. Incorporate LEED-ND within community development codes as opposed to designating broad Specially Planned Districts.
  2. Move to adopt form-based zoning codes through Building Form and Public Space standards that will integrate sustainability into community-wide and/or city-wide regulating plans.
  3. Modify County health codes to enable rainwater, greywater, and blackwater reuse that mirrors and legalizes existing local leadership and vision.
  4. Mandate cool/green roof standards in all new development citywide.
  5. Strengthen and enforce Low-Impact Development regulations for existing hillside development to mitigate stormwater issues while preserving Pittsburgh’s iconic hills, beauty, and reputation.
  6. Codify water reduction and conservation mandates via stringent water efficiency standards for buildings and existing building retrofits (WaterSense technologies, rainwater catchment systems, etc.).
  7. Develop form-base codes or revise current codes to adopt polices and incentives to encourage development of bike, transit and pedestrian-friendly streets and communities, and reduce parking requirements.

Capitalize on Local Renewable Energy Potential at Every Level

  1. Enable maximum flexibility in zoning and building codes for green building and renewable energy innovations (i.e., solar panels & vertical wind turbines by right in specific zoning districts, over the counter approvals for efficiency upgrades, etc.).
  2. Enable renewable energy as primary energy source for all zoning districts with emphasis on Planned Unit Developments/Specially Planned Districts (currently limited only to industrial zoning).
  3. Align City/County/CONNECT regulations for all renewable installations (building off of existing “SunShot” grant): solar, geothermal, hydro turbines, wind innovations, etc.
  4. Mandate 50% energy from local renewable generation by 2030 within specified zoning districts (e.g., implement vertical wind turbine on roofs of buildings over specified number of floors).
  5. Partner with utilities to increase investment in efficiency programs and to improve access to energy data.

Bolster Holistic Program Operations with Supplementary Community Infrastructure

  1. Enhance Pittsburgh’s walkability/healthy community development via building codes and transportation infrastructure to incentivize broad adoption of bicycle/pedestrian transportation (i.e., mandating showers/bike storage in large commercial buildings, density bonuses for development within ¼ mile of public transit infrastructure, etc.).
  2. Expand upon Transit Revitalization Investment Districts (TRIDs) framework to foster phased, thoughtful community planning and development targeted around existing transit infrastructure:  Mirror Philadelphia’s TRID Master Plan and monitor East Liberty TRID program.
  3. Engage local communities to be better educated and empowered to engage in the sustainable development conversation and decision-making process.
  4. Strengthen existing municipal energy audit requirements to include consideration of deep retrofits, weatherization, and sealing programs (see examples in Seattle and Chicago).


  1. Develop pioneering Mayoral Challenge to enforce Pittsburgh’s reputation as “America’s Most Livable City”: 40 buildings achieve LEED Platinum/Zero Net Energy buildings or other top tier green building certifications by 2040.
  2. Commit to becoming a carbon neutral City by 2060, joining a prestigious list of progressive North American cities.
  3. Enhance 2030 District goals to achieve Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by 2060 to generate as much district on-site energy as consumed.
  4. Integrate LEED-ND standards for all neighborhood developments/redevelopments greater than fifteen acres to foster holistic neighborhood/community development.
  5. Integrate sustainability and climate change plans into all future comprehensive planning efforts.

Please note that we have focused on policies and actions that will advance high-performance specifically in the realms of the built environment and community development. We have avoided advancing recommendations that directly impact a number of critical regional priorities including stormwater mitigation, outdoor air quality, open space, etc.; we are confident that other organizations are working towards those goals and wish to avoid duplicating energies.

Produced By: Coalition for a Better Built Environment [Green Building Alliance + Design Center]

Have a comment or suggestion? Email SeanL@gbapgh.org