True innovation doesn’t take place in a vacuum. That’s why each year, a group of about 100 metro Atlanta leaders travel to another region to gain insights in order to make meaningful change at home.

This year, the group is heading to Pittsburgh on the annual LINK trip, organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

At first blush, the ‘Burgh may not appear to have a whole lot in common with the ATL. Pittsburgh’s metro is home to 2.4 million people, compared to metro ATL’s 5.9 million. In Pittsburgh, it’s hard to find a decent biscuit, while in Atlanta, it can be hard to find a decent bagel. (Full disclosure: This writer was born and raised in Pittsburgh and What’s Next ATL takes no responsibility for her sports affiliations. Go Steelers.)

But it turns out that we have things in common, too — and there’s a lot that metro Atlanta can learn from Pittsburgh. Read on.

A Lesson in Transformation

If Atlanta is the phoenix — a southern capital capable of reinventing itself again and again — Pittsburgh may be its northern counterpart.

In recent decades, the Steel City transformed itself from an industrial manufacturing hub into a highly diversified economy driven by healthcare, higher education, research, and technology. Today, Pittsburgh is consistently ranked by The Economist magazine as one of the nation’s most livable cities.

Groundbreaking Innovation…

Pittsburgh is a leader in research, development, and deployment of cutting-edge tech. In 2018, the city was selected as one of 22 communities — along with Atlanta — to participate in the second Smart Cities Collaborative program. It’s also the birthplace of the autonomous vehicle. Today, Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Robotics Institute is the world’s largest robotics research and development organization.

…Thanks to Cutting-Edge Partnerships

Partnerships with local universities and private firms make Pittsburgh a leading incubator of smart cities tech
Partnerships with local universities and private firms make Pittsburgh a leading incubator of smart cities tech

Partnerships with local universities and private firms make Pittsburgh a leading incubator of smart cities tech. CMU has partnered with the city, Allegheny County, and other governmental agencies to promote technologies that improve safety, enhance mobility, and mitigate pollution.

Pittsburgh and four of the leading autonomous vehicle companies operating in the city have laid out some of the world’s most extensive guidelines concerning vehicle testing on public streets — covering everything from safety and data sharing to communication.

Two Metros. Shared Concerns.

Sometimes, metro Atlanta’s 10 counties and 74 municipalities can seem daunting. But metropolitan Pittsburgh has 635 – that’s not a typo – municipalities. Both regions struggle with political fragmentation that occasionally prevents working together for the good of all.

Both metro areas are also working to accommodate a growing aging population. By 2030, 1 in 4 metro Atlantans will be 60 or older. In 2018, 21 percent of Pittsburgh metro residents were 65 or older.

And both are home to historic African-American neighborhoods experiencing reinvestment while struggling to fight displacement and preserve a cultural legacy.

During the LINK trip, metro Atlanta leaders will exchange ideas with the local leaders and groups taking these issues — and others — on, and have the chance to put what they learn to work right here in the ATL.

We’ll check back in after the trip.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.