By Mary Helen Montgomery
A progressive city with an industrial past, built on the banks of a river and surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, reinvents itself as a center for innovation and a place where entrepreneurs of all backgrounds might thrive. This is Chattanooga’s story, but — with a few more rivers — it’s Pittsburgh’s, too.
On June 6, in a virtual forum with live audiences 600 miles apart, Mayor Andy Berke and Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto discussed the similarities of our cities, and of the challenges faced by each in this digital age. Central to their conversation was the digital divide and how each city is supporting access and opportunities for residents to thrive in a technologically-driven economy.
“At the core of our Innovation District is the idea of digital equity,” said Mayor Andy Berke. Highlighting initiatives like Tech Goes Home, the Chattanooga Public Library’s 4th Floor maker space and Signal Center’s recent Accessible Technology Summit, Mayor Berke emphasized that talent is evenly distributed throughout every neighborhood, but opportunity is not. In a city of creators and with an asset like the Gig, Mayor Berke said it’s our responsibility to shift that reality.
As the conversation came to a close, Mayor Peduto similarly underscored the importance of internet access, while also pointing out the legislative hurdles to investing in infrastructure like municipal broadband: “We have to reject those who tell cities, ‘Stay in your lane.’” Despite those challenges, Pittsburgh continues to forge ahead: Rec2Tech is transforming rec centers into tech hubs across the city, while community partners like the Carnegie Library, Work Hard PGH and ConnectHome support adults, entrepreneurs and low-income residents in getting connected.