Engage Pittsburgh Seeds Collaborative Community Innovation

Beginning in September 2006, more than 300 people participated in The Sprout Fund's Engage Pittsburgh. From making wishes and dreaming big at The Idea Round Up, to developing new project ideas in a collaborative online forum, Engage Pittsburgh participants added their voice to this first-of-its-kind grantmaking initiative.

Engage Pittsburgh participants helped set community priorities, brainstorm new ideas for catalyzing community change, and identified how Sprout could best award $100,000 in support to projects emerging from this critical dialog. Ultimately, Engage Pittsburgh awarded funding to three new projects that have taken innovative approaches to long standing community issues.

The 412 in the Palm of Your Hand

East Liberty based geographic software and design startup deepLocal, Inc. earned support for their responses to the Urban Info Kiosk and the Hot Spot Signs RFPs. Utilizing the ubiquity of the mobile phone technology, deepLocal built the Gumband text messaging platform to distribute information about the people and places of our fair city. Find out more about the ever-evolving stable of applications deepLocal is developing for Gumband here.

On the Grow in East Liberty

Green Vision for East Liberty Vacant Lots, a pilot project to transform vacant lots in East Liberty into energy-producing crops, received funding for their unique response to the Lots of Green RFP. By planting sunflower and canola crops on vacant land in East Liberty, the project simultaneously cleans the soil, reduces the effects of blight, and if that’s not innovative enough, the crops harvested can be used as the raw material for biofuel production.

Led by GTECH Strategies, a team of social innovators who piloted their energy-crop experiments at the LTV Hazelwood brownfield, the East Liberty project was the company’s first activity based in a residential community. Overtime and with growing input from the community, GTECH hopes the project can become a model for sustainable land reclamation initiatives in other communities.

Rolling Through the Steel Town

Engage also funded the inaugural Pittsburgh Alternative Transportation Festival. Coordinated by Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, Bike Pittsburgh and Restorative Events, the multi-faceted event showcased the groundswell of locally-led innovation and partnerships that put Pittsburgh at the forefront of alternative transportation solutions.

A week of activities included alternative fuel and vehicle demonstrations, educational and technical workshops, FlexCar and PAT Bus Pass giveaways, and the premiere of the Bike Pitttsburgh Map. With festivities in Market Square Downtown, Schenley Plaza in Oakland, and South Side Works, the event attracted a broad range of participants. With over 45 participating organization, the ATF represented the bulk of activity in transportation innovation currently happening in Pittsburgh and set the stage for an annual event.

Community Change through Civic Engagement

Engage Pittsburgh began at The Idea Round Up in September 2006, an unprecedented event that convinced 300 participants from in and around Pittsburgh that together, they could make a difference.

United by a common love for Pittsburgh, these perfect strangers produced 100 brain-busting ideas for community innovation—from the wacky and out-there to the necessary and practical—these ideas formed a community blueprint that has served as the foundation for the rest of the Engage Pittsburgh initiative.

After the dust settled from The Idea Round Up, Sprout launched www.engagepittsburgh.org to continue the dialogue and development of ideas in a unique online setting. Designed as a public bulletin board, this web forum created an environment to expand the work that began at The Idea Round Up. Months of dialogue helped to narrow the field of ideas and propelled the strongest concepts to the forefront.

Finally, Sprout took the ideas to the experts, consulting with specialists from around the region to help evaluate which ideas would make the best community projects. Taking into account the wishes of the community and the wisdom of the experts, Sprout crafted 5 Requests for Proposals to implement the 5 strongest ideas: The Manchester Climbing Wall, Hot Spot Signs, Lots of Green, The Alternative Transportation Festival, and Urban Info Kiosk.

After receiving 19 proposals, The Sprout Fund awarded funding to four projects to launch activities in Fall 2007. These projects are now hard at work, changing Pittsburgh for the better and introducing a whole new audience to the power of an engaged community. In addition to funding exciting initiatives these projects have begun, Engage Pittsburgh has laid the groundwork for future collaborative civic dialog, the kinds of discussion that result in stronger communities capable of working together in mutual aid.