Downtown, near the newly renovated Market Square, is the LEED Gold certified Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel. The hotel does not recycle air as some large buildings do, and deploys indoor plants to boost air quality. The hotel's fine restaurant is worth a meal: The chef adheres to the nose-to-tail philosophy of food use, going so far as to render beef suet down for making lavender-scented soap used throughout the hotel. This marvel of environmental sanity springs from the green-building philosophy of the hotel's owners, PNC Financial Services Group. PNC's campaign to support eco-sensitive design began with a small suburban branch of the bank, and today PNC is building the world's greenest skyscraper blocks away from the Fairmont, set to open in 2015 as the company's world headquarters. But for now, visitors can check out the huge PNC green wall—the largest in North America—located at 5th Avenue and Wood Street.
American cities have for too long turned their backs to their rivers, but Pittsburgh, with three (the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela), has been rediscovering the value of its waterways and the beautiful bridges that cross them. A good way to see this is from a riverboat (the Gateway Clipper fleet offers a good ride), but for landlubbers, a park named The Point is famous as the place where the three rivers converge. You can cool down in the mist from the large ebullient fountain at its heart.
Summer visitors can ride in Green Gear Pedicabs to explore the city's food scene. Places like Habitat (in the Fairmont) and Six Penn Kitchen are making the most of locally produced food. A short cab ride offers more locavore spots like Legume, Cure, and Salt of the Earth. You could say that Pittsburgh is smoking again—but in a completely different and healthier way.
All Port Authority buses have bike racks, and many run on natural gas or are hybrids. The subway is free from downtown to the ball parks and runs under the river.
East of the city is the borough of Braddock, home to Grow Pittsburgh's Braddock Farms, the borough's only source for fresh produce, which is grown organically. Grow Pittsburgh also runs Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh, based on Alice Waters' seed-to-table model, and other good-food projects.
Head north to Springdale to see the Rachel Carson Homestead, where the environmental pioneer was born and lived as a child. Docent-led tours are available by appointment.
Follow the Ohio River 20 miles northwest of downtown to find Old Economy Village in Ambridge. The preserved, original historic village was the 19th-century home of the Harmonists, a Christian communal group. Period-accurate buildings are surrounded by spectacular flower, herb, and vegetable gardens. Horticulturist Dean Sylvester grows his plants organically and composts on a large scale. Catch him on the right day, and he might send you home with a ripe heirloom tomato.
Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine August/September 2013.