In August 2013, thanks to the generosity of over 90 different Pittsburgh lovers from around the US who donated to my crowdfunding campaign, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Millennial Trans Project. A cross-country journey by rail to explore innovation and communities across the us.
This trip gave me the opportunity to share my love of Pittsburgh with my fellow MTP passengers, mentors, and the national media who joined us on the trip. Most importantly, I returned to the Steel City filled with ideas, inspiration, and a lot of learning from the stops along the way. I have many stories to share but this is my attempt to summarize some of the themes from the trip that apply to Pittsburgh…
Five Things I Brought Back to Pittsburgh From My Cross Country Train Trip
1. Pittsburgh Needs More Third Places
Each day that we were not on the train and in a city we worked out of a local workspace. The ‘hub’ for the first day of the trip in San Francisco was [freespace] , a temporary community space that was set up in a warehouse on Market Street in San Francisco. Mike Zuckerman who is one of the founders of [freespace] joined us on the train from San Francisco to Denver and shared more of the successes that came from creating a free indoor third place. One of the biggest themes of the trip was the importance of public spaces, both informal spaces like [freespace] or coffee shops and more formal spaces like coworking spaces, are for people to come together to share ideas and collaborate. Pittsburgh needs more third places that facilitate strangers coming together around shared ideas, projects, and causes. Other third places we visited include…
- Denver – TAXI, a live-work complex which has shipping container swimming pool
- Denver – Galvanize, a coworking space
- Omaha – The Kaneko, a gallery and arts community space in a the warehouse district
- Chicago – 1871, a coworking space in the Merchandise Mart
The theme of place was further highlighted during the afternoon we spent with architect Travis Price, who conducted a place-making workshop with us in Denver.
2. Innovation Beyond Startups
Before the train trip, all most all of my conversations about innovation were in the context of startups. The MTP trip offered a look at innovation across sectors. Throughout the trip, we heard from nonprofits and organizations working on the need for more innovation in their spheres and in community building. Some of my favorite speakers from the trip on the topic of innovation…
- Elizabeth Gore, Resident Entrepreneur at United Nations Foundation discussed the Nothing But Nets campaign that provided an innovative partnership between professional sports and providing nets to fight malaria, which is a leading cause of death among children in Africa.
- Ann Trumble, Founder and President of Emerging Terrain a design collaborative in Omaha. Ann presented on the Stored Potential project which transformed grain silos, which are passed by 76,000 commuters each day, into a community art installation. The kick-off for the project was a massive 500 person dinner party, where guess were seated at an 800 foot table.
Ann Trumble’s TEDxOmaha’s talk – Preserving Obsolescence
3. The Value of Breaking (Good) Bread Together
A typical day on the train ended with a brief lecture by the mentors followed by a meal prepared by our chefs. While the lectures were fascinating, the meal following the lecture was just as important to the talk. Incredible conversations happen when people sit down and break bread together. Sharing quality food (all of the food was sourced locally at each stop) and being on a train that was often out of cell-phone reception created an environment for really engaging in conversation and sharing ideas. I would like to find ways to create more opportunities for Pittsburghers to share a good meal and authentic conversation. (Who wants to help me plan a 500 person dinner party in Pittsburgh?!?)
4. Lets Talk About Leadership Training
One of the parts of the MTP trip that I wasn’t expecting but really appreciated was the the Pioneers Journey leadership training sessions that we participated in each day. The Pioneers Journey is a leadership training program that was built for the Millennial Trains Project trip with the help of Dr. Max Klau who is the Vice President of Leadership Development at City Year. While I am excited about many of the opportunities that Pittsburgh is providing for young people and entrepreneurs, I am eager to find more ways for thoughtful discussion and sharing best practices of leadership here in our city. I was inspired by the MTP leadership training to attend the StartingBloc Institute last February in Los Angeles. Over the summer the Executive Director of StartingBloc, Cesar Gonzalez, came to Pittsburgh to host a mini workshop based on the book Give and Take by Adam Grant.
5. Pittsburghers need to talk about Pittsburgh outside of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has continued to receive attention from the national press about our sandwiches, sports teams and being a great place to live, but we are still just off the radar for most people. I know from both my experience with the Millennial Trains Project and StartingBloc, that we need to make sure that Pittsburghers have a seat at the table and share the stories of the great things that are happening in this city.