PITTSBURGH -- Late last year, residents of Pittsburgh's Bloomfield and Oakland neighborhoods found signs posted around their streets that warned of a world in which self-driving cars destroy local communities.
"Automation smothers natural beauty and awe," said one.
The posters were unsigned, but all sported the same symbol: the word "Uber" circled with a line through it.
Although many locals see Uber as a symbol of Pittsburgh's turnaround from an ailing former steel town to an up-and-coming tech hub, others resent the company's unwillingness to assimilate to the city's distinctive community, and the company has faced public protests and labor organizing efforts.
At first, Pittsburgh and Uber seemed like a great match. Pittsburgh has lots of talented robotics engineers, and Uber was looking to develop its self-driving car program and needed the brains to do that. The ride-hailing giant quickly made itself at home in the city, starting with a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University announced in February 2015 and the official opening of its Advanced Technologies Center later that year. Last September, Uber's self-driving test vehicles were on Pittsburgh roads, a development that turned heads at first but soon became a new normal, according to residents.
But Pittsburgh was hoping Uber would become a strong civic partner, much like the companies that had invested in the city when it was trying to revive itself after the exodus of the steel industry. Instead, Pittsburgh has been left feeling jilted, and is regrouping to make sure its future corporate relationships have spelled-out boundaries and expectations.
The city has come a long way since the collapse of the steel industry, said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and giving one company too much free rein without giving anything back to the people could reverse much of that progress.
"When we are willing to allow our public rights of ways to be used for the profit of a private company, there needs to be an understanding that we have visions for the city that can help enhance it for the people who live here," Peduto said. "What we expect is that those companies will be partners with us."