Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy addressed Sacramento business and city leaders on Wednesday. His talk, which addressed how to “Adapt Cities for the Future,” highlighted the importance of ambitiously investing for the future and embracing holistic development to transform Sacramento into a city of the 21st century.

His experience as a three-term Mayor of Pittsburgh created the basis of much of his speech. During the 12 years he was in office, he oversaw more than $4 billion worth of investments in his city, as well as a $1.2 billion sports and convention complex that would eventually house Heinz Field, PNC Park, and the nation’s largest Green Certified building. That construction happened simultaneously.

Murphy said that the decision to undertake such an ambitious agenda surprised many. “People looked at me like I was crazy,” Murphy recounted. But broad ambition allowed projects that seemed unrelated benefit mutually.

That kind of holistic, non-transactional revitalization was precisely what Murphy said could enable cities to reinvent themselves, emerging from the current recession ready for the future.

When Tom Murphy was elected Mayor of Pittsburg, the city was facing a crisis. They had lost hundreds of thousands of residents; steel mills (which had previously defined the city’s image) were idle, vacant, and rusting; and the city was broke. Using public-private partnerships and an ambitious redevelopment agenda, the city began a two-decade process of reinvention.

In California, and Sacramento in particular, municipalities are undertaking ambitious redevelopment agendas. Sacramento is hoping to turn an abandoned rail yard into a sports and entertainment complex, anchored around a new arena for the Sacramento Kings.

But Murphy would describe that sectional-approach as transactional revitalization, which forfeits the full potential of regional development.

“It’s a question of how everything fits together,” Murphy said, “and how it feeds off each other… A city is built by a strategy. Sacramento has opportunities in the railroad, along the riverfront, to shape a glorious city. If you do it transactionally, you lose the opportunity to connect projects.”

In Pittsburg, the sports corridor, which is home to the Pirates’ stadium and the Steelers’ stadium provides both facilities and opportunities for people to visit the adjacent arts and cultural corridor. Sports venues have actually provided a boost to the ballet and symphony.

Now, those corridors have led to more than $400 million in private real estate development.

In Sacramento, the city has used redevelopment funds to drive the rebirth of the “JKL Corridor.” The area, in the shadow of the Capitol Dome, was intended to be an outdoor, pedestrian downtown, with storefront displays and a variety of restaurants. Instead, many of the window displays show only vacant and for rent signs.

Connecting new development and revitalization could provide the boom to Sacramento’s downtown that could help lift Sacramento to its goal of becoming a “World Class City.”

It’s a concept that Mayor Kevin Johnson discussed in his State of the City Address.

Murphy’s plan to reinvent the city wasn’t popular when introduced. With a city nearly broke and a cost of more than $1 billion, Murphy faced an uphill battle. But now he says that sentiments have turned.

“We went from being a city in full-scale collapse…to now being ranked by The Economist magazine as the most livable city in the United States.”

It was during its economic and social challenges that Pittsburg made the bold decisions.

“In some ways, the collapse was a blessing because it forced us to address issues that we had to deal with,” said Murphy. “

This recession, difficult and tragic in many ways, is a wake up call. Do we want to go back to what we were, or do we want to shape ourselves into a new city?”

Murphy said that the answer to that question will come from bold decisions on a regional scale, because the lines between cities linked economically are largely imaginary.

“Bold decisions aren’t made incrementally. It isn’t a question of building a bridge. It’s the value that it creates. And that value isn’t the traffic it moves, but the real estate it opens for development on both sides.”