Sunday, October 03, 2004

Are you reading, Mayor Murphy

Instead of focusing solely on Downtown, Rachel Rue of the RAND Corp. argues that city leaders and civic organizations should focus their redevelopment efforts on all of Pittsburgh's 91 neighborhoods. Those are what make Pittsburgh unique, Rue argues, not a big department store or a new stadium:

An alternative model of city planning and development would conceive of planning as taking place in and through the neighborhoods. Neighborhood development corporations, which already exist in many neighborhoods, would have a strong role in setting priorities and coordinating efforts within neighborhoods.

City planners would coordinate the collection of neighborhood plans, developing strategies to connect neighborhoods to each other and to the rivers, and thinking about how their different characters and assets complement each other. The Central Business District would be thought of as one of the neighborhoods -- centrally important and dominant, but still only one of 91.

This model has several advantages. Most notably, the residents and business owners in a neighborhood typically know better than anyone else what needs attention and what kinds of changes will benefit them. For example, if you don't live on the South Side Slopes, it is unlikely to have crossed your mind until recently that the many flights of sidewalk steps lacing the hills need maintenance at a minimum, and at best could be made into a positive attraction.

The sidewalk steps are relics of Pittsburgh's past. There are many others -- old buildings with the remnants of extraordinary architectural character under dilapidated surfaces. These buildings can often be restored with a relatively small investment of funds and a significant contribution of community energy and individual elbow grease.

Part of the problem is that there isn't as much apparent glory for politicians in repairing sidewalks and the facades of the small businesses that dot neighborhood business districts as there is in opening a big department store or stadium. And many of our political and corporate leaders will blanch at the phrase "relics of Pittsburgh's past." They are ashamed of the city's past, and think that is what holds her back. In fact, it is not the past that haunts us but the present--a present full of failed leadership and bankrupt ideas.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heresy from RAND! You can't get giant contributions from developers if you concentrate on small projects in 91 neighborhoods! And how are you going to shake down DC and Harrisburg for Community Development Block Grants if you do the small stuff? Get real, dude!

5:38 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I stand corrected.

5:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you know, J, the last Democratic mayoral primary was a referendum on this very issue: Do you swing for the home run (stadia, South Side shopping malls but no parking, $55 million subsidies for small residential and no-tax-gain rental property on Washington's Landing, mixed-use but fewer housing slots for impoverished Hill District residents at the Hope VI projects)? Or try to hit singles, concentrating on all neighborhoods and increasing the quality of life for everyone?

The issue has been one of choices. Do you tear down drug dens and clean up the abandoned properties that breeds rats and crime? Or do you invest your staff energy wooing Lazarus?

Do you use ED to seize businesses owned by middle-class investors in poor neighborhoods (Manchester, North Side, Hill District, Homewood, South Side) or do you repair sidewalks and fill in pot holes?

City voters chose Murphy. They chose large bond issues for big ticket items, domain seizures of private property and shrinking tax revenues caused by abandoned buildings. They chose generous doles for the Steelers and the Pirates and crumbling infrastructure for residents.

They chose, not Murphy, or Sala, or DPW or URA. The voters of Pittsburgh chose.

Now let them get their bellies stuffed full of it. You wanted, voters, eat it all.

But don't ask me to pay for it.

5:35 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

As a city resident--one who was not a resident during the last mayoral election--I agree that suburbanites should not have to pay for the city's folly. This was not inevitable.

7:16 PM


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