Advocacy group addresses URA's neighborhood acts

Calls for consensus with black residents

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A group calling itself Pittsburgh for Trayvon delivered a bouquet of flowers and a list of demands to the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority board Thursday, challenging the agency to "stop its campaign of economic violence against black neighborhoods."

In a statement made at the board meeting and in talking to reporters afterwards, the group called upon the URA to use its power and resources "to improve our communities by building authentic relationships with the people who live there" and to be more mindful of the impact city-led developments can have on people's lives.

"You will no longer experiment with Pittsburgh like our lives are a game of Monopoly, displacing black people over and over and over again," the group said in a statement posted on its website.

The group, formed after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, also protested outside of city council chambers and at the courthouse last month. It has delivered its demands to council and councilman Bill Peduto, the Democratic mayoral nominee who is heavily favored to win the general election. It tried but was not successful in handing a list of its demands to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Among the demands, the group is asking for the halt of any development in black neighborhoods that doesn't include community consensus or benefit as determined by the residents themselves and the financial and technical support needed for community-directed development.

It also is demanding that all development in black neighborhoods directly benefit those communities and that the city "actively support the creation of black economic initiatives through policy, funding and other resources."

One of the members of the group, Joy KMT of McKeesport, said the URA needs to show "genuine concern" for residents and their problems, adding that their woes "don't magically go away when you put a Target in a community."

The group also is calling for the elimination of so-called food deserts in the city and access to fresh and healthy food. Bekezela Mguni of Wilkinsburg said the URA should be doing more to try to establish groceries in those areas. She said many black residents now have to take public transit to get to stores and that such transportation is becoming increasingly expensive.

URA board members defended the agency's work afterward.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, a URA board member, said he was "very perplexed" by the group's statements, characterizing them as "misfacts and distortions."

He said the URA in recent years has spent more money in and made greater economic commitments to black communities such as the Hill District and Homewood than at any other time in its history. The URA, he said, has helped to build libraries, housing and other developments in communities like the North Side, the Hill District and Homewood.

The group's claims, he added, were "contrary to everything we've been attempting to do." Nonetheless, he said he is willing to meet with group members to discuss their concerns.

While the group bemoaned the lack of citizen participation in economic ventures, URA board member R. Daniel Lavelle, a city councilman who represents the Hill, said that if anything, the agency spends too much time trying to build neighborhood consensus for proposed development.

The group's appearance came the same day the URA board voted to seek a $30 million grant under the new federal Choice Neighborhoods program to make another largely minority neighborhood, Larimer, a "community of choice" by building new housing, attracting new business, enhancing infrastructure, and implementing environmentally sustainable programs like urban farming.

"Larimer is a great example of the exact opposite of [the group's complaints] and something we've done all over the city," URA board chairman Yarone Zober said.


Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.


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