Pittsburgh-area residents are more likely to be civically engaged and befriend their neighbors than others in the state and nation, according to a joint new study from programs at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, but their deep attachments to local government stand in the way of large-scale municipal mergers.
People in the Pittsburgh region are 37 percent more likely to trust their neighbors than those nationwide, 46 percent more likely to participate in a religious group and 48 percent more likely to join other groups. They are 37 percent more likely to have contacted a government official than other residents of either the United States or Pennsylvania.
Of course they have more chances to bump into public officials than people who live elsewhere, with 130 municipalities in Allegheny County alone and the General Assembly the largest full-time legislative body in the nation.
"Certainly, given the number of available elected officials (there are over 1,000 local elected officials just in Allegheny County alone), it is reasonable to assume more opportunities exist for that interaction," the Pittsburgh Civic Health Index study said. "This is a considerable strength in the civic health of the Pittsburgh region, and the reasons and implications for these relatively high levels of engagement are worth exploring further."
The 28-page study from CMU's Program for Deliberative Democracy and the Center for Metropolitan Studies at Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs was performed under the umbrella of the National Conference on Citizenship, which the U.S. Congress authorized to produce civic studies in 2009. The local initiative was funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation, and its data is based on polling by Pitt's Urban Center for Social and Urban Research, Temple University and CMU.
Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto is to announce the findings next week.
The study notes that efforts to consolidate Pittsburgh and Allegheny County's governments, which was the subject of a 2008 study by a commission headed by Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, have since been left for dead. Instead the new study recommends pushing other intergovernmental efforts to cooperate, such as those by the Congress of Neighboring Communities, or CONNECT, which seeks to build relationships among the city and its bordering suburbs.
The study calls on local governments to add more resident input into government decision-making on budgets, zoning and planning matters.
Other findings are well-known: The report found residents of southwestern Pennsylvania to be much older than those nationwide and more likely to live in a home they own (and which was built before 1970). The area is not diverse, with a 12.4 percent minority population, compared with 36.3 percent nationwide.
Only 26 percent of local African-American residents said their quality of life was excellent or very good, compared to 54 percent of those in other races. Similarly, 26 percent of African-Americans rated their neighborhood conditions as merely "fair," while only 8 percent of those of other races described their neighborhoods that way.
Tim McNulty: email@example.com or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at www.post-gazette.com/earlyreturns or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns.