New city plan is more than just all talk

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Public meetings are boring. Avoid them if you can.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan used to entertain me by singing "Bored at the URA" to the tune of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" whenever we both found ourselves sentenced to covering an Urban Redevelopment Authority board meeting.

That knowledge may be the best way to explain why a customized truck has spent the past three weeks hitting each of the city's 90 neighborhoods, a veritable talk show on wheels.

Rather than ask residents to come to meetings, TALKPGH has been coming to them. During April some 270 residents have climbed inside a glass-paneled vehicle to get miked up and talk one-on-one about what they love and don't love about their slice of the city.

All that footage will get whittled down to six 15-minute episodes, geographically arranged, for talkpgh.com.

"We want them to live online," said Morton Brown, the city's public art manager. (Who even knew we had one?)

That's not this project's primary purpose, however. Mr. Brown and the rest of the planning department are in the midst of developing a comprehensive plan for the city, and these talks should help them get that right.

The truck pulled into my Allegheny West neighborhood on the North Side on Wednesday afternoon, and I was invited to climb out of the rain and into one of the traveling seats. It was way less painful than a dental appointment -- and quicker, too.

I talked about the good things I've seen happen over the past 20 years in the neighborhood I love. If they get 30 usable seconds out of that, I'll have done my job.

The crew told me that the comments have been, fittingly enough, all over the map. Some residents have wanted to talk about violence on their streets. Some have wanted to talk about how great their new coffee shop is. But there has been one dominant theme:

"Everybody thinks they have the best view of the city," said Nathaniel Robinson, the sound mixer.

The planners will take these interviews and every community plan they can find and weave them into an urban design plan. Anyone -- even noncity residents -- can go to www.planpgh.com and comment as well.

The city can't quite get away from public meetings, though. "Art + Design" workshops have been going on all week, too, in the Hill District, Oakland and East Liberty the past three days and the West End Overlook Shelter from 4 to 7 p.m. today. They'll be in the Children's Museum on the North Side on Monday and the Mount Washington Senior Center on Tuesday, same times.

"None of us are interested in making the entire city a historic district," Mr. Brown said, and they don't want to add any review processes.

But city officials hope to come up with a reasonably flexible plan so developers and new homeowners know what's expected when they arrive. That might save them time and money while giving the neighborhoods they're in something for which to be proud.

"Come and tell us what yinz think!" the flyer declares.

I'm told folks can arrive any time at one of these 4-to-7 p.m. meetings, rotate through three 20-minute workshops, and be done with it all in an hour. So right there it beats any URA meeting in the history of man.

brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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