A Luke legacy: Let 'Love Your Block' rock on

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There are many things to lament as the Ravenstahl era limps to a close. A few things to celebrate, too -- but first, the laments. Chief of these would be the squandered opportunity -- more the mayor's than Pittsburgh's.

Whatever your politics -- and in this city's milieu of Democratic fun-house mirrors, there's really no telling, from mere labels, what your politics might be, since politics doesn't make strange bedfellows so much as it makes for ever-changing bedfellows ...

But as I was saying, whoever your bedfellows, I bet you felt a little surge of excitement when the newly inaugurated Luke Ravenstahl represented the 'Burgh on "Late Night with David Letterman" in September 2006. He was deemed guest material as one of the youngest-ever mayors of a major American city.

And just like that, we got to remind everyone that Pittsburgh is in fact still a major American city.

We also got the chance to update Pittsburgh's image. We're not old and smoky or, worse, rusting from inactivity. No, like our new mayor, we're young, college-educated and forward-thinking.

It was the launch of a new era, something we'd been inching toward for years. But now that's not proving true.

Despite the mayor's youth -- or maybe because of it -- the Ravenstahl administration turned out to be regrettably old-school. Perhaps because he inherited his office too soon for his good or ours, the mayor had only a small circle of allies, dominated by those who do things the old way: thug-style.

The sausage-making of this political faction has been unusually mean, petty and inept. And in spite of that assessment, I take no pleasure in the mayor's personal travails.

It's undoubtedly best for Pittsburgh that our new reality of eds, meds and everything "green" has reached maturity without being closely associated with any single leader. This way, our post-steel reinvention can withstand an individual's foibles and misfortunes.

That said, there's a particularly fine Ravenstahl program I hope his successor -- virtually certain to be Bill Peduto -- will carry forward. It's called "Love Your Block," and it's part of the "servePGH" initiative that dates from just before the mayor's last electoral victory.

Every mayor launches his own programs and rebrands perennial efforts. Today's "Green-Up" program is an extension of Bob O'Connor's "Redd-Up" effort, which followed Tom Murphy's "Pittsburgh is Picking Up."

And who can forget the Masloff era's ill-advised decision to play off a popular film with "Sophie's Choice ... A Clean Pittsburgh"? (Someone forgot that the "choice" was a mother's wrenching decision in a Nazi death camp.)

Mayor-apparent Mr. Peduto will put his own stamp on things, but I hope he'll adopt Mr. Ravenstahl's servePGH.

Actually, Mr. Ravenstahl adopted it, too, since its source is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- part of his "Cities of Service" program to inspire and coordinate volunteer energies to address municipal problems.

The effort is a tacit acknowledgment that public money is limited and that there are things private citizens know more about than city bureaucrats do.

"Love Your Block" is the perfect example of this. My North Side community group just won its third LYB grant -- the application is no longer pending -- so I'm free to tell you what a difference it has made.

The neighborhood groups decide and plan what their community needs -- a new green space, window boxes for every house on a block, a fresh look for some tired commercial buildings -- and a committee convened by the mayor's Neighborhood Initiatives office picks the winning applications.

The Home Depot Foundation provides a $1,000 gift card for whatever supplies and equipment each winning project needs, and it's up to the applicants to assemble the volunteers and get the work done.

While the funds and muscle are private, the city dispatches various departments to pick up trash, remove graffiti or, as in our neighborhood's second LYB project, to move two trees, grade two lots, dig 1,000 square feet of planting beds and provide topsoil.

Our new "Teutonia Platz" -- here in what we call East Deutschtown -- wouldn't have happened without the city's galvanizing leadership and a very generous public works assist (worth at least $3,000, we figure).

We pulled together another $14,000 in donated money and services, so the $1,000 Home Depot grant has leveraged a lot more value. And it has allowed private citizens to say, "This is a smart place to invest limited resources."

That's very smart government. We need more of the same, no matter who's in charge.

ruthanndailey

Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com.


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