Big ideas for Pittsburgh
Share with others:
Abby Wilson is one of the founders of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (www.gluespace.org)
• 1) Think bigger -- and broader. Pittsburgh must connect with and learn from the successes, failures and legacies of cities across the region with similar stories. As Pittsburgh celebrated its 250th anniversary this year, the Great Lakes Urban Exchange took me to almost 20 older industrial cities from New York to Missouri.
Our legacies are more related than we think, and we shouldn't wait until someone lays down high-speed rail from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to prove it. (This is a compelling idea, by the way.)
As individuals, we should seek out our peers in Erie, Buffalo and Milwaukee and compare notes. How are you learning about new companies in your city? Cultural opportunities? Bus schedules? Does your local government return your phone calls? Who is greening, rehabbing, gardening, block watching, integrating, innovating? Can they come to Pittsburgh and tell us about it? Can we come to you and let you know what we've been up to during this messy, multi-decade adaptation-to-a-new global economy thing?
Pittsburgh's civic leadership should make the exchange of ideas across the "Rust Belt" a priority. Kudos to the Regional Learning Network for getting this started.
• 2) Target young voters with a goal of increasing voter turnout by at least 15 percent in municipal elections by 2011, if not next year.
I spent much of Nov. 4 as an election protection foot soldier at University of Pittsburgh polling locations, talking to hundreds of people who were about to vote for the first time. I enthusiastically verified for them that I had never (in all my 29 years) seen so much campus excitement before 8 a.m.
Conventional wisdom might explain away young people's enthusiasm this November as a cockles-of-your-heart-warming but ultimately not-replicable response to a once-in-a-lifetime election. Let's flout that wisdom and find a way to generate a similar level of participation in elections at the local level.
Thousands of students spilled onto Forbes Avenue on election night to advertise their pride to the world. There is much to gain by channeling that energy into a sense of urgency about what is happening right here in Pittsburgh.
Just as our city must stave off population decline to thrive as it once did, our future municipal elections must bring new people to the voting booth. They're ready, and it is our responsibly to show these new civic actors why it's worth their while to show up.
Our physical and cultural landscapes offer a unique opportunity to reinvent Pittsburgh as the "green" city of the future. Our stunning natural topography and rich urban fabric meet in distinctive ways and our challenge is learning how to better integrate these systems -- culturally, politically, physically and economically -- to comprehensively transform our region.
To do this we first need to recognize, inventory and expand upon our distinctive assets. We have expansive green hillsides, woodlands and parks, as well as recovering creeks, runs and rivers. We have a diverse ethnic heritage, along with its living traditions and history. We have creative communities, impressive cultural institutions, architecture and public spaces, and distinctive neighborhoods. Pittsburgh needs to embrace its innovative legacy, putting it to work to green our city.
With an in-depth understanding of our physical and cultural landscape we can build upon our assets and develop integrated solutions. A distributed, green approach to absorb storm water, for example, can do many things at once: minimize costly underground pipe systems and treatment facilities, provide landscape amenities within communities, provide a habitat for birds, and raise nearby property values. Our region should think green, imagining an integrated approach to infrastructure, open space, governance and economic development.
Dick Hadley is the chairman of the Cranberry Township Board of Supervisors (www.twp.cranberry.pa.us).
I think it's fair to say that without Pittsburgh, there wouldn't be a Cranberry Township -- at least not the thriving community we are today. Our proximity to the city has been a huge advantage. Most of our residents, when they travel out of state, say they come from Pittsburgh. Pitt and UPMC are hometown institutions. And on weekends, black and gold is practically everywhere. So the Pittsburgh identity is very strong here.
By the same token, it's also fair to say that without Cranberry and the dozens of other suburban and exurban communities here in Western Pennsylvania, there wouldn't be a Pittsburgh, either -- at least not the major-league metropolitan area we see today. As the nation's 59th most populous city -- right behind Aurora, Colo. -- it would be impossible for Pittsburgh alone to support the vibrant mix of business and cultural institutions that define today's Pittsburgh experience.
Back when Pittsburgh and Cranberry were founded, intergovernmental cooperation was no big deal; after all, our lives had little connection. But now they do. So transcending our boundaries and finding ways to coordinate our actions to benefit the entire region have emerged as the 21st century's preeminent challenge for Western Pennsylvania.
With a new national administration coming in and bringing fresh ideas about engaging with the world, Pittsburgh has an opportunity like never before to develop positive ties to the Middle East and overcome fearful or stereotypical perceptions about that region. Pittsburgh's leading industries and technologies, along with its world class educational and cultural institutions, can provide a basis for branding Pittsburgh in the Middle East in a much greater way.
Why shouldn't Pittsburgh's outreach to that part of the world serve as the template for how an industrious, forward-thinking American city can create partnerships, collaborations and exchanges on a broad scale?
Connections that create mutual economic and social benefit -- employing what's sometimes called "soft diplomacy" or "smart power" -- have no equal when it comes to building trust and understanding.
Let's have our famous Pittsburgh Symphony go to the region and bring businesses along with them on a grand tour. Let's foster more forums to share knowledge about the Middle East. Let's increase our student exchanges. Let's have local businesses mentor students from the Middle East from the moment they arrive at our universities. Let's have businesses with operations in, say, Cairo or Dubai mentor other businesses contemplating doing business in the Middle East. And while we're at it, let's get a direct flight from Pittsburgh to the Middle East to accommodate all the increased exchanges.
The potential for building goodwill and economic well-being is endless. Share your ideas with us at pittsburghmideastinstitute.org.
As one who moved away from Pittsburgh and returned in the mid-'80s, I have concerns about my hometown and region. I wonder why it seems that only a few have a passion for really shaking things up around here. Where is the excellence and pride in our city? It appears that too few of those in positions to effect change aspire to true greatness. Why not try to be the best small city in America?
We can only get there by taking a critical look at every detail and situation and strive to improve it, and I mean everyone. There appears to be a malaise that permeates this area and I wonder: Why don't people get up every day and explore new ways to enhance the vitality of our city? I'm talking mostly about the people who should be shaking things up -- our leaders, both public and private.
While there are quite a number of developments that could help us move forward, the smaller developers and investors will be ones who fill the gaps. The problem is that it is very difficult for this type of developer to navigate the myriad of city departments that allow a development to proceed profitably and on a timely basis. A commitment from the city to approve building plans in weeks rather than months would be helpful, as would consistency in building-code compliance, both of which would minimize unforeseen costs of construction.
The good news is that we're closer than we have been in years, but we cannot rest until we fulfill our potential.
Claudia Ardiles, an Argentinian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen this year, is a mental-health therapist (email@example.com).
As a parent of two active children my wish for the Pittsburgh region is to create more recreational centers in the neighborhoods or multi-purpose/sports facilities so that children can have more organized and free-play opportunities. The long winter months can hinder healthy, active lifestyles. We want our children to avoid the lifelong pain of obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, but we don't have enough indoor places to help them burn off their abundant energy. Let's make Pittsburgh a better place by starting with the welfare of our children.
Angeles Lopez Portillo de Stiteler is a retired professor of Spanish for Seton Hill University and volunteers to help Latinos settle into the Pittsburgh area (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As the interpreter for a young Latino family who had registered little Jose in the pre-school program in Homestead, I received a call from one of the pre-school teachers telling me that Jose could not attend school because his parents were undocumented. Are you going to punish the child for his parent's judgment , I asked?
Later, a teacher who teaches young immigrants reminded me that, according to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe, undocumented children and young adults have the right to attend public primary and secondary schools. I called Jose's school principal to inform her of this and she was shocked at the pre-school teacher's comments. How could she, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants deny a child his education?
Pittsburgh has so much to offer. As a volunteer, I have noticed the respect that people, both documented and undocumented, receive in places like the Lincoln-Lemington Health Clinic in Homewood. Others, such as the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and the Carnegie Museum of Art, also are beginning to help Latino children. The clinic plans to start a Spanish-speaking support center for families and the museum, thanks to a private donation, will offer art lessons to immigrant children.
Doctors, lawyers, churches, hospitals (Children's, Magee, UPMC) have helped Latinos, as well. The Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network works toward immigration reform. Father Dan Vallecorsa and Sister Janice Vanderneck from St. Regis/St. Hyacinth Parish remind us of our humanity and responsibility to those who are only trying to make a living. Sister Janice has talked to various officials. Pittsburgh can not become a Hazelton that shuns or seeks to keep out immigrants!
What is my vision of Pittsburgh's future? A more beautiful and vibrant city thanks to its accepting inclusion of different people. By the way, little Jose has been growing up. He now feels like an American and prefers to speak English.
First Published November 23, 2008 12:00 am