In 1907 some of the world’s preeminent social scientists embarked on what would become the most comprehensive and impactful study of urban life in the history of our country. The Russell Sage Foundation of New York City funded the Pittsburgh Survey of 1907. The Foundation was a philanthropic fund designed to identify the challenges of urban life and reform city government in a progressive direction to address these challenges head on. The voluminous results of the Pittsburgh Survey were compiled in four books and became a blueprint for the ills of early 20th century urban life and how to solve them. The Survey exposed rampant government corruption, deplorable working conditions in the early factories and mills, poor living conditions for most working-class families, inadequate water and sanitation, and deep divisions among ethnic communities that led to mistrust and exclusion. The conditions exposed by the Survey played a major role in the political activism that led to the hard-won reforms of the Progressive Era and the enactment of labor laws, government reforms, and our social safety nets.
The Housing Authority of Pittsburgh controls nearly 6,000 public housing units and administers more than 6,000 Section 8 vouchers throughout the City of Pittsburgh. Our Housing Authority was the first created in Pennsylvania and one of the first in the nation. Many of the units and communities were constructed many years ago and are badly in need of modernization and better service provision. A recent independent audit revealed some serious concerns about how contracts are awarded by the authority and how services are provided. Public housing residents should not have to live in substandard conditions. They should not have to wait for an audit to see improvement in their communities.
Pittsburgh has always been a patchwork of neighborhoods since the early days of industry and immigration. Neighborhoods like Polish Hill, Bloomfield, Brighton Heights, and the Hill became ethnic enclaves where new immigrants came to settle near relatives and strong cultural identities took hold. As industry and immigration have evolved and changed, neighborhoods across the city have changed with them. As neighborhoods like Lawrenceville, East Liberty, and the Central Northside are seeing development booms and many new residents moving in. We need to start thinking about how to preserve a diverse, mixed-income population in these neighborhoods and make sure that longtime residents are not priced out. As development spreads to other neighborhoods that haven’t seen it in many years, it will be critical to develop strategies to ensure that new housing is accessible to people of all income levels and that we are neither concentrating poverty nor concentrating wealth.
Our permit parking system for residential neighborhoods was developed in the 1980s and is long overdue for an overhaul. As more large institutions and job centers move into areas bordering residential neighborhoods residential parking pressures have increased and longtime residents are fighting for neighborhood parking with commuters. We want to make the city viable for increased economic development and job growth. We also need to find better ways to preserve parking for long-time neighborhood residents. If we’re going to fix this issue, we need 21st century solutions. The one-size fits all residential permit parking system currently being employed is not working for everyone. Neighborhoods throughout the city have different needs, and a cookie-cutter RPP program does everyone a disservice.
In the 2010 Census, Pittsburgh saw an across the board population increase of 22% for young residents between the ages of 20 and 24. Our median age decreased from about 35 years old to about 32 years old. And we welcomed thousands of young new residents to our neighborhoods; many who came from larger cities to take advantage of the lower cost of living and job opportunities here. We know that young people don’t just want trendy coffee shops and artist lofts, they want the same things all residents want: safe communities, vibrant business districts, and solid public transportation. New residents can be powerful growth engines for the city, and we need to find opportunities to attract new residents to move in, get college students to stay, and encourage kids who grew up in Pittsburgh to move back and be a part of our city’s future.
One of the most incredible technological advances of the past decade is the ability to simultaneously communicate with thousands of people via text message or a smart phone app. Agencies of the federal government, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, utilize free smart phone apps to keep citizens informed about issues ranging natural disasters to the daily weather forecast. Smart phone apps provide easy, immediate access to information and can play an important role in alerting citizens to everything from traffic conditions to school closings. The City of Pittsburgh should offer a free smart phone app that will keep residents, commuters, and visitors informed. And we should go even further by enabling this app to provide two-way communication so residents can report neighborhood issues such as potholes, illegal parking, or graffiti.
The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority’s EPA-mandated wet weather plan calls for spending nearly $3 billion dollars over the next 10 to 20 years in order to reduce the pollutants that flow into our rivers after every rainstorm. This project represents the largest and most disruptive infrastructure undertaking in the City of Pittsburgh in our lifetimes. And ratepayers are going to bear the brunt of the costs, with rates going up as much as 200 to 300% for City of Pittsburgh residents. The current ALCOSAN proposal calls for the construction of massive concrete holding tanks under our rivers and an expansion of the ALCOSAN sewage treatment plant. Our polluted rivers are a serious problem that must be addressed but we have other problems, like flooding in our neighborhoods and erosion of our hillsides, that this plan does not address. If we are going to spend this much money and ask ratepayers to contribute more every month, this plan has to be reconsidered and we have to work to ensure that the community benefits flow from this massive investment of public resources. We can use this as an opportunity to green our neighborhoods, create good jobs, and alleviate flooding in our neighborhoods.
The Lower Hill District is set to undergo a radical transformation over the next decade. The proposed development of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site is just one part of that transformation. If done in the best interest of the community, this could spur new development throughout the Hill District. Regardless of the changes, over the next decade we know a lot of people are going to be parking their cars in the Hill District. The temporary parking lots at the former arena site and those provided to patrons of the Consol Energy Center represent thousands of cars and thousands of dollars in revenue. The vast majority of this revenue goes to the Pittsburgh Penguins who operate the parking lots. The Hill Consensus Group, recognizing that this parking is not going away and that it is a significant source of revenue for the Penguins, believes the residents and business owners in the Hill should share in that prosperity. They have proposed a plan called A Dollar A Car that would direct some of that revenue to address the real needs of the community. I endorse this plan and, as Mayor, I will work with the Hill Consensus Group and other stakeholders to ensure it’s effectively implemented.
Our neighborhood schools are the anchors of our communities. They are the places where our children spend a great deal of their time, they are community centers where our neighborhood organizations gather, they are event spaces where we come together to celebrate the arts, and they are economic attractors that can bring in small businesses and development opportunities. Unfortunately population decline over the past several decades and funding cuts at the state level have shuttered many of our neighborhood schools and turned these former assets into empty shells in the heart of our neighborhoods. Recognizing that these population shifts are real and that resources are scarce we have to find innovative new ways to keep our neighborhood schools open without bankrupting our entire school system.
Efforts will make Beechview a destination not a shortcut
Pittsburgh Mayoral candidate Bill Peduto will be joined by other elected officials to announce a joint effort to complete community-based development plans.