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.
Code for America is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2009 to help cities modernize their operations and take advantage of new technology to increase transparency and accountability and provide new models of citizen engagement. Through the Code for America Fellows program, young programmers and developers are placed within city governments around the country to work directly with the Mayor’s office and the staff of city departments. In addition to the Fellows program, Code for America also provides seed funding to startup tech companies and runs the Code for America Brigade program, which places staff within community organizations to help build their capacity and increase their use of technology. Dozens of cities across the country have taken advantage of this unique program and it’s time for Pittsburgh to become the next Code for America city.
Pittsburgh’s tech and start up universe is rich and diverse and has been a major driver of our economic stability and growth over the past decade. However, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies have shown Pittsburgh lagging in new job creation, especially in high-tech industries. The city has to be a strong partner with our emerging industries and work hand-in-hand to ensure that they are getting the public and private resources and opportunities they need to be successful. One of the best ways to do this is create new business incubators that provide the transitional space and resources for young firms in a collaborative, cooperative environment where they can learn from one another and from established firms in related fields. The idea is not to try to force innovation to happen where it is not already happening but to nurture organic startups and provide a bridge from start up to successful company.
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.
Building financial literacy is one of the best ways that government can help people work their way out of poverty and debt and begin to build a sustainable financial foundation for themselves and their families. There are many programs available at the state and federal levels to aid low- and moderate-income families with their finances but it can often be difficult to find out about them or gain access to them. Many cities across the country have pulled all of these resources together into physical locations where people can go to learn more about them and to take advantage of them. There are already a few great nonprofit groups in Pittsburgh doing bits and pieces of this work and I would like to work with them to pull together everything under one roof and help connect them to the people who need these services the most. I will create Financial Empowerment Centers in Pittsburgh that help people take advantage of these important opportunities.
Pittsburgh’s Summer Youth Employment Program provides paid job opportunities for several hundred Pittsburgh youth each year. The program gives kids an opportunity to gain some real-world work experience, make a bit of money, and make connections with employers and other youth. The program is a joint venture of the City of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and corporate sponsors and allows kids between the ages of 14 and 21 to apply to participate. The Summer Youth Employment Program is a fantastic partnership and something that we absolutely must continue to support. However, I would like to bring in a more diverse set of site partners and allow kids to enter a broader field of summer jobs that will better prepare them for the kinds of jobs that are available in our region. We must expand the program to provide kids exposure to jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
April is the annual Month of the Young Child, a month each year when we should reflect on the ways that local government can support families with young children to build the foundations they need for healthy successful lives. One of the most critical interventions government can make is in the provision of high-quality early childhood education. There are more than 10,000 children in Pittsburgh between the ages of one and five, yet less than half of them are being provided with any form of early childhood education. Of that portion a much smaller percentage are being educated in facilities rated STAR 3 or 4, the highest levels of quality under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS program. We know that children who receive high-quality early childhood education are happier, healthier, and are set on a path to a more secure future. We know that early childhood education works –- for both kids and our society. Studies show that for every dollar spent on quality early childhood education, we save up to $17 later on. It is time to work together to offer every child in Pittsburgh the opportunity to succeed. It is time to make sure our kids are on the path to become Promise-ready by age five.
When you call the city asking to report an issue, whether it is that pothole on your street that keeps getting bigger or that abandoned car that has been on your block for a year you expect action in a reasonable amount of time. That’s what your tax dollars should be paying for, after all. The city, through our 311 system, receives tens of thousands of requests every year and I want to make sure that every one of those requests is addressed quickly and efficiently. Our system has the potential to be something great and we have the ingenuity in Pittsburgh to make our complaint response line the best in the country. However, it will take dedicated energy from the Mayor’s office to accomplish this.
Encouraging pedestrians to get out and walk their neighborhoods is one of the best ways to increase public health, keep eyes on our streets, and keep our neighborhood business districts vibrant. However, most of our way-finding and place-making infrastructure is geared toward drivers, is outdated, and was created in a top-down manner without much input from residents and community groups. We should gear our way-finding tools to appeal to and support pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers. These tools should help find innovative ways to get residents and neighborhoods involved to promote local attractions and businesses and to create a stronger, more vibrant, human-scale city.
Pittsburgh has a proud tradition of small, independently owned businesses. Our business districts are lined with start-ups and small businesses providing critical services to our neighborhoods. However, Pittsburgh lags behind the national average in the number of small business start-ups – the businesses that tend to create the most local jobs and economic opportunity. We should find ways to make it easier to start a business in Pittsburgh by providing a centralized information clearinghouse where anyone who is interested in starting a business can find all of the resources they need.