What do these little towns need?

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Mar 12 2013 at 2:32pm #

But back to Stu’s OP – what are some ideas for reviving these small towns?


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Mar 12 2013 at 2:36pm #

50K in income, at McCandless’s (and nearly everyone else’s) 1% earned income tax rate, is $500; $1,500 at the City’s 3% rate. The difference is $1,000 at a $50K income. Thus, moving out of the city to beat the income tax, every cent beyond $1,000 you spend on transportation puts you back, not forward.

I just committed $1,608.75, the cost of a Zone 2 annual bus pass. That’s my “second car”. What would anyone’s second car cost — and I mean total cost of ownership, per year — be? Payments. Insurance. Gasoline, Repairs. Parking. Car washes. Whatever. That is going to cost you > $1,608.75. If I lived inside city limits, I might only need a Zone 1 pass, at $1,072.50. Again at that $50K income, taxes take me down $1K, but I save $536.25 on the bus fare, so I’m only $463.75 back. But maybe if I lived in the city, I wouldn’t need that *first* car. A bike and bus might do. Tack on $500 or so for Zipcar membership and occasional usage (users, help me out here, I’m guessing).

One thing that makes life in the little towns difficult, I contend, is the cars. Who in Aspinwall or West View or the Woods Run part of the city, really needs three cars? How many actually do that? I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s done. I know of three-car families in Squirrel Hill, a place just crawling with buses.

But really, re PAT, I wish people would stop complaining about transit and just start using it. Despite its dents, it works, and the closer to decent service you are, the easier it is to use.

What I have managed to do, over 20 years time, is perfect how to conduct life without that second car. In the suburbs. It saves me thousands a year, $100K over 20 years. The bicycle is as integral to that as the bus is. How many more could do what I do, if only they’d try? How much money is the region bleeding by pouring it down the tank each week, instead of using transit?

And it comes back around to the livability of the little towns. It’s a chicken-and-egg argument, I realize. Make all the Aspinwalls and Wilmerdings and West Views “work”, get the people therein to rely on buses and bikes instead of cars. Routinely. And with that, I contend, *metro* Pittsburgh will truly be livable.


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Mar 12 2013 at 2:43pm #

On the consolidation tip, a couple things:

Don’t forget, it’s not only 130 municipalities, but also dozens of other taxing bodies: school districts, authorities, etc. I can’t recall the number, but there are literally over 200 taxing bodies in Allegheny County. By contrast, Miami-Dade County, a far, far larger metropolis, has a dozen or two. From a practical point of view, we are nowhere near up against the limits of governance if we consolidate.

That said, it’s a suburban delusion that County government is in any way superior to City – I’ve worked closely with the planning and redevelopment portions of both, and believe me, in the Murphy era, the City was far, far superior (both in competence and honesty). Things declined severely under Ravenstahl, but it’s simply wrong to imagine that City residents would see improved governance under a Countywide system.

To me it’s long seemed clear that school district-based consolidation would be a sensible compromise – most districts are relatively compact and encompass a blend of communities that would at least potentially combine strengths as a joint muni. This sort of thing, on a limited scale, already happens a lot – frx, the Waterfront was developed under a joint arrangement of Homestead, West Homestead, and Munhall, with a combined zoning district and tax-sharing agreement (so each muni wouldn’t jockey for the best businesses in its own sliver of the site).

Now, the practicality of doing this is a whole nother issue, but I think you need to at least start with a palatable concept for which you could start to build some grassroots support. Since everybody already lives in a school district, it’s not impossible for people to conceive of that as being the superstructure of their (civic) lives.

Last thing: as noted above with the Waterfront, our region has, by necessity, gotten pretty good at cross-border cooperation. It’s not sufficient to reduce the waste of 200 taxing bodies or the inequities of muni boundaries that were designed by industrialists to keep people divided, but it does mean that, on issues like trail planning, it’s not insuperable to get multiple towns together.


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Mar 12 2013 at 2:47pm #

This is a great discussion and my compliments to all, but it leaves me all the more impressed with the people who worked through the Federalist Papers and had all those discussions using – what, I think they used dialup on phone lines?

Also, +1 Edmonds59: Be out there riding. That’s how I’m doing that.

There is a paradox of Pittsburgh parochialism: the multitude of small insular neighborhoods and hamlets, each their own sovereign in their way, have protected their individual flavors and identities through the post-war (meaning ww2) waves of social engineering. (while simultaneously perpetrating and perpetuating tremendous social injustice).

So this gridlock of petty fiefdoms and ultra-retail-level democracy has done well to bring us to where we are.

It’s also hamstringing the region from projecting into what we might become. Can’t take the next step because the Assistant Viceroy of Wilmerding objects to it.

Finally: I think we have to remain democratic and respect local governments and the results of local elections. (Insert your comment on American foreign policy here)



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Mar 12 2013 at 2:49pm #

StuInMcCandless wrote:Make all the Aspinwalls and Wilmerdings and West Views “work”, get the people therein to rely on buses and bikes instead of cars. Routinely. And with that, I contend, *metro* Pittsburgh will truly be livable.

And that’s pretty much it. I’d argue that what’s needed, more than anything else, is simply more people in the towns. More brains, more energy, more income. To the extent that the region is succeeding, it will bleed into the smaller towns, just as Friendship’s success (beginning 20-odd years ago, for you newbies) eventually bled into Bloomfield*, L’ville, East Liberty, and beyond.

Remember, the City is a half million people short, and the first ring suburbs/milltowns are another half million as well. It’ll take a lot to refill the bucket.

*which wasn’t run down, but was old and thin on businesses appealing to the under-60 crowd


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Mar 12 2013 at 2:54pm #

AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe wrote:But back to Stu’s OP – what are some ideas for reviving these small towns?

Run for office. Really, that’s what needs to be done. More people like us need to get involved in low level politics. This is how reactionaries have done it – Dover, PA, where the famous “intelligent design” court case happened a few years back, is no hotbed of rightwing crazies, but the rightwing crazies ran (largely unopposed) for the School Board, and they took over, and imposed craziness. Now, I’d like to think that our ideas (more walkability) aren’t “crazy”, but the point is that we don’t need 100% (or even 51%) pre-existing support for these ideas: we need leaders to get themselves elected, and then to lead. If we’re right that our ideas are good, then they’ll gain broad support soon enough.


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Mar 12 2013 at 3:03pm #

jonawebb wrote:What happens now is people move out of Pittsburgh to avoid paying city taxes, but still work in the city. So they end up using city infrastructure and services but not paying for them.

That is not true. I live outside and I am paying:
1. Federal Taxes and some city infrastructure is funded by federal goverment.
2. State taxes and some city infrastructure is funded by state.
3. Real Estate Allegheny County and county also funds some infrastructure.
4. My Employer pays at least two type of taxes: based on revenue and based on number of employed people (occupancy taxes).
5. Parking in city I pay to city directly.
6. Buying stuff in city I pay taxes also.
7. Buying gas for car I am paying gas taxes too.

I do not support directly school in the city (but paying State and Federal taxes I do support city Schools indirectly).


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Mar 12 2013 at 3:31pm #

Also, getting people to hang their hats in West View (where you can walk everywhere) as opposed to Ross Twp (where life without a car is next to impossible) will take cars off the road, thereby reducing pressure to constantly expand road construction. Thus saving tax dollars.

(For those who don’t know the North Hills, West View is entirely surrounded by Ross Twp.)

But I’m not posting to pick on Ross. This same thing can be said about most anywhere around here. How do we get people to move to a walkable village (be it Squirrel Hill or Sharpsburg) as opposed to Sprawlville? and to sell 2/3 of their rolling stock in the process?

I think it’s an information deficit. Almost 10 years ago I began to design an information system for inundating one specific area with transit riding information. I wanted to focus on one specific bus route (the 11C Perry Highway corridor) so as to cause ridership to show an anomalous rise that could be explained in no other way. I couldn’t gather the resources to make it happen at the time, but I never gave up on the idea.

By ensuring ridership on a route remains stable or grows, PAT is less likely to cut it. A healthy transit route means people can rely on it to conduct business, conduct life. (Their slogan was or is “Connecting people to life.”) Business districts along a thriving transit route themselves thrive. That in turn will attract people wanting to live there.

But I’d say start with getting the transit info in people’s hands. It’s relatively simple, it’s focused, it’s doable, it has explicit deliverables, it’s measurable, and we can compare before and after.


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Mar 12 2013 at 3:48pm #

OK, here’s the money to make such a project go. Now, all I would need is a 7th- to 12th-grader to mentor.

What I’m thinking is, find a kid who’s already into this line of thinking. Mentor him/her, see what a young, ambitious mind can do with the idea. If said kid happened to already be in a focused area like Aspinwall or Woods Run or Bellevue or wherever, even better.


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Mar 12 2013 at 5:50pm #

Jacob McCrea wrote: to see the bigger picture.

Yep. including what is taxed as an income.


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Mar 12 2013 at 8:34pm #

Thinking about the places I’ve passed through on the way home — Pitcairn, Trafford, Wall, Wilmerding, Turtle Creek, East Pittsburgh, Wilkins Township, Chalfant, Woodland Hills, Forest Hills, Wilkinsburg, Swissvale, Edgewood. This is a one hour ride. Do you honestly believe that the people living in all these places are best served by having their own government, police force, etc.? Doesn’t some consolidation make sense? Sure, to take @JRoss’s point, good people should get involved in government, but are there enough good people to spread among all these towns? Does it make sense for each of these places to be competing for employers, transit, state and national resources, or does it make them all weaker?


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Mar 12 2013 at 8:45pm #

Yow. This really is a dense thread…
I’m not sure I have much to add, but here’s a few thoughts:

1) Study John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock. Figure out what he’s doing right.

2) Don’t worry that much about the sub/ex-urbs. They are slowly fading away People today are much more interested in what cities have to offer. And are starting to move in to town.

3) Small municipalities are maybe not so bad. Would you rather we had to shop Walmart rather than the corner store? Large-scale efficiency is not an absolute (human) good.

4) Just don’t drive. And insist that you’re entitled to have an infrastructure that supports your need to get around.


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Mar 12 2013 at 9:13pm #

@jonaweb says “Thinking about the places I’ve passed through on the way home — Pitcairn, Trafford, Wall, Wilmerding, Turtle Creek, East Pittsburgh, Wilkins Township, Chalfant, Woodland Hills, Forest Hills, Wilkinsburg, Swissvale, Edgewood. This is a one hour ride. Do you honestly believe that the people living in all these places are best served by having their own government, police force, etc.? Doesn’t some consolidation make sense?”

I think most of the neighborhoods you listed are a perfect example of why you shouldn’t consolidate. While done for the right reasons, The Woodland Hills School district was a court ordered consolidation in the 1980’s that led many of these more affluent neighborhoods to see sharp increase in taxes, decline in property values, while at the same time producing a shared government entity that consistently produces academic scores that are near the bottom for the entire state.

The end result was a much larger student base attending a school district ranked in the bottom 3%. I think almost everyone can honestly say (on both sides of the economic spectrum) they didn’t see the benefit intended from the consolidation.


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Mar 12 2013 at 9:35pm #

jonawebb wrote:Doesn’t some consolidation make sense? … Does it make sense for each of these places to be competing for employers, transit, state and national resources, or does it make them all weaker?

By that logic, Jon, does it really make sense to have 50 states? I mean sure at one time the distinctions mattered to somebody, but really- North Dakota, South Dakota? North Carolina, South Carolina?

Now they’re all competing against each other, offering tax incentives to industry to locate in their little spot, and the industries are just playing them off each other.

There’s a lot of places you could combine up without threatening the culture. Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. Texas with Oklahoma. Oregon and Washington State. Idaho and Utah.

Consider the reductions in corruption, just by reducing Senators.

You could combine Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia. (whoa.. wait a minute)

It’s a silly position I’m taking, exaggerating your legitimate point to an absurd conclusion (and no offense intended). You ask, Does this make sense? and the answer is: No, of course not.

It’s just that people organize themselves non-sensibly, historically, tribally, racially, economically, and I’m just not sure you’re ever going to get the Assistant Chief Bottlewasher of Wilmerding to give up his sinecure.

But there’s also no doubt that if you were to start tabula rasa, you’d be a bit whack IMO to seek the current situation.


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Mar 12 2013 at 9:55pm #


That’s not the best argument… at least, not in terms of “hey, both these states have a simular name, let’s combine them!”

You may have a legit criticism when looking at a city on a state border… Philly to some extent, as well as NYC, maybe St. Louis, or even Kansas City (although, in most cases it will go backwards and if anything reinforce what I’m about to say).

If the city has higher taxes and better services but still allocates those services out to unincorporated suburbs, then the city is paying the resources for those adjunct neighborhoods. I’m not giving any specific argument (and in fact, I think this whole thread has gotten a bit silly since we are trying to generalize something that must be discussed on a case-by-case basis). But, my point is, that incorporation makes sense when it is economically sensible in order to share utilities and services (and in history, for military defense as well). Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. IF the larger city, in any case, ends up supplementing services for a smaller neighbor… it should stop and that smaller community should desire giving up its independence in order to pool resources.


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Mar 12 2013 at 10:34pm #

Just a slight thread tangent, but I think one thing that healthy communities have is a good distribution of ages within the community. There should be a nice balance of young families, mid-career folks, and empty nesters. Back in the 80’s the region lost a lot of young workers who had to move away to find work. Not only did this hurt the tax base, etc., but it left a lot of housing stock on the market with no buyers. Home values stagnate or even decline. Old folks die and the children can’t sell so they start to rent and the property isn’t maintained to the level it would be if it was owner-occupied. It’s a slow spiral.

I had a friend who owned a house just off 18th street in South Side while we were in school. There were hardly any young people in SS then. If you stopped at the store or went into a bar the demographic was mostly forty and up. After graduation he sold it
for about $10K (in 1986). No one wanted to live down there then, and it was probably a better place to live back then since it used to have stores and shops and not just bars. But slowly it became artsy, and young people started hanging out there. But now the pendulum has swung the other way and there are probably too many young people and we see the troubles they have with drunks, crime and such. I wonder how the Mcmansion housing developments out in the burbs will fair in the long run when all of their owners are old and won’t be able to stay in their big houses.


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Mar 13 2013 at 5:24am #

Excellent point Marko.
OT but do you by any chance remember and ANCIENT storefront bike shop there on 18th near Mary? I lived in the brew house in the early ’80’s and stopped there once, was an old woman running it, seemed like some serious history there. If I was smart I would have bought property over there, but, well….. I guess I was one of those “artsy’s”.


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Mar 13 2013 at 6:16am #

@Marko82 “Old folks die and the children can’t sell so they start to rent and the property isn’t maintained to the level it would be if it was owner-occupied.”

This is what happened to the little towns. Suburbs sprang out of nowhere after World War II, and pushed and continue to push ever outward. Meanwhile, all that 1890-1910 housing stock from the trolley suburbs got ever older. Maybe some of these houses got maintained better than others. Maybe some can get rehabbed. But where do you start? Is it easier to piece-meal do gut-and-rebuilds, or just knock the thing down and start over?

Back to the TEDxCMU thing a week ago that set my mind in motion, that resulted in my OP. Eve Picker was the speaker. This discussion is her specialty. I’m waiting for her speech to be posted on YouTube; haven’t seen it yet, but will post a link when I do.

Yes, we could talk this entire topic into the ground, and like Ms. Picker, there are those who devote their lives to this. My aim in starting this discussion is, What can we do as a cycling community to help promote this? I like the ideas I’ve heard so far, particularly running for office. Lacking that, at least become politically aware and properly informed so that you can provide positive advice to whoever holds an elected local office. This is 2013, the year when we choose many of those offices. It might be late to actually run, but there’s plenty of time to figure out who thinks what, pick the right candidate, and become part of an advisory team.


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Mar 13 2013 at 6:23am #

Ahlir wrote:1) Study John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock. Figure out what he’s doing right.

Uh, don’t chase down joggers with a shotgun in hand, though.

He, is, however, outstanding at wife-finding. Wow. Talk about doing something right;{Email_Address}&utm_campaign=Welcome+to+Pittsburgh


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Mar 13 2013 at 8:49am #

Look, I may just be the Assistant Bottlewasher here in Aspinwall, and I may not know a whole lot about anything, but I’m not sure I agree small towns are the problem. No one has been able to tell me what consolidation would solve other than possibly saving a few dollars by combining services (which many small municipalities do now anyway with joint purchases through COGS, mutual aid agreements for police and fire departments, etc.).

At the local level, what is important to my neighbors who elected me Assistant Bottlewasher, is that we pay our bills, provide safety, cut the grass at the ballfield and keep the streets swept or salted. It’s the public services that matter locally. Can anyone here promise me that our little fiefdom will be as well cared for by the Allegheny County Department of Public Works as it is by our own crew?

If that is Pittsburgh Parochailism, then i’m guilty. But I fail to see how little hamlets like the one I live in are standing in the way of Progress. Consolidation with either the City or the County would depress property values, raise property taxes, our resources would flow to Shadyside and we would be neglected the next time it snows. How does that help Aspinwall? How does that benefit any of us?

The answer is not the absorption of the small towns. The small towns are the answer. I’m not sure Braddock’s reality matches Mayor Fetterman’s enthusiasm and effort, and their challenges will take generations to overcome, but he’s started something there.

Someone mentioned one path to change is to run for office. It worked for me. $100 in yard signs and 310 votes, and three years later i’m Assistant Bottlewasher (or something). I’m not the king by any stretch, but I am on the inside. I’m part of the conversation. I have the opportunity to approve a budget with money for bike racks, the opportunity to apply for economic development programs to avail us to the resources to have traffic and walkability studies performed to help us improve the pedestrian experience and accessibility of our town. The opportunity to develop a crazy idea to have a walking trail connecting our town to a riverfront park, the nearby mall and a community park in a neighboring municipality.

You can bark all you want about what shoulda, oughta happen. Or you can go to the county office building, file a notarized petition and put yourself on the ballot. Short of that, you can haunt your town’s public meetings. Your elected officials work for you. Nothing is more powerful than a live body sitting in the room making a rational, well-thought-out argument for what that person believes would improve the town.

Thats the way to fix these small towns. Get in the game. Organize a community garden. Start a cycling club. Arrange with your local police a bike safety demonstration. Go to meetings. Run for office.

Arguing that the fix for small towns is to eliminate them is a twist Karl Rove would be proud of.

Please excuse my rant.


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Mar 13 2013 at 9:03am #

AtLeastMyKidsLoveMe wrote:Thats the way to fix these small towns.



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Mar 13 2013 at 9:42am #

ALMKLM – First, kudos to you for stepping up. As a City resident, elective office would be too much for me, but I do participate in neighborhood orgs. I certainly agree that big consolidation would be problematic, but I don’t think it follows that 130 munis is the best and only alternative. You mention that, by taking part in your local government, you can help to make things better there. But what if your participation extended beyond the rather modest limits of Aspinwall? Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t need to find 130 different people in order to have just one voice in each place in our county?

Bill Peduto’s been able to improve walkability and similar considerations across all of Pittsburgh, because the city’s 90 neighborhoods aren’t 90 separate governments. You could rise to being #1 Head Bottlewasher of Aspinwall, and your positive influence would still be sharply circumscribed.

It’s hard to find honest, competent, thoughtful people to run for local offices. Multiplying those offices doesn’t make it any easier.


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Mar 13 2013 at 9:47am #

@JRoth, exactly. Thanks.


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Mar 13 2013 at 9:54am #

@jroth: point well made and taken. However, concentrating the authority for those decisions in the hands of fewer and fewer people doesn’t always result in the best outcomes either. Since you mentioned Peduto and the city, I’ll circle back to Stu’s OP: does Wood’s Run receive the same level of service as Shadyside? Does Mt. Oliver (the neighborhood of the city, not the free-standing Borough) receive the same attention as Squirrel Hill?

Like I said, our biggest issues locally are the little things: paying the bills, providing for the police, keeping the streets clear, things like that.

Under the county or city, those public services would drastically suffer, and I think living here would be less attractive as a result.

Having said that, I suspect there are towns that may benefit because of their proximity, size and circumstance (Wilkinsburg comes to mind) – but that needs to be looked at on a town-by-town basis. I reject the notion that blanket absorption or the small towns by the county or city would fix anything.


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Mar 16 2013 at 8:34am #

I’m late to this thread, but some of you know that I work in this area. I think that grassroots action is really important, actually it’s probably essential. However there’s a lot that goes on at a higher level that either encourages or discourages the revitalization process.

I focus a lot on policy change, including Complete Streets policy. As others have mentioned in the thread, this means that I have to go to individual boroughs and explain the Complete Streets concept and then ask them to adopt it. Lots of time. Also, the County has a great transportation plan for the region. However, it has no actual weight and is simply a suggestion for the boroughs to adopt or not.

I definitely think there needs to be consolidation, not just down to city and county, but there are many boroughs that would be better off merging if only they would consider it.

There are a lot of programs and groups focused on improving things in these towns. If you live in one of them you may find getting involved in your council, community development corp (if there is one) or other community groups is a great way to get involved. Also, keep a lookout for grant opportunities such as the County community garden program, Allegheny Together, GTECH sunflower gardens, etc. There are lots of ways to bring great change into these communities, but there need to be a few people who are organized around it.

Millvale was mentioned above, for example. There is some very effective community organizing going on there that has brought about positive changes. Nothing just happening by accident.


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Mar 16 2013 at 11:40am #

Let’s face it, there’s always going to be good arguments against consolidation — control over the local tax base and loss of identity chief among them. And no town would seriously consider merging with another unless it was in dire financial straits; while no town would consider allowing the merger of another town that wasn’t doing as well as it was financially. So there’s a self-perpetuating dynamic that keeps things just as they are, forever.
The reason I brought up county-wide consolidation is that it seems to be one of the two ways out of this — I could imagine that if Pittsburgh seriously considered merging into the county that might motivate many of the other towns to do so. I remember something like that being discussed some years ago.
Another alternative is a state-level initiative that would encourage consolidation, maybe by offering favorable tax treatment to towns that consolidated, or help with pension obligations. If the state came forward with something like that I could see the number of municipalities in Allegheny County dropping from 130 to a more manageable number like 10 or 20.


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Mar 16 2013 at 12:13pm #

I think consolidation should be an option for towns that aren’t working, but should not be forced upon towns that do work.

There are myriad ways of achieving worthwhile mergers – from simply combining with a neighbor or neighbors, to joining within a school district footprint, to the full county.

I think it ultimately comes to redistribution of resources. Towns that manage themselves well and provide good public services for reasonable taxes will suffer under consolidation. Services would not likely be as good, and taxes are likely to rise.

Towns that are not running so well, may (or may not) see an improvement in services. Again, look at the struggling neighborhoods within the City of Pittsburgh. How are they benefitting by being a part of that larger municipality.

One thing is for certain: the City or County – whichever is the “parent body” that oversees the consolidation will benefit. And I think their benefit will be the greater loss.

Don’t underestimate the value of community identity. Even Tabby identified the value of grassroots action – that doesn’t come from the top down. And combining our small towns into one greater whole won’t fix them. It will eliminate them.


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Mar 16 2013 at 12:17pm #

Seems a little like the health care “debate” in a way. The least healthy communities would have a great deal of motivation to merge, while the healthy ones would have little reason. So you would just end up with a much larger bundle of deficient communities vying for the same pool of resources. I don’t know, too complex for me.


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Mar 16 2013 at 12:31pm #

That’s why I don’t think it’s relevant to the discussion. Don’t even consider it. Fix something that CAN BE fixed. Bike racks are a snivelingly tiny investment in the grand scheme of things. Deciding to set up a two-parking-space bike corral in the center of the business district should not require millions of dollars in investment or tax incentive dollars, or years of study and lots of bulldozers. Just do it.

That’s one thing. Improving playgrounds might be a bit of money, but go a long way toward making a village (let’s call them that) livable.

Fix something that can be fixed, and fix something that will stay fixed. Litter clean-ups don’t do that, though they might foster some fellowship, itself not a bad thing.


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Mar 16 2013 at 12:55pm #

I think debating to merge or not to merge strays a bit from the real question of how to make these old towns more livable. I spend a lot of time in towns around the County and I can tell you with a fair amount of accuracy whether or not a town has what it takes to pull it together. It’s not about what the town has been through or how bad it’s gotten either.

In these towns if someone wants to hold a community festival, improve the local park, acquire a dilapidated building or add bike racks is there anyone to go to with these ideas? Some towns YES, they have great managers, community connections, churches and other organizations working together. In other towns, NO, they are just looking at that week/month/fiscal year.

I’ve been to towns that ask me why they didn’t “get” some funding or they complain that they never get grants. Submitting a handwritten grant application that looks like it took 20 minutes to complete is a sure reason when other communities submit thoughtful proposals and letters of support and show that they can mobilize the residents of their communities.

Again, to be clear, these well-organized towns are not well off towns, but I think they will be. They’re pulling themselves up and out of their problems, but they didn’t start out any further ahead.

An environment that is supportive of grassroots innovation is important whether or not it involves mergers. But right now, with things just as they are there is work that can be done in any of these towns. The towns that seem to be waiting to “get” something are the ones that are going to continue to fail. Waiting to merge or waiting for the County or the State to do something to spur redevelopment is going to be waiting too long.

I’m kind of fired up about this today because I can’t even tell you how hard it is to GIVE away money to these towns sometimes.


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Mar 16 2013 at 1:28pm #

What I don’t want to do is fly into some village, ask around “Where do you want the bike racks put?”, scrounge up whatever funding, and in a few months start drilling holes in concrete. I do think there has to be a process, and I do think there needs to be a conversation. We have a pretty good one going here, but parallel convos need to happen in these towns. I don’t know how to fly into some village and start one, and I’m not even sure I want to do that.

What I do want to do is figure out who, in these villages, are the right people to get a conversation going. Properly done, it should start from within, by those who have both a vision and the will. They need help, and I don’t mean money. I’m not even sure I’m the right one to help. But maybe I can spend a few minutes with them, get them started thinking, maybe line them up with the people who can write a proper grant application, who can line up financing for a park renewal or a civil engineer to do flooding mitigation analysis or whatever is holding a place back. Maybe a place does need bulldozers, and the will to get an “unrehab”-able building taken down. I don’t know; it’s theirs to figure out.

But I think the time is right for something to start happening, and I am ready and willing to talk, or to arrange for others to talk with other others.

A couple weeks ago, I was at the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) Focus Group Meeting at the Squirrel Hill library. (Tabby, I saw that you were to be among the attendees.) That’s an organization that is looking to promote much the same thing, in the 37 inner-ring municipalities around the city. That’s what I’m talking about. There are resources already in place, so it’s just a matter of getting the right people talking to one another, and getting the right conversations to happen.


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Mar 16 2013 at 4:24pm #

It is a DIY world.

Four years ago I started haunting our Council meetings advocating for the placement of a stop sign at an intersection near my house that wasn’t safe.

Six months later they erected the signs. Six months after that I was asked if I was interested in running for Council. Three years later I’m up for re-election. In the meantime, we have money for bike racks, we’re doing walkability studies, we’re trying to figure out how to create a walking path connecting local amenities.

Like Stu and Tabby said, pick a project and run with it. But be careful, you just might end up on a ballot before long… Getting “on the inside” of the “process” is not that difficult. Half the challenge is just showing up.


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Mar 17 2013 at 9:21am #

I didn’t even realize it, but Scott sent out a tweet to this video, which is spot-on to the point of this thread. Well worth watching.


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Mar 17 2013 at 10:57am #

For once, Stu is guilty of UNDERselling.

If you care about the question at all (What Do These Little Towns Need?), WATCH THIS VIDEO!


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Mar 17 2013 at 11:20am #

That TED talk is particularly amazing, I’ve seen it before. It pretty much reiterates what Tabby was saying earlier – most times it just takes people – an individual or small group of individuals with the drive and energy to push things to work, things don’t just happen.
If you (the large general you) are one of those people, god bless you. I am not. Most days, if just the TV remote is out of reach, that’s enough to foil me, I just watch whatever is on.

Jacob McCrea

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Mar 18 2013 at 11:50am #

One thing I am distilling from all of these comments is that what each struggling community needs is slightly different. From my perspective, places like Knoxville and Mt. Oliver don’t need bike racks as much as they need the Eliot Ness of code enforcement to ride into town (preferably on a street sweeper) and crack down on slumlords, absentee property owners and the like, along with what I mentioned in my first comment. Last week, for example, an Allentown business owner told me that “there’s a lot of [landlords] around here who want to keep this place down, to keep the easy welfare [recipients’ rent] money coming in.” That’s a very difficult problem to address, but I think it can be addressed without harming those who have the least among us. Also, faster turnaround times for knocking down condemned buildings would be helpful, but that requires real money and equipment; you can’t buy some garbage bags and organize volunteers to do it on a Saturday for free pizza and a T shirt. So, that is where Tabby and ALMKLM’s comments about the need for responsive local officials resonate strongly.

Beyond the really run down neighborhoods, I think the core needs are a little different. For places like Millvale and Sharpsburg, a bike trail connecting the neighborhood with a thriving business district probably means a lot – it would for me. The same is true for many city neighborhoods on the south side of Route 51, which may as well be on another planet for cyclists’ purposes. In other neighborhoods, perhaps there are more pressing needs than a bike trail. For example, here is a recent P-G article disussing the availability of middle-class housing in the city. I don’t agree with the article 100% but the issues raised are not unmoored from reality.

To go back to the poorest areas, my understanding is that in Braddock and similar communities, a big issue is real estate which is still assessed as if the neighborhood is thriving. So, hypothetically, while you may be able to buy a house for 20k and start renovating, you may also have to “buy” the need to litigate a tax assessment of 45k. The court-ordered reassessment was supposed to fix those problems, but from what I read in the paper, those problems may still exist. A bike rack can’t solve those problems.

Anyway, hopefully people will come on this year’s “Every Pittsburgh Neighborhood” ride, which visits the best and worst areas of the city, and everything in between. It would provide good fodder for keeping this discussion going.


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Mar 18 2013 at 12:20pm #

That linked article just about nails it. It’s exactly the same situation we ran into in the mid ’90’s when we were looking. My wife and I scoured the city, we lived in Greenfield at the time and liked it. There were sub-$100,000 homes that were garbage and +$300,000 homes that were no-go’s. That’s why I live in Robinson. That would never have been a selection if other than pure economics. Never.


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Mar 19 2013 at 6:06am #

@JacobMcCrea: “Also, faster turnaround times for knocking down condemned buildings would be helpful, but that requires real money and equipment;”

There is CITF funding available for that.

(@Jacob – really thoughtful post, by the way.)


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Mar 19 2013 at 9:16pm #

they need the Eliot Ness of code enforcement to ride into town (preferably on a street sweeper) and crack down

What a GREAT mental image!


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Apr 3 2013 at 8:16am #

Topping this, since I saw the deadline for the New Voices Of Youth project has been extended to May 8. I mentioned this a few posts back.

If anyone knows of a middle-or-high school student who would be interested in pursuing a related project, I can provide ideas, subject matter, and/or mentoring assistance.

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