Pittsburgh Dodges Bullet, Loses “Smart Cities” Challenge

40 million dollars from the federal government, to enhance transportation infrastructure.

Another $10 million provided by a venture capital firm’s philanthropy — the carrot tied to the wagon of “high tech” innovations.

Pittsburgh, from a field of 78 applicants, had made it to the final round of 7 — the celebrated seven! We were competing against the likes of Portland, Austin, San Francisco, Denver… all the most shining cities upon hills.

The Comet applauds local officials for answering the nation’s call to begin planning and preparing cities for a likely future economy. But can you imagine what would have happened if Columbus, Ohio didn’t steal the grand prize, with its greater matching fund commitments and crisp pitch?

We all know Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is aggressive in laying down the bike lanes. And we know he’s convinced of technology’s promise.

With City Council, his Planning Commission and the URA on his side, the Mayor’s only impediment to embedding that technocratic enthusiasm on our ancient streetscape is our budget. Pittsburgh narrowly averted a calamity in 2010, and has been adhering to a strict pensions payment schedule ever since. With a sudden burst of scores of millions earmarked exclusively for high tech upgrades — and the ability for that money to snowball, the political mandate and “third party validation” it all confers — Pittsburgh would have become a madhouse on a speeding toboggan.

Four Mile Run and Panther Hollow would have rioted, for starters. The pressure to exploit the greenway and several street corners for Jetsons-age vehicles would have been intense. The low property values, corner bar scene and relative seclusion of southern Greenfield would have been imminently imperiled. The Parks Conservancy, renown for its treehouses, would not have been able to handle the ensuing recoil.

In nearby Hazelwood, foundation-backed Almono’s redevelopment play including Uber’s test track would have exerted exponentially faster growth pressures. Further along in Uptown, the resurrection of the BRT economic development plan would again stir waves of consternation among public transit activists.

In fact, Pittsburgh is just a blue collar town. If robots and the Internet of Things economy were seen so conspicuously to be arriving, and yet still no “New Deal” with the tax-exempt “Eds & meds” industries to help finance basic, pressing public obligations, it would provoke a cynical backlash. The innovating class can appear as an economic closed loop sometimes.

Lest we forget, the mayor is up for reelection next year — so these controversies would have been amplified to circus barking. If a mainstay like Michael Lamb or Chelsa Wagner did not pick up this gauntlet, some Democratic Socialist might have started airing old videos of Peduto’s appearance on CBS’s “Undercover Boss” — only now seen in another publicity stunt, consuming the city in a parasitic distraction by serving as someone else’s beta trial, or lab rats.

Placing first in the federal Smart Cities rodeo would have sparked a dry, fibrous political tinderbox. Most folks kept this quiet, because Pittsburgh likes to win — and winning this would have led to waves of exciting, high-profile, profitable fights to stage thereafter. Marvelous slugfests! Yet those Marvel flicks tend to feature a lot of collateral destruction.

Surely it is a blessing Pittsburgh will get to pursue the future more deliberately and soberly. Early adopters have to deal with lots of buggy equipment, anyhow.

Dear Donald:

Way too many people don’t want you to be President. You’re a weak candidate, with no knowledge, you make a lot of mistakes, you can’t control your delegation, and you’re toying with forces beyond your understanding. You should drop out before things get even more embarrassing.

#CLINTONSTAHL: 7 Familiar Aromas as Hillary’s Machine grinds its Business

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10.41.02 PMEmbattled former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is not embattled former Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Hillary Clinton has spent a long career in public service, and knows her stuff.

Yet Ravenstahl and Clinton assimilated into the same centuries-old political arrangements, and may be of the same species. That top-down, hierarchical “machine”-era politics which the one still pursues, was once pursued by the other.

This blasé politics of privilege, self-perpetualization and clientelism, together with enough arrogance and faith in spinmeisters, tends to produce stubborn questions about patronage and other official privileges.

It turns out, they’re displaying many of the same symptoms:   Continue reading

6 WEEKS TO PENNSYLVANIA: Fear and Change in the Rust Belt

Next City, Sky Kalfus

Next City, Sky Kalfus

The Democrats’ last presidential nominating contest was held in 2008. How long ago was that?

We were only just starting to write about these strange, alarming new creatures called “blogs” — all without once referencing “Facebook,” or “Twitter”.

Obama’s “Yes We Can” video spread like wildfire through the blogs upon YouTube, much as Bill Clinton’s saxophone solo did on television sixteen years prior.

There were no hashtags, few memes, and your friends’ parents, your boss’s vendors and your former side pieces were not in your “news feed” fact-checking each other regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Today, we live in another dimension. We have evolved. Or at least we have mutated. Continue reading

The Artist: Paul Simon

The time: 2016 primaries

PGH School Board hires Consultant named Perkins

Do you remember how Pittsburgh Public Schools’ superintendent is soon retiring?

Well here we go! A highfaluting academic is coming on to help the School Board select its #next one.

At the end of a public voting meeting last week, school director Regina Holley made a motion to hire the Perkins Consulting Group — headed by Brian Perkins, director of the Urban Education Leadership Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College — at a cost not to exceed $100,000. (P-G, Clarece Polk)

How that came about was…

Ms. Holley said she and Mr. Sumpter met Mr. Perkins at a conference for the Council of Urban Boards of Education in July and were “impressed with his credentials.” When Mrs. Lane announced in September her plans to retire in June, Ms. Holley recommended Mr. Perkins as a consultant in the superintendent search. (ibid)

It’s always refreshing to get a frank explanation. But now that he’s our Hundred Thousand Dollar Man, Pittsburgh needs to learn about him!

My favorite thing about his professional bio is that he served on a school board for 11 years. Yale doesn’t hurt, either. The focus on “urban education” is certainly relevant.

Leafing through some of his reports of surveys on school climate and parental perceptions, I got the impression that Mr. Perkins and his associates approach education from the “Left,” or as a liberal might.

It’s hard to explain. The educational Right focuses more on testing, discipline, efficiency and conviction. The educational Left puts a greater emphasis on communication, empathy, problem-solving and science.

So it appears the Pittsburgh School Board — on the heels of its own 3-member electoral sweep leftward — just made a bold move to turn the rudder.

The Comet’s only concern off the bat is whether Mr. Perkins has any particular expertise in conducting job searches. Maybe the School Board will contract with still another party to help with the nuts and bolts of human resources; all the better to segregate process from selectivity. Still, his credentials seem to fit that of a schools superintendent better than an executive headhunter.

Maybe he’s here to advise the next board more generally, at its outset.

Thanks to Ali Patterson for calling attention to some of the links on FB’s #OurSchoolsOurSuperintendent

POPULAR VOTE: Partisans Clash from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg on Election Day

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

It’s a balmy 76 degrees Fahrenheit in Pittsburgh, sunny without a cloud in the sky, humidity at 27% and the wind at one mile per hour. Maybe it’s just that it’s a little too nice and quiet out there.

If you have not voted yet, do that.

How are things looking on your end? Check back for headlines.

UPDATE: Democrats sweep all the statewide and Allegheny County judicial races. Republican Guy Reschenthaler wins the open senate seat to the south and west.

The Wilkinsburg Schools Annexation should focus everyone’s energies

It is obvious that Pittsburgh Public Schools did what was sadly necessary…

Board members [of the Wilkinsburg School District] say that giving up on the schools is the best thing they can do to give their students a shot at a better education and a better life. But two neighboring school districts declined to take the students on before a third, Pittsburgh Public Schools, found room at one of the city’s lowest-performing high schools, located in one of its poorest neighborhoods.

So in a deal approved this week, Wilkinsburg students are headed for a school that is much like the one they are leaving behind. (WaPo, Emma Brown)

…but now it gets really tricky.

Because in addition to ‘the ordinary amount’ of “chaos and failure” prevalent in the educational vicinity…

Students from the two schools have long feuded, [a Wilkinsburg district mother]  said, and she worries about an eruption of violence when they’re all under one roof. (ibid)

More worrisome still, I would wager, if those students perceive that the adults around them either don’t have it together Continue reading

On Tuesday vote “DODO WECHT”, and Your Guide to Gerrymandering

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 7.48.04 PMTuesday is Election Day, and the bone-chillingly urgent contest is for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

You are going to want to vote for Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donahue and David Wecht. You can remember that by remembering the mnemonic device, “DODO WECHT“.

One reason this is so crucial is not only because those are the 3 Democrats in the hunt (crowd cheers!) but because of gerrymandering: the cutthroat process by which states determine how their congressional and legislative district boundaries will be drawn.

Here are the stakes:

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.19.22 PM

In Pennsylvania, Congressional districts are drawn as any ordinary law might be passed, and Legislative districts are drawn by a “commission” comprised mostly of legislative leaders (like the ICA!). But in both cases it often all comes down to the state Supreme Court.

The PA Supreme Court is a train wreck at the moment, with 3 vacancies Continue reading

As Financial Recovery winds down, Legislative caretakers getting greedy?

It’s not every day that suburban and rural Pennsylvanians demand more government.

But when the job was keeping taxes and fees low for commuters and other visitors to Pittsburgh, state legislators in 2004 couldn’t move fast enough to create a new authority with a vague mandate and sweeping powers that was largely redundant.

Special double financial oversight hasn’t been a total disaster. After a world-historic economic boom and bust, austerity measures born largely by city workers allowed Pittsburgh enough time to reclaim its riverfronts, better exploit its universities and achieve semblances of vibrancy, distinction and stability by the time city living came roaring back into vogue.

Pittsburgh has since demonstrated its readiness to emerge from its state-administered recovery program, Continue reading