The Race, the Hill, the Process and Development

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Justin Laing at Hillombo, a blog of the Hill District and of the African-American experience in Pittsburgh, says he is voting for Bill Peduto — not as any sort of fanatic, but rather as his best option available.

You can read the whole post, but in my opinion the real gift of his most recent offering is contained in this paragraph:

But the $64,000 question is does the Wheatley Campaign or Mr. Udin, as the convener of the PBPC, have their own Hill dog in the Peduto v. Wagner fight we are seeing play out everyday?  I would think so.  As anyone participating in or watching Hill District civic life knows, Wheatley and City Councilman Daniel Lavelle are  allies. Both worked for former Councilman Udin, both serve on the  Greater Hill District Development Growth Fund, and both are active supporters of the Hill District Community Development Corp of which Mr. Udin is a longstanding board member. Add to this that Peduto and Daniel Lavelle are known not to be supportive of one another or even on speaking terms and a Peduto win could well diminish Lavelle’s current authority and capacity to impact the Hill District through support of the Hill District CDC since, as Mayor, Peduto would be unlikely to keep Lavelle as Vice-Chair of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.  This is turn would affect the plans for the Lower Hill’s 28 acres; a process being led by Lavelle and the Hill CDC. This potential creates its own separate set of political incentives. (Hillombo)

He said a mouthful!

Although it’s debatable how icy and intractable any feud between Councilmen Lavelle and Peduto really is — I suspect Mr. Lavelle does not, as a matter of his own political strategy, wish to get along with Mr. Peduto, but that might easily change if Mr. Peduto became Mayor — what strikes me here is Mr. Laing’s implicit conclusion that what’s bad for the Hil CDC’s current process of planning in the Lower Hill is not necessarily bad for the Lower Hill.

A quick recent history lesson: after Mayor Ravenstahl fought against employing concrete terms in any community benefits agreement connected with Consol Center and Civic Arena footprint development, and fought funding for initiatives originating in the neighborhood, popular opinion finally won out. However, in the agreement that was eventually signed, the Hill House / Hill CDC was put on the spot due to its “stature in the community” to guide many of the processes, including the master planning process and the development interests.

This really set up a lot of bad things, in my opinion. First of all, it empowers and puts pressure on that one group’s officers and interested parties in a way no community group has the capacity to sustain. No one community group ought to have responsibility, or the right, to represent “the whole community.” All over the City, when groups claim to do this, other groups spring up in response, which are derided as “illegitimate.” In the Hill District there have certainly been factions, and singling out any exclusive group to work with the Mayor’s office as “the community” is not helpful.

Secondly, putting a group in charge in this way defers accountability – to that group. If things delay or sour, if the direction becomes unpopular, members of the community turn on the empowered group.

When Candidate Peduto talks and writes about community consensus development and development roundtables, or “turning the paradigm upside down,” it can easily sound like so much rhetoric. But to me what it really means is accepting responsibility for leadership, for bringing community concerns to the table on an equal footing, and for progressing via consensus. Not for setting up processes which obscure leadership and pressure chosen community interests to sell the City’s or a developer’s point of view, that reward those interests for their loyalty and seek to exploit those partnerships for political gain.

Ben Rouse’s Brewers Mission

Mayor Peduto would be putting himself on the spot, and the only way he would gain is if the community is happy with the plans they have consensed upon and if successful developments emerge on what seems like a reasonable schedule. That’s not only accountability, that’s a fair and open process that doesn’t turn frustrated and opportunity-starved communities against themselves.

UPDATE / POSTSCRIPT: No more deferring blame; no more playing games. No more picking favorites and pitching political deals involving political commitments. No more wrapping what are essentially “Downtown,” executive-suite plans all in community gift-wrapping, tied together with promises that our long history shows are too often deferred and abandoned. Jobs, development and opportunity will be sought furiously — but will be built on a solid foundation of neighborhood consensus and pride. The CDCs and the nonprofit and private interests that are involved will be better off as respected, organized advocates and accomplished experts eager to participate within their neighborhoods, but not as “owning” the process. Let’s do public business in the public sphere, where the weighty decisions are ultimately made, where transparency is possible, where accountability is clear and where any Mayor can be made to listen. Only one candidate emphasizes listening to the community.

10 thoughts on “The Race, the Hill, the Process and Development

  1. Anonymous

    Hey, Bram, first off, it's LAING- your adding some i's to the mix. Actually, I am afraid the way you spell my name is emblematic of the post-it's in the ball park but some things are added that don't belong and some other things are out of order and in the end, on the Hill stuff, it’s just not right. One Hill, led by Mr. Carl Redwood, who serves as the co-director of the Hill District Consensus Group with my wife (then he was E.D.), was one of the principal signers of the CBA along with the Mayor, the County Exec, and the SEA, but it also has tens of other signers The Hill House was given the development rights for the grocery store and the Master Plan process was to be led by a steering committee of 9 folks (4 picked by One Hill and 5 picked by the local politicians) This group was eventually expanded to be the Master Plan Management Committee (MPMC). The Consensus Group led the effort to get people out to the planning process and the Hill Community Development Corp. and the Hill House EDC were on the MPMC. Today, the Hill CDC is leading the largest aspects of the Master Plan including a project to redevelop Centre Ave and now the Lower Hill planning process, which, per the CBA, is to be meet the principles outlined in the Master Plan. Neighborhoods are too complex to do quick drive byes, Bram, but come out to a neighborhood meeting, the new Centre Ave YMCA or stop in at some new restaurants on Wylie Ave (shouts to Grandma B’s and Poo Kanes) to get a better feel.

    I read the links you have here and this is why I am a qualified supporter of Councilman Peduto. East Liberty is touted as a victory of community led development, but I was a performer at the “celebration” for the demolition of the towers and that was a travesty. One can also see “East of Liberty” by Chris Ivey (supported in part by a grant for which I was the Program Officer at The Heinz Endowments) for another story of how East Liberty is not a story of an unqualified victory. Still, my point is that Peduto is better than Wagner, someone who positions himself in yesteryear, touts management as his chief strength, which only works when the ship is going in the right direction, and at the April 6th debate sponsored by a number of African American orgs, Wagner was clueless on such issues as the ban the box movement and, with his endorsement by the FOP, I find it hard to believe he will be anything approaching upstanding when it comes to police brutality. Click here for a shot of how the FOP chose to represent itself after the beating of Jordan Miles in March 2010

    Don’t agree either on the analysis of community roundtables. Essentially this places the Mayor as the convener of every neighborhood and I am in favor of stronger governance at the neighborhood level (you can see my letter to Councilman Lavelle in my Accountability & Racism post on Hillombo). Still, I will vote Peduto, as my best option, on this we agree.

    Justin Laing

  2. Bram Reichbaum

    Mr. Laing,

    I apologize for misspelling your name (this seems to be a common thread in the universe today) and agree that the error was emblematic of not only my rush to produce new content this morning (that is one reason I returned to the post with an update / postscript) but also of my eagerness to build off of your message rather than simply relay it with straightforward accuracy.

    I had read some early language of the CBA that made more explicit reference to the Hill House, the Hill CDC or some related concern as having a privileged position due to its “stature”. From what I have observed (not as much as you, but from time to time; at least couple meetings a year for the past 5 years though regrettably not yet the Hill's restaurants) the spirit of that sentiment continues to animate the discussion and the processes. Some of your material about the”steering committee goes over my head, but I thought I had understood you had similar concerns on how it is composed. I respect very much what you mean by community governance. I believe where I diverge is the persistence of the fact that “the” government “owns” the decision to dedicate funds to whom and for what, not to mention to zone, and that power is as awesome as it is important to keep free from what I can only call “back room” arrangements of any kind. I appreciate very much what you say about how a Mayor oughtn't be the only “convener” of conversations (this frames the discussion, after all) and would not be in favor of exclusivity to do that, even if it were possible. But power is power and should not be occluded from observation. The conveners and participants of many community conversations should make their many voices felt powerfully at all political levels. Honestly, I am extrapolating based on a lot of how I personally read Bill Peduto's documents and past rhetoric, and there is a need to look past what I call my “riffing” and consult the primary source.

    The police union posture towards the Jordan Miles incident at various instances was troubling. It needs to be confronted honestly. I do not expect miracles to be bestowed by any city leader, but I expect and demand progress. If the candidates have addressed their positions on dealing with police brutality (and increasing community antipathy towards police) with any specificity, I have missed it. But I know there have been a host of forums that I have missed.

  3. Bram Reichbaum

    And I agree East Liberty is not a story of unqualified victory, but my impression is there have been victories and there are more opportunities now on the table. The need to “bring jobs” and the need to avoid gentrification (not to mention avoid clumsy redevelopment errors) must be in balance.

  4. Mark Rauterkus

    Posted there, I think…

    …..better qualified to hand out benefits…..

    That is a worry statement above.

    The best “benefit” is freedom, in my book. And that isn't generally handed out. Rather, it is won in its own right (pun).

    Tonya is Tonya, and my hopes for her were dashed when she was on city council and I heard her say that she didn't give a flip about the Constitution and it often gets in the way of doing things she wants to do. The issue at the table was heated and frustration came, as did her true feelings. People that harbor such poor regard for rights and freedoms of the individual are not well suited for elected office in my opinion.


    In other news, not a peep about the other black candidate in the race, AJ Richardson. Perhaps his roots and influence will be made more to the western edge of the city and not in the Hill?

    Nonetheless, I feel it is telling, and the listening counts, how one interacts and respects the others, especially the least of our neighbors.

    To ignore one is justification to resume the downward spirals.

    If you disqualify AJ due to the recent DUI, fine. But make mention of it.

    IMHO, AJ has made some bold, great, exciting statements that I would never expect to hear from Mr Wheatley. Oh well.

    Keep blogging. Don't burn out.

  5. Anonymous

    So what I'm hearing from Mark is “the Hill should pull itself up by its bootstraps, because: Freedom.” Yet, as I understand, proposed community benefits are intended to repair damage that was done to the neighborhood due to a previous violation of personal and collective rights.

    To clarify, Tonya's comments were in the context of the lost and stolen firearm ordinance that was endorsed by 7 council members and the “Constitution” referred to was the Pennsylvania Constitution and specifically to a clause that has nothing to do with individual rights.

    As for AJ Richardson, many factors disqualify him from serious discussion, not the least of which being his face tattoos, but also including his 1% poll numbers, nonexistent campaign finances, general absence from most public forums, and a resume that lacks relevant work experience.

  6. Anonymous

    Tonya said she didn't care for the Constitution, and perhaps that was a heat-of-the-moment thing…but the real lesson from her time in Council is that she doesn't care about the details – any of them. RDL over Payne is by far the best thing for the Hill, and for the City as a whole.

  7. Bram Reichbaum

    Thanks for the pep talk and advice, Mark. 🙂

    I think it was unfortunate that AJ was left off the LWV Voter's Guide, even if he *didn't* submit a photo… but I agree with what is written below about there being little need to take his candidacy seriously. Not simply a DUI but his preparation. If this is how he campaigns, no way he can lead a City. There, I made mention of it. Sorry AJ, hope to catch up with you in future spheres. You left an indelible mark on this race, I'm just not sure we can put a finger on it.

  8. Mark Rauterkus

    I put enough words into recycled electrons that I get worried when others speak for me.

    I didn't know that AJ didn't make that endorsement ballot. That explains it. Of course, the other issues are more than a bump in the road too. 😕

    The HILL District can't pull itself up by bootstraps, because no neighborhood wears boots. Silly noise… Thanks for setting me straight. I do agree with community benefits agreements. In that context, benefits do make sense. I welcome that insight and stand corrected.

    Enjoy the weekend all.

  9. Anonymous

    Give me a break on the East of Liberty stuff. East Liberty is a massive success and Bill should be credited. The entire place needed cleaned up and Bill helped make that happen and now the entire area is benefited. I hope this kind of “criticize but offer no solutions” kind of liberalism doesn't infect Bill if he wins.

  10. Chris Ivey

    Hey Anonymous on May 18th (and it's always Anonymous)… come out and play. Let's have a real conversation. On East Liberty, politics, etc. Time to stop hiding and step up.


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