Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pittsburgh - A Tale Of One City - Two Ships Passing In The Night

(Please note: This is a documentation of my experiences and should not be taken as criticism of either side nor do I attempt to provide solutions, only a documentation of my experiences as a visitor)

Pittsburgh PA - the city of rivers. I hadn't spent a significant amount of time in the city which I once lived for more than 10 years. Much has changed during this time, much has not. My typical route as I head into Oakland is to view the portal to the city that the tunnel that opens up to show downtown functions as. The rivers, the bridges and the towers provide a beautiful welcome to the "large city with people with a small town, friendly character" display.

My first reference regarding the development of the city is to note any new towers downtown and also the continued development along the Allegheny River (I am going from memory that the southside river is the Allegheny and not the Mon. - because it is also easier to spell). The South Side on Carson St is a brand new city unto itself. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has taken over larger swaths of this area along with several notable hi-tech firms. They have transformed an old railroad bridge spanning the southside river into a bridge for auto traffic.

The second measure of the state of Pittsburgh is my drive through the Hill District. First there is the upward creep of the new housing from the Civic Arena to the Hill House. I saw a new community being formed. I am still waiting for someone to reviatalize the "New Granada" theater which has been mothballed for decades. It is just waiting there as a potential community theater but lacks the capital funding to make it a viable concern. I saw a few other new buildings that have popped up.

One unfortunate index of the Hill District is the number of Black people who stand around on Centre Avenue. Year ago as I rode the 81D Hamilton to my job downtown after my classes, I would marvel at the number of people standing around socializing at 1pm on a workday with nothing to do otherwise. Just 10 blocks away may have been people standing around a water cooler on the tenth floor talking just the same. The key difference was, however, that the office tower dweller was making a living. There were far less people standing around this time as I drove through at 7pm but the general culture was still present.

The key focus of this entry is about two television shows that depicted key challenges that Pittsburgh faces today. On Saturday I watched the replay of a community forum called "Night Talk" on WPXI television. On Sunday morning I watched a community affairs show on KDKA called "Sunday Business Page".

"Night Talk" had a panel of guests focusing on the major problems with crime and violence in the Black communities in and around Pittsburgh. If I recall correctly - last year there was 96 murders in Pittsburgh and 72 of them were Black males, 78 of them were Black people in general. The discussions documenting the problem was open and honest. All of the panelists agreed that there was a major problem. None denied that Black people were both the victims and the assailants in these crimes. Some of the panelists went even further than I had anticipated. They stated the secondary consequences and in some cases the underlying problems. The Black owned retail infrastructure is suffering because people are fearful to walk down the street in their own community. They instead go outside to spend their money. Another gentleman identified the lack of resident fathers and males that present a positive image of Black men. It was stated that the examples that they do see ensnare future generations looking for references into the same path.

To add bit of my personal views - I noted that the brother from the Nation Of Islam seemed more interested in pointing out that violence is not exclusive to the Black community. He stated that our president is a bad influence on inner city kids that pattern themselves after violence because Bush is bombing and killing people in other countries. It was clear to me that this brother has a philosophy of "internal correction by fighting outward, not inward".

Also of interest was that one of the men was from a political activist community. This suggests that his organization sees the violence in Black America as being derived from certain political decisions in the past and present. His objective was to obtain more government funds and more partnerships with corporations to invest in communities as a means of constructing a new framework for people to live in and improve.

The "Sunday Business Page" had a markedly different tone. A representative from the "Pittsburgh Technology Council" talked about her organization's interest to create jobs within the city by coordinating policies and to also do corporate partnerships. In this regard the two groups nearly echoed each other. It was their key differences that were most striking. The Technology group clearly is working from the assumption that the basic issues that the previous show about violence was not in her domain and thus she was able to focus on secondary or tertiary steps forward. IE: Crime and lack of education are not a problem to the people who I see as key to my goals. Second: We have the schools in the area that are top notch and which provide quality education. Our problem is that we continuously lose these people as they graduate and leave town. Where as the first group was seeking policies that would stop the violence by giving kids something to do.....this second group was interested in keepign valued minds in the area as a means of extending and enhancing the economic position of the city.

What if the domain of people that the Technology Council was targeting were also the people that the first group of people were targeting? What would be the attributes and qualifications of this troubled group in order for them to be a group that is targeted for retention?

The first group criticized Pittsburgh for feigning diversity when in fact there is little diversity among the ranks in business. If conditions are today as they were 20 years ago when I was in the mix there - I would have to agree with them. Southern cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Dallas have far more diversity despite the stereotype that the South has been labeled with.

It seems to me that there is a relationship that needs to be built between these two groups. If the common goal is the development of the city and to best position it for the competition in the future - then there needs to be dialogue to make this happen. The technology folks needs to open their eyes toward more people and seek to include them into their academic development plans. The community activists will need to turn their confrontational demands that they would be inclined to place upon this group which would be considered the "White power structure" and begin to work together to push technology and distance learning via computer further into communities that need to be recast - just as they did after the Steel Industry collapse.

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