So I did go to the Town Hall meeting for District 7 last night and I feel I should say something. First of all, seven of the nine Council person were in attendance (it’s easiest just to say that Dan Deasy and Reverend Burgess were not there). There were some preliminaries in terms of presentations by a planning person and a budget person, slides that I wish were on the City website (or if they are, I wish they were easier to find). Patrick Dowd took a few minutes, and said something that he apparently feels is the most important issue facing the City. He pointed out that the City has had a downward trend in population since 1950. Dr. Dowd later suggested to me that now is a time also of extraordinary opportunity, although I have some trouble seeing the opportunity if your funds are as limited as ours are.
Now, I don’t know why people were leaving Pittsburgh up to about 1980, maybe it was that whole sun belt versus rust belt thing. But by 1980, heavy manufacturing industry and the formerly large number of corporate headquarters were gone or about to go, and the people who remained in Pittsburgh were retirees in larger numbers than in other cities. So I pointed out (when I took a turn to speak) that the recent decline could be because of people dying off, not necessarily leaving.
I would agree, though, Pittsburgh needs to attract people to the City. That aside, the other big question about the evening is how the Council members got along, considering the recent news stories and the City Paper article. There was no obvious sign of friction among the Council members. I don’t remember Jim Motznik speaking, although he may have at the end (“This is my favorite part of the job”, they all said). There were a few looks of boredom and possibly frustration on some Council faces during the event, especially when other Council persons were talking, but that could have been because it was a hot room at the end of what was probably a long day and near the end of the week.
Of cours, this is my blog and I want to talk about me. So among my suggestions (when I took my turn to talk) were to install a large solar array somewhere (I didn’t say it, but my favorite target location is Flagstaff Hill), a big, flashy project that might get some attention for the city (could be used to power City equipment like traffic lights). I also suggested the City rehab abandoned houses for people returning to the City (say, from exurbs where it is now too expensive to live), putting police on bicycles, and putting something on the City website to help newcomers to the City, like a forum where they could ask questions and see answers to previous questions. The police thing was a repeated theme for the evening, some people complaining there isn’t enough of a police presence, especially after the police station moved, and one memorable speaker describing a series of events in which she felt she and or her children were targeted by the police, possibly called by malicious neighbors. People were asking for foot patrols, I made the bicycle suggestion as a way of giving beat cops more range and a bit more speed potential, while also saving gas. I don't know for sure, but apparently I was mumbling early, and I think my face got quite red. At least I didn't fumble for words like I have in the past when I spoke in front of a crowd.
Many of the evening’s comments had to do with parking, tree removal, police presence and speeders and other traffic issues. Few were related to the larger issues facing the City, but that’s the nature of the relationship between government and its citizens. Most of us ask for help from the City, County, State or Federal government, especially if we approach an elected official.