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April 4: Carnegie Mellon Will Help Pittsburgh Residents Decide on Strategies for Neighborhood Revitalization


Jonathan Potts

Carnegie Mellon Will Help Pittsburgh Residents
Decide on Strategies for Neighborhood Revitalization

Citizens Will Have Say in Choosing Projects for Federal Weed & Seed Grant

PITTSBURGH—Residents of several Pittsburgh neighborhoods will get to voice their opinion about a proposed community revitalization project, thanks to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh's Coro Center for Civic Leadership.    

Leaders from the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh City Council District 3 — which includes Allentown, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Knoxville, Arlington and Mt. Oliver — plan to apply for a $1 million grant under the U.S. Department of Justice's Weed & Seed program. Weed & Seed is a two-pronged strategy for rejuvenating distressed communities by funding programs to reduce crime while simultaneously providing much-needed social services. A community steering committee will develop a series of proposals that a random sample of residents will discuss on July 14 during a Deliberative Poll®, a process developed by James Fishkin of Stanford University.     

"I'm hoping that we figure out what the most important things are to the neighbors and we get some results," said Pittsburgh City Councilman Jeffrey Koch, who represents District 3. "It's tough to engage people and hopefully this will be a start to getting them involved."    

During a Deliberative Poll, a representative sample of a community studies an issue, discusses it among themselves and with an expert panel, and then registers its opinion. About 120 to 150 people will participate in the District 3 poll, which is also sponsored by the City of Pittsburgh and the Birmingham Foundation, and the results will be incorporated into the final Weed & Seed grant proposal. The ideas generated at the poll and during the steering committee meetings will also shape future community projects.    

"Not only will this enhance their chances to get the Weed & Seed grant, but they will have built a community in the process," said Robert Cavalier, a teaching professor of philosophy and co-director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy.    

Gregory Crowley, director of research at the Coro Center, echoed Cavalier in noting that the Deliberative Poll will create cohesion among the so-called hilltop neighborhoods of District 3, which have never recovered from the collapse of Pittsburgh's steel industry.

"They work very closely with people in their own neighborhoods, but they don't work much across neighborhood lines. And there is this sense that if they are going to make any progress in the future, they need to think as a single area," Crowley said.    

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy is an independent, non-partisan organization devoted to the deliberation of issues that shape the lives and future of people in the Pittsburgh region. Its goal is to raise the level of community-wide awareness of and involvement in the pressing issues of social choice that face people in their lives as citizens. In this way, deliberative democracy not only empowers individuals, but also builds a sense of community and enhances civic engagement.