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July 16: Carnegie Mellon, Coro Center Give Voice to Residents of Southern Pittsburgh


Jonathan Potts

Carnegie Mellon and Coro Center Give Voice
To Residents of Southern Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

"Community Conversation" Will Allow Residents To Share Ideas for Rejuvenation

PITTSBURGH—Residents of several southern Pittsburgh neighborhoods will come together Saturday, July 21, to discuss strategies for revitalizing their communities, thanks to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh's Coro Center for Civic Leadership.

Dubbed a "Community Conversation," the event is part of a plan by leaders in Mt. Oliver Borough and Pittsburgh City Council District 3 — which includes Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Knoxville, the city's Mt. Oliver neighborhood and St. Clair — 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 has come up with a series of issues, including crime, youth opportunities, vacant buildings and economic development, that a group of 140 residents will discuss during the daylong Community Conversation. The event will be similar to a Deliberative Poll®, a process developed by James Fishkin of Stanford University in which a sample of a community studies an issue, discusses it among themselves and with an expert panel, and then registers its opinion.

The Community Conversation will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Potters House Ministries (the old St. Joseph's Church) at 430 Cathedral St. in Pittsburgh's Mt. Oliver neighborhood. The event is also being supported by the city of Pittsburgh and the South Side-based Birmingham Foundation.

The results of the discussions will be incorporated into the final Weed & Seed grant proposal, but that is just one goal of the event. The broader purpose of the Community Conversation is to develop a common agenda that residents can use as a guide for future community projects.

"These are discussions that are going to inform the community about what the issues and challenges are and how best to approach them," 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, said the residents of the so-called hilltop communities recognize that they can only solve their problems if they work together, and the Community Conversation is one of the first steps in that process.

"This event is unique in that the main purpose is to generate creative ideas for working together across neighborhoods. Government agencies, foundations, financial institutions and nonprofit intermediaries have made it clear that cross-neighborhood collaboration will be the key to community revitalization in the future," Crowley said.

Steering committee member Judy Hackel, president of the Allentown Community Development Corp., said she hopes residents will come away from the event better informed about the services that are already available in their communities.

"I would like to see more people become aware of the issues, and also aware that there are people who have been working on these issues for quite a while, and that they will decide to join us," Hackel said. "I'm hoping too that maybe someone has some new ideas. You've got fresh eyes coming. Maybe there are things that we are not seeing."