What are we tolerating and putting up with?
|August 2, 2009||Posted by engagedcitizen under Allegheny-County, Civic Engagement, Community Development, Jobs, Labor, Location, Mon Valley, Neighborhoods, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Sustainable Development, Urban Planning, voting|
Last week as we left Loew’s and a sneak preview of Funny People, once again we found ourselves appreciating just how awful the design of the Waterfront is. It’s as if the bad mall martians flew in from outer space, landing on one of the most key-critical, history rich and defining sites of Pittsburgh’s past, wiping it out – and in it’s place, leaving a bubble of bland, consumerism in an enclosure with little to no accessibility to the town from which is was annexed, not to mention, with little to no economic benefit as well.
And yet, I continued to wonder, as my husband was winding his way through this design-flaw filled space, how have we managed to do it again? The Steelers have invited the very same developers, the same poor designers, to do their “magic” on a piece of public land central to our city’s north side. Talking bad about the Steelers is kind of like insulting your mama in this town, but let me just point out that the Steelers are a privately owned commercial enterprise. Why would a sports team have so much power and leverage in decision-making about public land? After all, they are not elected, are they? And why would this publicly owned land be sold for a song to a commercial enterprise with little to no public oversight or accountability? Especially without any clearly defined benefits to people living in the surrounding communities the development will affect. Aha! you say what about about the over site boards, the Planning Commission and the Sports Authority– aren’t they publicly accountable?
Well, let’s just see: The mayor appoints individuals to the Planning Commission, the Sports Authority, the Water and Sewage board, Port Authority oversight, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, not to mention the the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Historic Review Commission and the Shade Tree Commission. Millions, if not Billions, of dollars are in the hands of these individuals — not to mention the long term political and economic implications of their decision making. Their appointments are supposed to be given rigorous scrutiny by City Council, and yet in the last July 2009 go-round, the Council gave the mayor 5-4 support without any hearings or review of his appointments.
At a May 2009 Planning Commissionmeeting, 170 people showed up, in the middle of a work day, to give testimony regarding the negative impact proposed development will have to their neighborhoods in Pittsburgh’s north side. We are talking about the afore mentioned, Steelers proposed development designed by Continental Development of Columbus Ohio, the authors of the Waterfront. Do you think the voices of 170 people made a bit of difference to the unelected, appointed members of the Planning Commission? And do you think they made a difference to the mayor? (who was essentially appointed and never has had to work his way through the rigors of an election campaign cycle, that is, be responsive to voters) In the words of John Belushi, “noooooooooooooo”
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by what we are capable of tolerating, myself included. But there is some part of me that has to beg the question to my fellow participants in democracy, “Why are we putting up with this condition as a city and as a region?” We won’t tolerate pushing aside the democratic process of public accountability in our national government. We proved that as a nation in our last election cycle. But somehow, when this top-down, Executive dominant way of doing things that we associate readily with Bush-Cheney is at our own back door, we easily hold our collective nose and look the other way. Just why, oh why, are we putting up with this condition?