Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pittsburgh's "Town Meeting"

ADB friend and associate PIQ-B got roped into going to the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development "Town Hall" meeting, despite his vicious protests and threats of self inflicted violence against his person. He afterwards spent 2 hours on the phone, in a drunken stupor, giving me his low-down on the event. (Fortunately, ADB was spared this apparent travesty of community development, and spent his evening on the couch watching reruns of The Simpsons.)

The event was billed as a chance for community groups to set priorities and an agenda for the upcoming administration, and a chance for local CDCs and CBOs to speak with one voice... but in reality, it was the same old crap wrapped up with voting opportunities.

Some notes from the drunken Mr. PIQ-B:

(1) The event was too large. Someone, apparently, thought that a focus group of 70 people was manageable and that it would be easy to have a reasonable dialogue. The only this that was missing from the ensuing circus was a fire-eater. A more reasonable number for an exchange of ideas would have been, like, 10. Moreover, there were a lot of actors that were not present that could have informed the discussion (read: ranting) a wee bit better.

(2) Nobody at the Community/Neighborhood gives a damn about the private sector. Everyone is far more concerned about what the government sector can do for them rather than how they can work with the private sector to grow a neighborhood.

(3) Unfortunately, no one actually knows what the Government actually does and does not do (Rule #12).

(4) There are a lot of ignorant people at the community level, with no understanding about how neighborhood development actually works. Combined with #3 above, they are much more likely to blame some faceless "government" for their problems, instead of their total lack of experience, intelligence, and knowledge about... well... everything. Ms. CDC Executive Director, ever think that the reason that development doesn't happen in your neighborhood is not because the URA or City Planning is conspiring against you, but because you are a worthless piece of shit with the development accumen of, let's say, toe fungus? Or to be more eloquent: the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in City Planning, but ourselves. [PIQ-B was pissed.]

(5) The neighborhoods and the neighborhood groups continually see themselves as "victims."

(6) Loud people will always set an agenda not because they are right, but because they are loud.

(7) The Pittsburgh Community Development scene has no new ideas.

(8) The Pittsburgh Community Development scene has no big ideas.

(9) The Pittsburgh Community Development scene cannot think outside of their own narrowly circumscribed world to focus on larger city and regional issues. [No one talked about cluster development strategies or tech transfer, btw.]

(10) Seriously, who are we kidding with this meeting: no one is going to give up anything so that someone else can be better off. Central Northside, for example, would never agree to a plan that would benefit Bloomfield at their own expense. Politics (and Community Development) is local; to pretend that all the seperate groups could join hands and sing kumbayah is ridiculous.

(11) And finally... according to a gentleman who spoke up in one of the group sessions, this is the same meeting that occured EIGHT YEARS AGO with THE SAME ISSUES BEING BROUGHT UP. EIGHT FRIGGIN' YEARS AND WE'RE STILL TALKING ABOUT THE SAME SHIT!

PIQ-B was obviously frustrated by the meeting, feeling that the combination of ignorance and parochialism meant that nothing useful would be accomplished at all. Instead, this was a massive bitch session, with no clear focus and no clear agenda, and no useful outcomes.

Oh, and apparently they used the words "proactive." "paradigm," and "empower." If I was there, I would have thrown a chair at someone's head.

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