Tag Archives: Hill District Consensus Group

Hill CDC Meeting Announces Lower Hill Deal

Take two after losing the post I wrote last night. Last night, The Hill District Community Development Corporation (The Hill CDC) had a community meeting focused on two subjects: The recent deal outlining what would come back to the Hill from the gift given to the Penguins by our local government in order for them not to leave i.e. the rights to develop the 28 acres in the Lower Hill District.  The second element of the meeting was an envisioning of what might happen on Centre Ave. As there were a lot of details and potential implications to both issues, I will not try to handle this all in one post. First- what I heard from Councilman Daniel Lavelle re: the deal on the Lower Hill.

I came in on the tail end of the presentation and so the part that I was able to hear pertained to a fund that will be created to spur development in the entire Hill. According to the Councilman, the fund will get its dollars from  a TIF or Tax Increment Financing deal that will send 65% of the increase in taxes raised by the redevelopment of the Lower Hill to the Hill District Growth Fund and 35% back to the City of Pittsburgh. TIFs are something I am still trying to get my head around, so I hope to come back to that in a later post, but the headlines that I heard are the following:

  •  the deal could lead to anywhere from $22 million to $70 million in dollars to fund development across the Hill District;
  • the signatories were the Mayor, the Councilman, the Penguins and the Hill District CDC;
  • the committee currently managing the Hill District Growth Fund will appoint new members to the body and other political entities, such as the city or county will not be able to weigh in on who sits on the committee;
  • the agreement will be posted on the Councilman’s page.

Questions from the audience ranged from how would the fund be governed and ensured to benefit the Hill District residents to could the fund help with the eventual tax increases that property owners in the Hill will face as a result of the new development, which is a fascinating idea in and of itself. Wouldn’t that mean from a taxing strategy perspective that the city was developing property in the Lower Hill to raise taxes for its own operations, sending a chunk back to the Hill to help it redevelop “itself” (the Hill is still a part of the City) and then some of these same dollars were then coming back to the City treasure chest in the form of abatements given to residents to offset the the taxes caused by the redevelopment?  Owning two properties in the Hill, I can’t say I’m mad about that idea, and what I like about it is that it essentially means that Hill District residents would not have to incur the same price for the redevelopment of their neighborhood, but could reap the benefit in increased home values.  Interesting.

Anyway, the Councilman’s response on making sure the dollars allocated to the Hill were actually going to benefit the Hill had much to do with governance. Here he talked about the way the current members of the committee managing the Hill District Growth Fund would manage these dollars and that this committee would be the only one with the power to appoint new members, so that there could be no interference from other entities such as the City or County. This was posited as community control and while it surely will be controlled by residents and stakeholders of the Hill District (there was a resident clause to the membership on the committee that I missed), I have raised questions going back a couple of years as to how “community” is operationalized. This will be key if the fund is going to provide anything approaching equal access to all ideas and not be severely weighted towards those close to the Councilman and the Hill District CDC, which can happen even without intentions of graft, corruption and the like. Funding organizations (and I work for one) are notorious for providing access based on proximity to the board and staff of the organization, so this fund, garnered in the name of the Hill District community, has both the opportunity and burden of actually developing a process that leads to attracting and fairly funding all kinds of community ideas and to date. One idea I suggested two years ago that I don’t believe has happened and was not mentioned last night was to rotate members of the committee governing the fund.

The opportunity is to set a standard for how communities could decide funding processes and priorities for themselves and that all kinds of funding orgs, like philanthropy, government and intermediaries could learn from or be encouraged to take up. From what I can see this hasn’t happened to date  I was encouraged that the Councilman spoke of a need to think about the processes governing the fund, but said it was best to speak to the POISE Foundation as to how this would actually happen. In a later twitter exchange that included my wife, Dr. Bonnie Young Laing, who has written about anti-displacment policies and how cronyism helps to foster and preserve slums, Councilman Lavelle weighed in that he agreed that the governance of the fund and its transparency was all important.

Lavelle Laing twitter exchange

As Mayor Peduto has said this is the largest TIF deal in the city’s history, there will be much to think about as to how this will benefit the neighborhood and I am very glad we have this to think,  talk and act about.

 

Thinking of a Hill Art Plan

A couple of weeks ago, the Hill District Consensus Group (for whom my wife works, I am a supporter and the organization I work for, The Heinz Endowments, is a funder) held its second art plan meeting at the Hill House Association. The focus of this meeting was, in accordance with The Greater Hill District Master Plan, to take another step in the development of a plan for arts and culture in the Hill District. The meeting was facilitated by HDCG staffer, Brian Brown, and was attended by a range of interested parties including Errol Reynolds (Moe) and Charlotte Ka and who are working to build a cultural center to host artist residencies, performances, classes and more on Centre and Soho, Karen Abrams, Hill District resident and URA staffer, Thomas Chatman, Hill District resident and Executive Director of Pittsburgh Dance Ensemble, IAsia Thomas, teaching artist & poet, Ayisha Morgan Lee, Executive Director of Hill Dance Academy Theater, which holds its classes in the old St. Benedict the Moor School on Bedford Ave, an organization also funded by The Heinz Endowments, and Marimba Milliones, Executive Director of the Hill District Community Development Corporation, who came in during the latter part of the meeting and as I was leaving. Additionally, there were a range of youth staff from the HDCG, staff of Public Allies and Luqmon Salaam who was there in his capacity as a member of S Consulting.

There were a few guiding questions that we worked on in the meeting and the agenda can be seen here HDCG Arts Plan Working Group Agenda & Action Plan_Feb 11 2014. The section of the conversation that was most memorable in my mind was the discussion with Karen Abrams  and Moe around the idea that arts plan should have a balance of work that is designed to help the community remember the best of its past thought and behavior (cultural legacy) as well as facilitate  creative production from professional artists, organizations, and non professional adults and youth (art). Celebrating past creative production and facilitating current production, particularly by African Americans, could play an important role in maintaining the neighborhood’s African American identity, attracting Black artists and attracting former residents to return and new African American residents to want to make the Hill their home while making this neighborhood a much more interesting and child friendly place. My suspicion is keeping the Hill predominantly African American will also keep it more affordable since everything is monetized or given a dollar value  in capitalism and Black life is deemed less valuable in our culture. Think of the “There goes the neighborhood” phrase. I can hear my friend and colleague, Karen Abrams, sucking her teeth and pointing to Harlem, so that could be a misplaced hope. What I am most interested in as a different conversation and set of actions when it comes to artists and “redevelopment” in predominantly African American neighborhoods. So often when Pittsburgh talks “artists” and cultural/economic/neighborhood development what is imagined is the facilitating and relocating of  artists who often do not have a history of being in dialogue or being inspired by the neighborhood, its culture and history and this only continues when they arrive. Most often these are white artists and this only compounds the feeling that a neighborhood is being “taken”. More to say on this matter, but I want to get this up and posted because it’s been a moment since I have posted.

Next steps will be to involve more residents both artists and non-artists and Bonnie and Brian had the good idea to begin to take the questions listed on the agenda to a variety of community settings, rather than wait for folks to come to meetings, so I am excited about that strategy just for the kinds of conversations and visibility it can give to conversations of culture in the Hill.  I believe the next meeting will be in the next couple of weeks and residents (the current priority) should contact Brian Brown at brown@hdcg.org to get more information. To see the good ideas already generated about what kinds of arts activity is desired for the neighborhood, please click on HDCG Arts Plan Working Group Notes_Meeting 2_Feb 19 2014 revised1.  Work on this plan will be ongoing and so I hope to have further updates as it progress. Onward and upward…

First new writer to Hillombo!

Português: Busto de Zumbi dos Palmares em Bras...

Português: Busto de Zumbi dos Palmares em Brasília. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starting today you will begin to occasionally (at first) see new writers on the Hillombo blog. As noted in the “About” section, Hillombo takes its name from the Quilombo communities of Brazil, but those communities in order to exist had to be collectively supported, so it only makes sense that the blog function in a similar way. (In fact, the bust to the right is of Zumbi, one of the famed leaders of the most famous of the Quilombos, Quilombos dos Palmares). This idea has a couple of inspirations, one, information I gathered preparing for the Hill District Consensus Group’s Citizen Journalism a panel. A panel that included  the author of Homewood Nation, Elwin Green, a blog that preceded Hillombo by 7 years. Blogger Matt Hawkins was to take part as well, but was feeling a little under the weather. The second piece of inspiration comes from the community of bloggers at the Crunk Feminist Collective. If you want to get some inspiration and a thoughtful take on what’s happening on the national scene, reading what these women are talking about will make you sit up in your chair and work the grey matter.

So, I am honored that the first blogger besides myself on Hillombo is Ms. Renee Aldrich, longtime resident of the Hill District.  Ms. Renee’s post is a beautiful piece about an unopened envelope she found that pertained to her grandmother, “Ma Pitts”. This is one the many stories that are tribute to this community’s  resilience and brilliance and made me wonder what stories will be told by granddaughters fifty years from today.  If you are a Hill District resident and are interested writing an article, please send me an email at jdlaing@gmail.com. Let’s Get Free. Enjoy.

Today was a good day

Snuck into the Hill District Consensus Group (HDCG) meeting yesterday having missed the update on the grocery store, but did get there in time to hear Dr. Emma Lucas Darby, HDCG board member, make the following announcement:  as part of the Community Benefits Agreement negotiated by the One Hill Community Benefits Coalition, there is a college scholarship available for youth living in the Hill District. Dr. Darby also announced that on November 11th at 5:30 at the there will be an information session on how to enroll in college. For both topics, please follow-up with the HDCG. The meeting closed out with Mr. Carl Redwood saying “30%, 20%, Curtain Call and Dollar-A-Car”, which is a chant for the Lower Hill and represents “30% affordable housing, 20% businesses run by folks from the Hill District, the public art project “the Curtain Call” and that the Penguins should give a dollar a day for every car that pays for parking in the “Lower Hill” to a fund to benefit the Hill District. On the way out I spoke with a woman living in Crawford Sq. who is working on opening a new business and not sure where to place it and she was not aware of what the 20% reference signified, so the need to educate and organize continues.

Last night went to the Ujamaa Collective’s (UC) Open Mic and got to hear the second half of the evening’s inspiring and complex poetry from the likes of Joy KMT, Bekezela Mguni, a young MC whose name I didn’t capture and was spitting fire, Louis Collier with a recently released book and had the crowd laughing with a poem called “white girls”, the UC’s Executive Director, Lakeisha Wolf, Erin Perry, a brother who did a powerful piece on the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike of 1968 and Hotep The Artist making the audience think about domestic violence, birthing and other pleasurable experiences you can read about on Hillombo Uncensored. The evening’s featured poet and the H.I.’s own, Kim El, blessed the audience with a few of the monologues from her upcoming show “Straightening Combs”. Kim El will present Straightening Combs October 26th and 27th at the Hill House Association’s Elsie Hillman Auditorium, so be sure to come out. The baby of the bunch, I was even inspired to enter the circle and add a couple of poems (with hands shaking so bad I thought I might drop my phone). Unfortunately, I missed Ms. Renee Aldridge and a number of others who shared before I arrived. The affair ended well after midnight and folks were still hanging around and lingering is always a sign folks enjoyed themselves. If anyone can write in and add the names of folks from the first half of the evening and the folks whose names I missed, I’d be mighty obliged.

Policies have a lot do with where resources flow and that’s critical. Arts experiences help make hearts, minds and relationships and some say it’s hearts, minds and relationships that, for better or worse, produce policy, neighborhoods and communities. Here’s to more arts in the Hill.

A good day…

The Mayoral Election + Race + Hill District = Jack Wagner?

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you…Interesting tweets a week ago Friday night as Mayoral candidate Bill Peduto was on a Hill District bar crawl going to the Flamingo and Ace’s Deuce’s. So, clearly it’s Hill District voters he’s courting, but it’s also a move for African American voters. One of the tweets reference my man, Rep. Ed Gainey , the African American state rep from the East End, and you can click here for Rep. Gainey’s comments on Peduto as the candidate for the African American community. The idea of a collective Pittsburgh African American interest is  being heard clearly in this Democratic Party Mayoral Primary, which is striking when we think about the race narratives of the national election just 6 months ago where President Obama and the Democratic Party downplayed race, a strategy presumably supported by the local Democratic Party members involved in this election. Pittsburgh does need a serious conversation about racism and racial disparities, but it’s hard to see, without intervention from anti-racism folks, that this conversation continues within the Democratic Party once the race conversation has served its purpose i.e. mobilizing votes in the Mayoral election.

As Pittsburgh’s oldest predominantly African American neighborhood, the Hill District has been a major contributor to this election race’s narrative  First, and primarily, there is the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention (PBPC), a group whose goal is “to unite the black vote behind the candidacy of a single candidate for mayor in the 2013 Primary Election” and led by the Hill District’s former City Councilman, Mr. Sala Udin,  endorsing the Hill District’s State Representative Jake Wheatley.  But there was also an editorial in the Pittsburgh Courier, printed in the City Paper as “the mayoral race: a black perspective“, by the minister of the Hill District’s Monumental Baptist Church, Rev. Thomas Smith, who was writing as a member of the Western PA Black Political Assembly (WPBPA). This letter shares an analysis that seems to point to Mayoral candidate Bill Peduto as the best of imperfect options, but talks about the difficult place for Black folks in this election. And there is Councilman Bill Robinson, the African American County Councilman from the Hill who is explicitly endorsing Bill Peduto and who one would imagine is a part of Peduto’s campaign to connect to Hill District and African American voters.

Clearly, African American voters are critical to this election, but if you needed further evidence of this you would only need look at last week’s big mayoral campaign story, the attack ad against Bill Peduto.  This ad, paid for by  The Committee for a Better Pittsburgh and chaired by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, positions Bill Peduto as not being supportive of a number of African American neighborhoods.   This ad is apparently the first of many that will come from the mayor’s group in attempt to show “the real Bill Peduto“, but that its first choice is to focus on the African American vote is telling. So, the PBPC is supporting Rep. Wheatley and Councilman Peduto is working for support from African American voters, where is Jack Wagner’s campaign in relation to the race conversation?

Despite the fact that Jack Wagner received the fewest votes of Democratic Party candidates participating in the PBPC process, it may turn out that it helps get him elected. The PBPC endorsement process itself is worth looking at to see this possibility. Even though the Wheatley victory in the PBPC process produced the result most assumed it would, it’s useful to look at it as a microcosm of Black voter sentiment in this election. After Wheatley’s 112 votes, Bill Peduto won 72 votes compared Wagner’s 29.  So, if we can assume Peduto is preferable to African American votes over Wagner then what happens if African American voters turn out in serious numbers for Wheatley? Well, African American voters cease to be in play between Wagner and Peduto and it becomes a “whites mainly” election (note: there are a variety of social, class, and geographic differences  among whites that deserve attention as to their impact on this election)  between these two candidates which favors Wagner.  Why so? If we use the PBPC process as even a rough estimate of African American voter desire,  Peduto clearly had more support from African American voters than Wagner. Thus every African American vote for Wheatley is essentially  a vote that would more likely have gone to Peduto than Wagner, and thus votes for Wheatley are also a boon for Wagner. In effect, and I oversimplify a bit to make a point, this leaves Peduto with a two front war: Wheatley and African American voters on one side and Wagner and white voters on the other. Meanwhile, Wagner can focus principally on Peduto and white voters. Wheatley will likely also attract some liberal whites, which also comes out of Peduto’s end.

But the $64,000 question is does the Wheatley Campaign or Mr. Udin, as the convener of the PBPC, have their own Hill dog in the Peduto v. Wagner fight we are seeing play out everyday?  I would think so.  As anyone participating in or watching Hill District civic life knows, Wheatley and City Councilman Daniel Lavelle are  allies. Both worked for former Councilman Udin, both serve on the  Greater Hill District Development Growth Fund, and both are active supporters of the Hill District Community Development Corp of which Mr. Udin is a longstanding board member. Add to this that Peduto and Daniel Lavelle are known not to be supportive of one another or even on speaking terms and a Peduto win could well diminish Lavelle’s current authority and capacity to impact the Hill District through support of the Hill District CDC since, as Mayor, Peduto would be unlikely to keep Lavelle as Vice-Chair of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.  This is turn would affect the plans for the Lower Hill’s 28 acres; a process being led by Lavelle and the Hill CDC. This potential creates its own separate set of political incentives.

So, could the candidacy of a Hill District based African American candidate and a process led by long-term Hill District political activist play an important role in helping to elect Jack Wagner, the man who received the fewest votes of the Democrats participating in the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention? Again, I think so. I will vote for Bill Peduto. I like the creativity and policy wonkishness he shows in his 100 position papers , one of which is about his support of the Dollar a Car Campaign, an effort being led by the Hill District Consensus Group of which my wife is co-director and I am also a member.  However, of these 100 papers I do not see one with a focus on the  general issue of racism, which has negatively impacted the Hill District for centuries. Rather there are couple focused on diversity initiatives, so I won’t delude myself about the kind of leadership Peduto will provide on the systemic issue of racism facing this city.  Still, when I went to see a Mayoral debate a few weeks ago, Wagner seemed completely absent of ideas on African American neighborhoods, like the Hill, was clueless about the ban the box movement, and, his support from organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police doesn’t suggest he will be first or second out the gate to be forthright on the issue of police brutality, still a serious Pittsburgh issue, particularly for African American men and boys. Interestingly, Wagner might be Ravenstahl all grown up, a more well spoken, professional version of a man who will do business as usual. Pittsburgh needs some shaking up, and that includes the Hill.

You Can Find Me In ‘Da Club…The Block Club

Last evening, Nazura Haymon and I knocked on doors in the Middle Hill as a part of an effort of the Hill District Consensus Group (an organization for which Nazura and my wife work) to develop block leaders in the Hill District. Nazura and I were letting folks know about the upcoming meeting for the blocks encompassed by streets Wylie, Duff, Webster and Sommers. The plan is that at this meeting neighbors will share ideas about what we could do collectively and then later we can develop a plan of action. Personally, what I think is desperately needed is a place for children and youth to play. Unless I want to drive somewhere (an option not all parents have), the lack of space almost forces me to keep them inside and that has a bunch of other negative consequences (tv, video games, my wife and I going nuts, etc). It would be nice to have a place where the kids could play safe in a location that is visible from the house. So, a play space will be what I will be wanting to get energy around, but others will want other things, so that’ll be interesting as well. It was a clear night, not too cold and every door was answered by someone friendly, willing to talk and seemingly excited to do something. A good day.