Last summer, Susan Crookston looked at the 8-acre Aspinwall Marina site on the Allegheny River, which was about to become a 650-car parking lot. When she saw it, the Aspinwall mother of three said, “If this plan falls through for some reason, we should try to buy this ourselves.”
Laughter met her idea, but when the parking plan collapsed, she created a business plan. She visited county officials, and laughter reigned again. They said she’d need a lawyer and a landscape architect. Undaunted, Crookston visited the site with Reed Smith lawyer Ed Seifert and landscape architect Landy Dowler. Both started helping at no charge. A week later, Dowler said, “I have a drawing for you.” The drawing envisioned a riverfront park with trails, green space and construction of two storm-water retention ponds to filter water before it reaches the Allegheny. The plan was taking shape, including financing activities by leasing the marina to its current operator and, perhaps, leasing to other like-minded businesses.
In January, with Friends of the Riverfront as financial agent, the citizens agreed to buy the property for $2.3 million—if they can raise the money by Sept. 1. The all-volunteer group has held a flea market; neighborhood children are collecting pennies; the brownie troop is selling lemonade. Softball tournaments, dancing with the stars, and a “Mom Prom” are planned, the latter featuring local mothers showing their old prom photos. If everything comes through, Crookston’s group has less than $1 million to go. This park would not only offer nature, fishing and kayaking for Aspinwall, it would also remove one of the few blank spots of a bike trail stretching from Erie to Washington, D.C. We’re putting Crookston and her community on the pedestal for exemplary leadership and citizenship. Their vision, effort and determination will improve Aspinwall and Pittsburgh. The community can’t afford to let this chance slip past.
In the stocks: state spending priorities
With our state facing a budget deficit projected at $4 billion, it’s inevitable that necessary cuts will be painful and unpopular. Like others however, we’ve been shocked by Governor Tom Corbett’s targeting education with the highest cuts in America. We see a disturbing problem. In the 2011–12 proposed state budget, higher education spending falls 44 percent from $1.48 billion a year ago to $835 million. In the same period, however, spending for corrections, probation and parole rises 10 percent from $1.84 billion to $2.03 billion. To say there’s a pathology at work here is an understatement. When the institutions which build our future shrink while those which imprison our people expand, how can we avoid the simple conclusion that our society has lost its way? The situation is aggravated when we consider incentives. Prison budgets grow when the numbers of incarcerated rise. Wouldn’t we be smarter to have a “corrections system” that rewards its leaders for reducing the number of inmates instead of increasing their budgets for imprisoning more people? Conversely—and perhaps perversely—consider Pitt as an example of the incentives to our universities. In nearly every sector, Pitt’s success over the past 15 years has been dramatic. The research breakthroughs achieved by Pitt faculty regularly improve the world. That research brings the best and brightest to Pittsburgh, as well as hundreds of millions of grant dollars every year. Most Pitt grads remain here, contributing in every sector. Finally, Pitt and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are the region’s most important economic engine. Unlike the prison system, however, Pitt and other universities appear to be penalized for their success.