Ideas for a Better Pittsburgh: Semifinalists, Part III

Pittsburgh Tomorrow contest results
Artem Beliaikin /​Pexels Ideas for a Better Pittsburgh: Semifinalists, Part III
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Pittsburgh Quarterly invited readers and neighbors to offer up their best ideas for improving the region through the Spring 2019 Pittsburgh Tomorrow Contest. The 13 finalists chosen by the Pittsburgh Today advisory board were published online and in the Fall 2019 issue of the magazine. But the ideas of another nearly three dozen thinkers made the semifinal round out of the 115 who submitted proposals that ranged from grand to humble in scope. Here are the thoughts of a few of our semifinalists. More semifinalists will be published in the coming weeks.

Read “Ideas for a Better Pittsburgh: Semifinalists, Part I” here.

Read “Ideas for a Better Pittsburgh: Semifinalists, Part IIhere.

Restrict Straws

The consequences of plastic straws on our planet and aquatic life is inexcusable. Pittsburgh can help reduce the irreversible effects of our plastic straw consumption by banning or taxing straw usage and providing sustainable alternatives for its citizens to become more environmentally friendly. Some 500 million straws are used every day, while 8.3 billion pollute areas of water, even our three rivers. Turtles, seabirds, seals, and whales plus more have been found having ingested plastic. Because they cannot be easily recycled, plastic straws take two hundred years to decompose, and as they do, release harmful toxins in the water supply. This jeopardizes water quality everywhere and endangers habitats and aquatic life, not only in oceans but in western Pennsylvania as well.

There are several workable options our city could consider. To begin, parts of Florida, New Jersey, New York City, and Washington D.C. have either banned or imposed a tax on plastic straws. Starbucks is doing away with them and producing a new recyclable plastic lid. Olive Garden asks customers if they would like to use a straw. Pittsburgh could follow the same approach. For example, banning or taxing them would be ideal. Even a 5-​cent tax added onto a bill would incentivize people to not want to use one. Other alternatives include providing biodegradable paper and plastic straws, stainless steel straws and reusable silicone straws, all cheap and plausible. As a fellow Primanti Brothers enthusiastic, it is refreshing to wash a sandwich down with an ice, cold pop. That is still possible with these proposals. Striving to make progress during such a crucial time would positively impact our city and planet.”

—Paige Colicchie

Enliven with Free Expression

The International Free Expression Project offers several ideas for building public support for the right of all people to express themselves in the ways they see fit, and drawing international attention to Pittsburgh as a center of creativity and imagination that welcomes everyone.

The IFEP began with the Post-Gazette’s abandonment of its historic newspaper building on the Boulevard of the Allies at the Point and the idea of incorporating its massive presses into the world’s first iconic work of pubic art symbolizing a free press. This monument would rise at Pittsburgh’s equally iconic Gateway, on or near the Post-​Gazette site. IFEP also includes other initiatives, each of which draws on the talents of both Pittsburgh and international communities. The ideas include:

1) Construct an internationally recognized symbol of free expression with cutting-​edge technology so that it can generate energy and appear as almost anything — from the Eiffel Tower, to Guernica, to falling rain— and be programmed and reprogrammed by artists living anywhere. These capabilities are being explored by experts in energy innovation, smart materials, robotics, art technology and other fields.

2) Build a financially self-​sustaining Marketplace of Ideas in the cavernous former Post-​Gazette pressroom at the front entrance to Pittsburgh, featuring a food hall, coffee bars, artisan stalls, musical and theatrical performances, art projections — an explosion of expression.

3) Invent immersive educational tools that drive home the importance of free expression. Already started is the adaptation of CMU’s EarthTime to display attacks on journalists and artists around the world and explain how viewers can help them. These interactive experiences will be sprinkled throughout the Marketplace and made available to advocacy groups and educators.

The objectives of these ideas include drawing international attention to Pittsburgh as an incubator of ideas, showcase Pittsburgh’s originality and innovation at the city’s main entrance; extending to the Point the corridors of arts, entertainment and excitement that run from the Strip District to Market Square and along Smithfield and First avenues; and attracting visitors, residents, investment and economic activity to Pittsburgh from around the world.”

—Greg Victor

Invest in Parents

What if Pittsburgh’s next big bet was on young children and their families? What if we invested in making sure every parent had the opportunity to upskill so they could earn a family-​sustaining wage? A January Pittsburgh Post-​Gazette article cited a disheartening statistic: 17 percent of Allegheny County children live in poverty. In some communities, that statistic reaches as high as 50 percent.

The children behind these numbers face a host of challenges: hunger, instability, difficulty in school and limited opportunities. The effects of poverty follow a child into adulthood. They are less likely to complete high school, are at increased risk of poor health and are more likely to remain in poverty as adults.

Solving child poverty begins with ensuring parents are able to take advantage of today’s robust economy. Of children who live in poverty in Pennsylvania, 54 percent have parents who lack a high school diploma, and 33 percent have parents who did not attend college. Yet, most jobs require these credentials. In particular, middle-​skill jobs — positions which require education beyond high school, but not a four-​year degree — represent 50 percent of projected job openings over the next decade.

Adults without a high school diploma or who lack strong English language, math or reading skills, must first overcome these barriers. Adult education programs help these strivers gain the skills they need to push forward, while raising awareness of career opportunities in high-​demand positions that pay a family-​sustaining wage. Programs, such as Literacy Pittsburgh, provide an on-​ramp to a career pathway that creates stability and security for parents and children.

There has never been a better time to address this root cause of poverty. Middle-​skill jobs account for 54 percent of Pennsylvania’s current labor market, but only 43 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-​skill level. These positions provide a rapid pathway to family prosperity. It is up to us to make sure this pathway is open to everyone.

What will it take to make this happen? Steps that will help include investing in adult education programs at the local, state and federal levels; coordination among services that adults need to become employable; affordable, high-​quality early child care and education so parents can pursue training and advance their careers; and the commitment of businesses to provide skill development programs for their employees and future employees through apprenticeships and on-​the-​job training. By investing in parents, we can forge a better future for our children.”

—Maria Polinsky

Extend the Subway

A few years ago, I was watching Macy’s Thanksgiving parade from New York City. This parade takes place over a route through the Upper West Side and Midtown Manhattan. As I was watching the parade, I found the urban quality of NYC remarkable. The parade route travels predominantly down Central Park West and then Sixth Avenue. This route is almost fully served by subways directly beneath it. The selection of the parade route, the urbanity of the locations, and the service by subways is no accident. Like many urban locations, NYC is fully served by underground and above-​ground transit. This transit allows the viability of truly urban residential neighborhoods, with three– and four-​story walk-​ups close by the rail, and the residents with transit integrated in their lives.

Pittsburgh’s transit is fragmented and incomplete. Some southern suburbs and the North Shore are served by rail transit. The express busways are an awkward compromise. Their logic is easily understood, but while providing a relatively seamless route from outer suburbs to downtown, they then clog downtown street traffic with buses. Being above ground, the busways create barriers to the urban fabric, much like expressways. Pittsburgh has wonderful qualities, but it does not capitalize on available transit patterns to become truly urban. It feels more like a collection of small towns than a city.

The natural place to create an urban corridor is a spine line to Oakland. This spine line should be built beneath Fifth Avenue, with a crossing connection at Steel Plaza, and stops all along the route. This would firmly connect the two most urban parts of Pittsburgh, Downtown and Oakland, and rejuvenate Uptown with reliable transportation to these nodes. The benefit to Shadyside and other inner suburbs would be appreciable also. The spine line is proposed entirely beneath an existing road so that it could be cut and cover, not tunneling. It would be a costly and ambitious commitment. But the benefits would be worth it. And imagine a parade from Oakland to Downtown, through a dense and urban Uptown!”

—David Pecharka

PQ Staff

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