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Bill Peduto's New Paradigm of Power Challenges Local Neighborhoods

Posted by C. Matthew Hawkins on May 26, 2013 at 3:30 AM

Councilman Bill Peduto is the presumptive next mayor of the City of Pittsburgh after having secured the nomination of the Democratic Party for that post, in a City where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.


Now the question is how Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, such as Homewood-Brushton, should position themselves given the way that Peduto says he intends to govern.


In an extensive interview with 90.5 FM WESA’s Paul Guggenheimer the day after the election Peduto discussed his vision for neighborhood economic development.


Peduto said that he believes he has a mandate to “clean up city hall.” He said that “People are not happy with the way city government's been operating,” adding that, during the current administration “it hasn't been a city that's open for business; it's been a city that's been for sale.”


Peduto’s vision for governing and for economic development is based on a shift in the structure of power in the city. He says that the current power structure is the product of an outdated model, a holdover from the industrial era.


In today’s post-industrial society, heavily shaped by wide-spread access to information technology and the ability of people to become their own producers of ideas and to participate in planning, Peduto believes that power must be decentralized. This, he believes, will encourage innovation. Under a more decentralized paradigm ideas will no longer dictated from the top-down; they will be grown from the bottom-up.


Furthermore, he seems to believe that the top-down model has been overrated, even in terms of responding to the problems in the industrial age. He cites fiascos of top-down planning that were implemented in the Hill District, in East Liberty and on the Northside that made the “experts” look pretty foolish in retrospect.


The Old Paradigm of Power

Peduto argues that people have been locked out of the governing process because “there has been the same … cabal that has been running the city for 40 years.” Economic opportunities and opportunities for innovate development have been blocked, he said, because of an outdated power structure. “We have had, since the days of [legendary Pittsburgh Mayor] Davey Lawrence [1946-1959] a top-down structure for the way that power is in the City of Pittsburgh. It’s a relic of an industrial age. There are a few people Downtown that basically decide what the core priorities of the city are, and then they make sure that the government adheres to them.”


Mayor Lawrence’s model for governance reflected the way society itself was organized during the industrial age. “Lawrence,” said Peduto, “created the model that we live by now. It’s a model that basically created the URA [Urban Redevelopment Authority] and the Allegheny Conference.” These are two planning bodies, one public and the other private, that have had significant impacts on the way the region has developed over the past 65 years.

Peduto acknowledges that this top-down model was not entirely a failure: "It took on the challenges of turning an industrial area of Downtown into a corporate area of Downtown."

But then, according to Peduto, the Lawrence model grew cancerous.


“It went over to the North Side and it demolished the heart of the old Allegheny City and put in a shopping mall; and then it went out to East Liberty and it demolished the heart of the city’s second busiest shopping district and put a ‘race track’ around it; and then it went out to the Hill [District] and demolished the heart of the Hill and built a big arena with parking lots all around it.”

All three of these projects are now considered to have been colossal failures and have become case studies in what not to do for city planning. At the time, however, city officials and private interests were slow to learn from their mistakes. Although they tried to undo the effects of their earlier plans, such as re-opening the East Liberty business district to traffic once again, their confidence in the effectiveness of top-down planning remained unscathed.


“That top-down type of government is the same top-down model that has continued, mayor after mayor after mayor – all of them trying to ride the Davey Lawrence machine,” Peduto said.


How Peduto Would Change Things

Peduto said he would replace the Lawrence model with “a paradigm shift in the way we view power … when we talk about a ‘new Pittsburgh’ it turns that pyramid [of the Lawrence model for power] upside down, and it decentralizes power to give people more of a say in what is happening in their own neighborhoods"

"It's about engaging people and allowing them more of a say in the process, and, in so doing, empowering them to allow innovative ideas to occur in every neighborhood.”


Examples of How Things May Be Done Differently

When Guggenheimer prompted him to provide specifics, Peduto began with development: “Instead of looking at big box development as a way that we should be promoting and putting money behind, looking instead at small businesses.” Additionally, Peduto said, the mayor’s office should be looking at business districts “that haven’t seen any development for decades.” The city should provide “incentive programs that can be spread between dozens of small businesses instead of just one big development.”


Another example that Peduto provided of decentralized governance was in the area of policing. He said, “Again, it comes down to decentralizing power: more power to the zone commanders to be able to make changes in neighborhoods; more of an ability to create strategies neighborhood-by-neighborhood; and more of a community-oriented policing model instead of a top-down model that comes from Downtown.”


If Peduto is elected mayor in November he will have a chance to test the idea of effecting a paradigm shift in the structure of power in this city. The success or failure of his decentralized model for the 21st century will depend, in large part, on how prepared neighborhoods are to organize themselves and participate in the process generating of innovative ideas about commerce and governing.

C. Matthew Hawkins


Categories: Citizenship and Governance