Launched the first draft of BEST PGH – my exploration project of bringing business services to existing commercial endeavors who are located in the underserved neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

My intent is to bridge gaps in financing and IT development cause by the lack of robust connections and networks that wealthier business districts can offer by intentionally targeting businesses and engaging with them over long-term periods (18 months).

The underlying theory is that you can change a neighborhood by building up its businesses, helping them grow and hire and be more robustly present in their district, and become capable of providing increasingly resilient services. I do not assume they can not already do this, but I do know I have seen businesses struggle for lack of resources and networks, and that underserved communities can want for these resources. And that I can be the bridge that provides them.

CONNECTing in Allegheny County

I had the pleasure of attending a CONNECT meeting yesterday. CONNECT is a regular meeting, usually monthly, of invited leadership from Allegheny County who gather together and work on solving common municipal issues.

CONNECT is housed at the University of Pittsburgh, in the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs (GSPIA). Their meetings are hosted by a different municipal partner on a rotating basis.

As they say on their website:

Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT) brings together the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding municipalities to identify common public policy challenges and advocates for collective change on behalf of Allegheny County’s urban core.

I am fascinated by the topics addressed and dynamics of area leadership in the room. These are elected officials and appointed managers working together to find ways to address problems such as the opioid epidemic and gun violence, or the more subterranean challenge of county-wide shared waste water resources, controlling the costs of energy use, or sometimes just to encourage one another and offer support in the common work of continuing to face the issues these leaders wrestle with daily.

We often think of politics as a dirty game, but these folks are working on action-oriented policy proposals. They seem to have left their party affiliations at the door in favor of working together to have real, tangible conversations on the problems we see in the local news headlines. It is refreshing and exciting to know that local government can work and its practitioners have a place to gather where they can be energetic, creative, honest, and smart in their discussions.

From their team work and availability, solutions arise and they can make plans for policy which, in the end, has a positive impact. An enduring success story is the Community Paramedic program, which I believe is now hosted by UPMC, and was originated by the Allegheny County EMS Council. They create a team of paramedics who can provide more than just emergency medical transportation to those who make a 911 call; they can provide various types of intervention that improve the long-term outcomes for the patient, not just immediate medical relief and transportation. This has the effect of reducing overall non reimbursed costs to EMS. Check out their website.

A map of the 2018 CONNECT member communities

Let There Be Dragons

I just finished reading a book, “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.” I’ve been reading it for 3 years. It is an amazing book. I envy the author, Charles Mann. He has explored a fundamentally unique and foundationally important event in the history of the human species: the collision of two separate cultures, each with wholly different views on core aspects of life, society, and purpose; each developing cultures and civilizations entirely apart from one another. If you ever found yourself wondering what would happen if the earth were visited by aliens, read this book to unearth some clues. I always had this idea that the European cultures prevailed over the Native American cultures because the Europeans had guns and smallpox immunity. But I learned that the Europeans prevailed also because the Northern Natives felt a sort of indifference towards them, as though the Europeans were just children mingling around at the feet during a party – something to be gently tolerated. I say this because the narrative of the book takes every opportunity to contrast differences in sociology and culture between the two worlds in question, and the Native American seemed amply more mature. Instead of quickly wiping them out, which Native Americans could have easily done, instead they nurtured, taught, and even adopted the communities of new Europeans. The book up-ended almost all of my beliefs about the pre-Columbus American civilizations. Being geographically-partial to pre-Columbus North America, I admit to being unexpectedly surprised and delighted by the histories of our neighbors to the south. These include: A three-dimensional, unspoken language conveyed through knotted strands of rope? Who knew! Near-wholesale pre-Columbian slashing and development of the native Amazonian landscape? Say it isn’t so! Milpas and Terra Preta?? How is it possible? So much in the book amazed me. I appreciated the primary accounts of incredibly vast populations that lined the north eastern shores before European disease destroyed entire villages and towns. The matriarchal societies of North America were news to me (it wasn’t just limited to the legendary Amazonian Warrior group). I was stunned to read the position that the vast buffalo herds were a European creation and not a consequence of ecological balance (in fact, it was ecological imbalance which created them). Most of all, though, I was amazed by the posit that democracy and the cherished ideals of American Freedom borrow heavily from the philosophy of the pre-Columbian North Americans. I was taught that these were Greek and European ideas, but Charles Mann presents a compelling argument that Native Americans deserve long overdue credit. The North American was a culture of individual freedom, of intolerance for incivility and inequality, and of codes of civic honor and intergenerational social safety networks. What amazes me about this isn’t the lack of credit where credit may be due, but the concept of such a monumental paradigm shift being caused by the merging of these two worlds. The European world was one of lords and lands thereby owned – peasants and all. Caste systems and servitude were rock solid. Nobility was by blood and serfdom was for a lifetime. There was not an intellectual concept for individual equality – not until one mixed with the ideologies of the New World. Amazing nugget to consider, isn’t it? Just imagine what we still don’t know about our capacity for governance, for human individuality, or for social civility. What will happen when we next encounter a new culture? Or, are there even any left for us to run into – on Earth or otherwise.

Google is Getting “Pittsburgh Cool”

The Google offices over in Bakery Square have been named among the top cool “tech spaces” in the country. That is pretty rad. I would have thought that there were enough cool places in Denver and San Diego to bump Pittsburgh down to maybe, top 51 coolest? But, the Business Insider has spoken! It cannot be refuted!

With all the talk about coolness and Pittsburgh, you’d think you might start to see a bandwagon riding around for people to jump on. Oh, no, my bad. That was the boob truck.