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Letters to the editor, 07/07/02

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Step up to the plate, Pittsburgh; many are pulling for you

Dan Fitzpatrick's June 30 article "How Do We Look? Image-Makers Are Battling to Get Message Out, Negate Bad PR" prompts me to send a note of encouragement to the folks in Western Pennsylvania.

As I read the disparaging comments of some who spoke with Forbes magazine regarding Pittsburgh's lack of energy, I thought of comments I received just the day before at a wedding in Austin, Texas. When I mentioned that I had grown up and gone to college in Pittsburgh, three native Texans proceeded to tell me what a beautiful city Pittsburgh is and how nice it must have been to live there.

The irony of this struck me as I read Carnegie Mellon University professor Richard Florida's comparison of Pittsburgh with Austin. If Mr. Florida is to be proved wrong about Pittsburgh's lack of energy, it must come from the local "image makers" cited in the article. Why not turn the lemon-yellow journalism of the Forbes article into public relations lemonade? Use the very topic as a springboard to introduce outsiders to the true vitality of the Pittsburgh area. Grab the attention of the Forbes readership and take them where they never expected to go with their image of Pittsburgh.

Just as the Cultural Trust leadership worked to obtain positive publicity in the AmericanStyle poll, so too must other economic development groups work within their spheres of influence. Do Pittsburghers really believe Seattle, Atlanta and Dallas get good publicity without sowing the seeds of PR? Brag a little and tell the world your story. A lot of Pittsburgh fans in other parts of the country are rooting for you.

Austin, Texas

Cultural blight

I read with interest the June 30 front-page story about Pittsburgh's ongoing image problems nationwide ("How Do We Look?"). The "quality of life" of a place is difficult to quantify because the term may mean different things to different people; for example, one who is having severe employment trouble, has cancer or dislikes traffic jams may be less enamored of the endless sunshine and boundless technological growth of quality-of-life poster child Phoenix.

However, Richard Florida's observation that Western Pennsylvania, with its inbred racism, jingoism and xenophobia, is a profound liability to future growth and attractiveness for the region is accurate and right on target.

We moved to Greensburg eight years ago and found it to offer a very high quality of life, in terms of positive health-care access, good educational opportunities for our children, several urban amenities and access to a variety of outdoor activities, coupled with a lower-than-average cost of living. Yet the culture of the area, as accurately described by Mr. Florida, continues to blight an otherwise great town.


We deserved credit

In his June 30 front-page story ("How Do We Look?"), Dan Fitzpatrick reported something very interesting about the oft-touted fact that Pittsburgh ranked as the fourth-most-popular U.S. arts destination in a recent AmericanStyle magazine poll: The ranking, which placed Pittsburgh above such cities as Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., owed nothing to objective criteria and everything to ballot-stuffing, since hundreds of arts and economic officials had been urged to vote online by Pittsburgh's convention bureau.

Some readers were no doubt surprised by this, since the PG had already reported on the ranking uncritically in two news accounts and had gushed about it in two editorials. I know that at Pittsburgh City Paper, the weekly newspaper that I edit, we were sure surprised at Fitzpatrick's story -- but for entirely different reasons. After all, Chris Potter, being an especially cranky and skeptical sort, had uncovered this very voting sleaziness and written about it in our June 12 issue -- though Fitzpatrick didn't see fit to credit our reporting.

Fitzpatrick also wrote that the much-ballyhooed Forbes article ranking Pittsburgh last among 40 cities for singles also suffered from curious methodology. He reports that, although never mentioned in the Forbes article, local planning wonk Richard Florida spoke to the Forbes reporter, swayed him with his criticism of the city and even gave him a list of people to interview, including Florida's own research assistant, Elizabeth Currid, who was identified in Forbes simply as a grad student. Again, though, this angle isn't the PG's: As luck would have it, Chris Potter wrote a profile of Florida recently and recognized Currid as his assistant and broke this story weeks before the PG.

Finally, Fitzpatrick found someone to criticize Florida in Lawrenceville's John Fetterman. Where might have Fitzpatrick found Fetterman, who a search of the PG's Web site indicates has never been quoted in that publication before? Well, the very John Fetterman wrote a "Rant" column called "Spare Me More Richard Florida Puff Pieces" in the June 19 City Paper.

It's no secret that City Paper is unapologetically critical of the Post-Gazette and other local media. But when we rely on good, solid reporting of other journalists' work in our own articles, we credit the publications and often the reporters, including Dan Fitzpatrick, by name. We believe we are honor-bound to do this, and we appreciate that the PG has on other occasions acknowledged our own enterprising reporting rather than misled readers to infer that the PG was following its own hunches.

Pittsburgh City Paper

Clean water is a wise investment that we must not delay

Bradley S. Tupi's attitude regarding one of our most precious resources -- water -- is surprising and disappointing ("Billions for Sewers? Not So Fast," June 23 Forum). Given that so much of our lives and livelihoods depend on water, I think an investment in our collective future is a relatively small price to pay.

Protecting our rivers, streams and waterways from sewage contamination is more than simply how many people fall ill each year. It's about enjoying our waters, whether rowing down the Ohio or enjoying the view from the Point. Consider Washington's Landing. Instead of a rundown industrial site, it is now one of the gems of the region, where people can live, work and play, all while enjoying life on an island in the Allegheny River.

But how attractive will the river remain when during half the days each summer it's unsafe for human contact because of sewage floating in the water? Who wants to swim, boat or fish in waters that may be contaminated with human wastes?

We also have a responsibility to downstream communities. Cincinnati, St. Louis, New Orleans and many communities in between draw their water from the river. We have an obligation to them as well as to our own future as a region. As an environmental lawyer, Mr. Tupi must know that Congress resolved this matter 30 years ago when it passed the Clean Water Act, which established clear federal authority to ensure that cities like Pittsburgh did not harm downstream water consumers. The only question that remains is, can we be creative and more efficient in tackling our regional wastewater discharges?

I was pleased to be a small part of a broad-based effort that included corporate, academic and political leaders as well as conservationists who came together to more clearly define the issues and then offer smart, cost-effective solutions. The "Investing in Clean Water" report details the very real problems from sewage overflows, contaminated groundwater, aging and damaged sewer and septic systems, and the lack of modern infrastructure for redevelopment of declining communities. We must look at the replacement of our wastewater systems as a part of upgrading of the regional infrastructure to provide for tomorrow's opportunities, for renewal of residential communities and as a means to attract and retain a youthful work force that expects clean water.

If we ignore the problems of sewer overflows today, we assure even greater legal and environmental problems tomorrow. If we continue to look the other way as our region's already-ailing sewer systems grow older, we increase the likelihood for major breakdowns, greater health risks and a loss of opportunities. The means of dealing with these issues is within our reach. The longer we wait the more difficult and the more costly the job becomes.

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Minimizing this problem

Neighbors would be very angry if a homeowner were to regularly dump garbage on the front sidewalk. Similarly, it is irresponsible for us to tolerate sewer systems that dump into our waterways every time it rains. Pittsburgh's riverfronts, three rivers and numerous streams are becoming the center of our region's economic growth strategies. To allow the rivers to remain compromised by poorly constructed sewers will undermine those efforts.

In the June 23 Forum commentary "Billions for Sewers? Not So Fast," Bradley S. Tupi attempts to undermine the successes we are enjoying from recent riverfront developments with an argument based on misapplied statistics and a weak cost/benefit economic argument.

Mr. Tupi attempts to minimize the severity of the problem by stating that there have been only 96 river recreation advisories in the past eight years. However, he fails to mention that over the past two years almost 50 percent of the days between May 15 and Sept. 15 were covered by an advisory. In fact, almost all of the 2002 river recreation season has been under an advisory.

In addition, reliance on the number of bacteria-related illnesses to justify the cost of the sewer improvement fails to account for the many nonreported cases and the other benefits of clean water: increase in real estate values, improved quality of life, healthy aquatic habitat, additional recreation opportunities and more attractive green space and parks. These are benefits we don't fully realize, and never will, if Mr. Tupi's shortsighted view is allowed to take precedence and we continue to treat our rivers and streams as our waste dump.

Executive Director
Friends of the Riverfront
South Side

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