When the city and surrounding municipalities come together, they sometimes meet in Pitt’s… When the city and surrounding municipalities come together, they sometimes meet in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
The School hosts the Congress of Neighboring Communities, or CONNECT,a group that represents the 36 municipalities bordering the city. The members meet wherever they can, usually in Oakland, to discuss ways to pool resources so surrounding neighborhoods and the city can work together on issues that affect the region.
Last week, City Council unanimously voted to allow Pitt to apply for more state funding so it can continue to sponsor the program.
Bill Peduto, the city councilman for District 8, which includes parts of Oakland, said CONNECT will look for ways the city and its neighbors can share services, such as emergency management services and installing LED streetlights.
“If Dormont, Wilkinsburg and the city are all buying rock salt, why don’t we all buy rock salt together?” Peduto asked.
Peduto is working on his master’s in public policy and management at Pitt. The man in charge of CONNECT, David Miller, is Peduto’s professor.
“The issues that affect the city of Pittsburgh are the same that affect Shaler and Robinson,” Miller said. “So we are creating these connections for those municipalities to work together on urban issues.”
He said Pittsburgh has a population of just more than 300,000 people, and the 36 surrounding municipalities are home to a combined 680,000 people.
“That expanded geography is more representative of our urban core than just the city,” he said.
“Historically, there has been a wall between the city and the municipalities,” he said.
Miller said that because the whole region must clean up the rivers, CONNECT can help everyone work together to improve water and sewer lines.
He also said they the must work together for public transit, because “85 percent of Port Authority operations are in these municipalities.”
Kathy Risko, associate director for CONNECT, said seven of the 10 transit hubs the Port Authority proposed are in represented communities.
“So we have six graduate students doing research on what transit hubs look like in other areas and how they are funded,” she said.
The congress is made up of three representatives — two elected and one appointed — per municipality.
CONNECT first met last June at Pitt, and by allowing Pitt to apply for a state grant on behalf of the congress, the program will have more financial resources to unite the region.
Only one official congress has taken place, but Risko said different committees, including policy and executive committees, have met regularly to work on issues they identified in June.
She said snow removal wasn’t on the agenda in June, but because of the recent weather, the group will likely discuss it in the future.
But emergency management services appeared on the agenda in June.
Jenny deAngelis, a graduate student in public and nonprofit management at Pitt, started working for the congress in January 2009, and focuses on the issues of emergency medical services.
“I’m doing an independent study on the 36 different CONNECT communities and how they provide EMS,” deAngelis said. “There are 17 different providers in the 36 communities. So there is a lot of fragmentation.”
At this point, she said, she primarily does research on how this can improve.
But she said she feels that the congress gives her a significant advantage to her graduate studies.
“It is helping me see real-world applications of what I learn in the classroom,” she said.
“I get to deal with real-life public managers and make real, important decisions.”