Thank You Pittsburgh For Banning Marcellus Shale Drilling

Thank You Pittsburgh For Banning Marcellus Shale Drilling

This is great news for current and future residents of Pittsburgh whose elected officials listened to residents and voted unanimously to ban drilling within city limits! 9 for the ban, 0 against!

This is (finally!) a victory for people over corporate interests and profits.

I am so proud of all the people here who worked tirelessly to educate and mobilize their friends and neighbors and to hold their elected officials accountable. This is so inspiring for community activists everywhere.

To those who attended public hearings despite state and industry intimidation, went to protests, signed petitions, wrote letters to the editor, attended community meetings, went to public viewings of Gasland; to Josh Fox for making the film that exposed so many of the problems with fracking, and to the business owners that hosted meetings and Gasland viewings:

Thank you so much.

As you know…

Photo by Marcellus Protest

Thank you to Councilmember Doug Shields for sponsoring the bill banning the drilling, for putting the health of people and our natural resources ahead of money, for prioritizing people over profits.

Thank you to Council President Darlene Harris for supporting the ban and rebutting gas industry claims that the ban would cost jobs: “There’s going to be a lot of jobs for funeral homes and hospitals,” Mrs. Harris said, referring to health concerns associated with gas production. “That’s where the jobs are. Is it worth it?”

The people of Pittsburgh have said no, it’s not worth it, and the City Council listened and voted with the health of the people and the region in mind.

Thank you to all the Councilmembers who voted unanimously to oppose drilling within Pittsburgh.

Section 27. Natural Resources and the Public Estate The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvanias public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, however, is unconvinced and non-committal and might consider vetoing the ban, but I urge him to side with the people on this issue and not be swayed by the lure of a temporary influx of cash.

We don’t want jobs destroying our environment, compromising our soil, blackening our air and lungs, and contaminating our drinking water.

We want investment in jobs that build up the community, that nurture and educate children, that beautify our lovely city, that bring people together, that make the most of our natural resources, rather than trashing them for short-term financial gain.

Mayor Ravenstahl, do not veto this bill.

Support this ban and support the people of Pittsburgh.

This story has gone global and it demonstrates that ordinary citizens do have the ability to stand up to wealthy private interests.

How to work towards a drilling ban in your own town?

Check out Marcellus Protest

Here are some tips from Pittsburgh organizer Gloria Forouzan

Background and analysis of Marcellus Shale industry by the Real News Network

Watch Gasland and share your story

Write letters to the editor

Talk to your neighbors

Educate yourself

Help Flood Victims in Nashville

Help Flood Victims in Nashville


With all the excitement and rage about BP’s reckless management of offshore drilling, the massive flooding of Nashville has lost opportunities for press coverage and sympathy. If you have some extra money lying around and want to donate to restoration efforts in the land of country music, the Community Foundation is a non-profit organization that is accepting donations of any size.

In partnership with Davidson County’s Office of Emergency Management, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has activated its Metro Nashville Disaster Response Fund to help to those affected by the May 1, 2010 floods. Donations of any size are welcome. Grants from the fund will support relief and restoration in the Davidson County area.

Photo by Southern Tabitha, Flickr

Nashville is the city where I was born, where my parents bought their first house, where I learned how to walk, and talk, and ride a bike. It’s the home of my grandma who gave me my name and tons of vintage clothes, as well as the home of numerous aunts, uncles, dozens of cousins, and relatives that I haven’t even met yet.

Flooding in Nashville, Photo by Southern Tabitha, Flickr

Nashville is my first city. I was born there and lived right by Vanderbilt University until I was seven, and I even went on my first upside down roller coaster there. I started my life walking everywhere: to school, to the grocery store, to friends’ houses, to the park down the street. Nashville is the fantastic city that I no longer know but that spoiled me for the next ten years that I spent living in the suburbs of Washington, DC. (Sorry parents, but blech! What a wretched departure!)

Yield to Pedestrians

So if you have a little disposable income and want to help out some people who are drowning in dirty water, please pass some dollars along to the Community Foundation or another reputable non-profit.

For a little swoon from my childhood, here is the Dragon Park down the street from my semi-ancestral home:

The Dragon Park, photo by Brent, flickr

For more pictures of this incredible park, check out this blog on Mosaic Art.

How to Turn a Vacant Lot into a Pizza Parlor – GOOD

How to Turn a Vacant Lot into a Pizza Parlor – GOOD

Great article from GOOD Magazine.

Seven steps to figure out how to get a community oven in your neighborhood.

How many parties have you walked into only to find the living room empty and a crowded kitchen, everyone huddled near the stove or around the table? Maybe it’s the smell of food. Maybe it’s the warmth of the stove. Maybe it’s our ancestral heritage. Kitchens are the hearts of our homes, so why not for the whole neighborhood? “Community ovens can be the glue that keeps a neighborhood together,” says Ray Werner, a Pittsburgh based community oven builder. Want to build a hearth for your hood? Here’s how to get started.

I want to build a community oven! I live on a street that doesn’t have any green space except for two vacant lots and so I drew up this very professional design to make better use of the space:
I graduated from the School of Looseleaf Design
The top right hand corner of the paper is the Oven.
I imagined the fairly large vacant lot having:
  1. Fruit trees: a row of fruit trees to provide shade and food for residents.
  2. Picnic tables throughout, of course.
  3. Sunflowers.
  4. Weather-proof seats designed and installed by local artists.
  5. And a pavilion.
Because buildings are often being demolished in Pittsburgh, there are a lot of extra
bricks lying around. So why not also build a pavilion so residents can escape their homes even if it’s raining, and still have a place to sit outside? A place to read, or sketch, or lament, a place to meet with friends, a place where you can sit comfortably outside your home without having to buy anything?
Can’t Get There From Here: The Woeful Tale of a Stranded Pedestrian

Can’t Get There From Here: The Woeful Tale of a Stranded Pedestrian

This is the soundtrack for my exploration stroll the other day around my neighborhood. Unless you loathe R.E.M., it is a good accompaniment to reading this post.

Several times in the past I have celebrated my neighborhood and home on the North Side of Pittsburgh. But I have to tell you that I exaggerated a little and omitted much.

There are many beautiful areas of the North Side and much of it is quaint, wonderful, and convenient. But I have to confess: I live on the OTHER North Side, the part that was cut in half by a neighborhood dividing highway.

The parts that contain all the amenities like the National Aviary, the Andy Warhol Museum, coffee shops, grocery stores, and parks are all on the other side of this highway:

That is the scene I have to ride or walk across when heading to other, more lovelier parts of the North Side.

And if I want to go downtown or shopping in the Strip District, I find myself facing signs like this:

No Pedestrian Signs are More Common Than Crosswalks

Riding bikes is not much of a problem as you’re on the road, but if you are trying to get around by foot, as are children and many elderly who do not own cars, it is a death-trap. A place filled with crumbling gravelly sidewalks that are dangerous for nearly everyone except the most fit.

What if I depended on a wheelchair to get around? I’d never make it in this neighborhood.

Getting to the bus stop is quite perilous and I waited through three lights at one intersection waiting for a pedestrian signal. Over 50 cars drove by in three light switches and not one stopped to let me cross,  so I finally had to just make a run for it.

To cross to this intersection:

If you look really closely there used to be a crosswalk

Then the friendly pedestrian must run across another faded crosswalk, but this time there is a light for the walker!

Crossing East Ohio

Seems like that should be hazardous enough, right? But if I want to get my groceries from the Strip, I still have to get to the 16th Street Bridge and walk past the highway exit where this sizable vehicle powered up to the sidewalk where I was standing:

Intimidatingly Large Truck

And though I wasn’t trying to walk onto the highway, seeing this sign just reinforced how my walk felt:

Pedestrians Prohibited

By this point I’d walked less than half a mile but it took me nearly 20 minutes with all the waiting and trying not to die.

I’m fairly young and in shape, I ride a bike and move around all the time and this area is really difficult for me to navigate. Imagine how dangerous these streets are for people who are older, maybe less fit and less able to make a run for it across the street.

This area is incredibly unfriendly to pedestrians and many people do not have the luxury of investing a substantial amount of their income on a vehicle.

We need, very soon:

  • Crosswalks to be repainted
  • Pedestrian crossing signals at all intersections

Can you think of any other easy-to-implement solutions that could make this area safer for everyone?

Parking in San Francisco, Planning in DC, Walking Everywhere

Parking in San Francisco, Planning in DC, Walking Everywhere

There has been quite a bit of buzz over San Francisco’s parking census and future smart parking plan. I wrote about it here (“Golden Gate Parking Lot: San Francisco Conducts First Ever Parking Census“) a few weeks ago concluding that it’s great to know how much parking is available but the goal and the outcome of making parking easier is misguided and short-sighted.

The other day I wrote about it in greater detail for my column in Next American City. It’s generated an interesting discussion with a little bit of frantic windshield panic thrown in from a resident in DC who seems to think that pro-people measures that make streets safer for pedestrians and bikers are “anti-car” and anti-poor.

I’m not anti-car, but I am against the financial, social, and environmental burden they place on individuals, cities, and the world.

Freeway Jail

I’m for people, not for modes of transportation. I want to make our cities healthier, safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more affordable for all.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by foot and so becomes a “pedestrian”.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by bicycle, not for their bicycle.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by public transportation, not for their bus or train.

And lastly, I want to create better cities for the person who drives a car, not for their car.

I want to make better places for all of these people, not their mode of transportation.  Moving people by foot, bike, and public transportation are the most efficient ways to provide mobility for all in terms of space and cost as well as causing far less pollution and sprawl than creating a world where each person drives an individual car.

That is why I support infrastructure that makes walking safe for everyone from the very young to the very old, infrastructure that makes biking safe for the very young and the very old, and accessible and affordable public transportation for all.

Mobility is a human right, free parking is not.

Why Words Matter: This isn’t a Plaza, it’s a Strip Mall

Why Words Matter: This isn’t a Plaza, it’s a Strip Mall

This is why words matter. When you call a strip mall a plaza, the meaning of the word plaza is twisted and becomes meaningless. A strip mall is “a long usually one-story building or group of buildings housing several adjacent retail stores or service establishments” which is what we find in the not so lovely Shadyside “Plaza”.

If this location were actually a plaza we might find “a public square in a city or town” or “an open area usually located near urban buildings and often featuring walkways, trees and shrubs, places to sit, and sometimes shops”

Instead, we see this:




A plaza is a gathering space, a beautiful respite in a city, a place where people take pictures, meet friends, a place to show off to out of town visitors.

A strip mall is none of these things. Rather, it is a waste of precious urban land, a careless, unplanned, ugly, quick construction; a symbol that no one cares what it looks like, what it feels like, or the experience that people have when going to or by it.

Strip malls have no place in dense urban centers and certainly do not deserve the honor of the title plaza. They are usually inhabited by bland, faceless corporations with zero ties to the community that have no investment in making their location a better place to live.

This is just one small example of the importance of language and how inaccurately describing something limits our ability to correctly interpret.
Some other examples:

The difference between car accident and car crash. Car “accident” automatically removes any responsibility and accountability from a driver.

Global warming vs. climate change. Global warming sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? Everyone likes being warm and doesn’t that mean reduced heating bills? When incorrect terminology becomes popularized, it changes the scope of the debate.

Alternative transportation. The word “alternative” automatically isolates and alienates anyone who chooses to use a method of transport beyond a car.

Why I Love Pittsburgh in Five Pictures or Less

Why I Love Pittsburgh in Five Pictures or Less

I left DC in November to move to Pittsburgh, which is not the ideal time to explore a new city in the Western Pennsylvania, but yesterday, March 18 was perfect. It was 65 and sunny! It was so warm it felt like a light weather massage all day. The sun gave me some more freckles and my hair started to redden around my helmet.  I rode my sometimes trusty, very tiny, yet extremely heavy bicycle all around Pittsburgh’s North Side, my super glamorous side of town.

One reason why I love Pittsburgh: I pay $250 a month in rent and I live a five minute bike ride to the Andy Warhol Museum, the National Aviary, the Children’s Museum, the Mattress Factory (a museum of contemporary art that presents art you can get into — room-sized environments, created by in-residence artists!), a baseball field, if I’m feeling summery. I’m also just a short ride across a bridge to the Strip District, the market district packed with yummy foods from all over the world.

I rode my bike this afternoon to visit a tasty vegetarian coffee shop called Hoi Polloi. I ordered a yummy chai that came out all scaldy, the way I like it, cooking my insides for a minute and sending flavor everywhere. The grilled cheese sandwich was less than $4. It even came with tomato! I asked if I could add anything else and was suddenly moved to add a slice of mango, something I’d never tried before. It was … quite good. the mango was a bit slippery, but it was an interesting compliment to the sweet tomato. And for less than less than $4, impressive.

They have a neat bike rack outside the coffee shop. It looks clever, but is practically useless against theft.

We used it anyway:

Cute, but structurally unsound

(PS: Pittsburgh Councilmembers, vote for bike parking next week, and businesses, add more reliable racks! If someone stole my bike from this rickety rack, I’d be without my main mode of transportation.)

I was planning to ride to the Andy Warhol Museum to write in the museum cafe after lunch. The Museum is close to my house and the cafe has cheap tasty coffee with unlimited refills. So you can work there surrounded by art for $2 plus tip while only 40 feet away from a real film photo booth! But I forgot the power cord to my computer which only has three minutes of battery life…  so I decided to ride my bike around the neighborhood, to get a look around on the way back to my house.

I slowly pedaled my clunky steel bicycle, while the wind blew on my arms and in my hair. I could feel my legs getting stronger again after a winter stuck inside, and I was appreciating the sound of a variety of birds, and the occasional flowers starting to bloom.

Spring is wonderful, but it’s much easier to appreciate every little warm lively detail after a long, cold, hard, dreary, dark, wet, endless winter.

Soon I was in this neighborhood:

Mexican War Streets Neighborhood

Enjoy this Imported Historical Blip about the Mexican War Streets: In 1848 General William Robinson, Jr. (later Mayor of Allegheny) plotted out the Mexican War Streets immediately following his return from the Mexican-American War, which annexed Texas and California. With patriotic fervor, he named the streets after the war’s battles (Buena Vista. Monterey. Resaca, Palo Alto) and military leaders (Taylor, Sherman, Jackson).

Nearly all the architectural types popular in the Victorian era are represented in the Mexican War Streets: Italianate, Gothic Revival, Richardson Romanesque, Empire and Queen Anne. Wow.

I rode by this mysterious house:

I could study the details of this house for a week.

This magical place is called “Randyland” and there are more pictures of it here on my shiny new flickr account.

But I thought I should keep exploring.

More pictures to come soon-ish. I am working on a new flickr account, but my computer is really old so it takes about a day to upload a couple of pictures.

I’m off for the tomorrow to spend the weekend celebrating wacky, functional, handmade, tall bicycles in Chicago.

Pittsburgh City Council Likely to Endorse Bike Parking Changes

Pittsburgh City Council Likely to Endorse Bike Parking Changes

(Update: The City Council passed this ordinance on March 17.)

A public hearing was held Tuesday, March 9 to consider the Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation to include bike parking in all new and re-zoned commercial construction (based on square footage).

The Council was expected to vote on the ordinance yesterday, fully six months after the Planning Commission initially endorsed the change,  but two Council members, Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus requested an additional week to investigate. At the hearing Tuesday, Kraus said “I want to see this happen”.

I am Completely in Support of this Legislation

The ordinance also received the very vocal endorsement of District 7 Councilman Patrick Dowd who said it amounts to “small steps that would have a tremendous impact”. Dowd told the council and the assembled supportive public that he is “completely in support of this legislation”.

Read more

Some of the News That’s Fit to Print: Stories News From the Neighborhood, City, Region, State, Country, and World.

Some of the News That’s Fit to Print: Stories News From the Neighborhood, City, Region, State, Country, and World.

A former gas station in the Larimer section of Pittsburgh has been converted into The Energy and Environment Community Outreach Center, scheduled to open in the fall. The Center will offer a place for people to learn about water conservation and growing local produce, and will feature solar panels, a community garden and a green roof that will collect rainwater for irrigation.

Urbanophile advocated for public transportation, arguing many of the same points we posited a few weeks ago, including a few additional ones: “We don’t pay to check books out of a library. We don’t pay to visit most city parks. We don’t pay when the police or fire department come to our house for a legitimate emergency. Most non-utility municipal services are provided for free to users and funded by taxes. So why is transit different?”

I pointed out “We offer free public education to our citizens, why not offer free transit to get them to work and school? Many cities offer trash and recycling services, employment and career assistance, police and fire response, parks, pools, and community centers. Why not offer community-supported transportation?

Carfree.US analyzes their financial and environmental impact of commuting by bicycle after their first two months of living Car-free, concluding that

  • I’ve saved $47 in gasoline expenses and the equivalent of $457 in fixed costs for a total savings of $471.49 when accounting for bus costs.
  • Burned 22,356 calories which if I had been eating a normal diet is the equivalent of 6.4 pounds of fat!
  • I have kept 543 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (19.546 lbs per gallon and my car gets an average of 21 MPG).

They also offer a download of the spreadsheet used to track savings and output on their website. Check it out!

Boston Biker has picked up the most recent Streetfilms release, Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development, and written an eloquent post about the necessity of moving away from car-centered planning. The post begins by taking on the question so may of us have had to answer — you know the one, about how we “hate cars.” As Boston Biker writes, “it’s more about hating what cars do to humans, and seeing the need for change. (from Streetsblog)

A man in Argentina builds a house out of 6 million glass bottles and creates instructional video for others to follow, while another man in Tennessee builds a ten story treehouse, the world’s largest, out of salvaged lumber for $12,000 (though doesn’t provide a video).

And Streetsblog continues their excellent coverage of rampant DWI accidents by NYPD officers  drink and drive with impunity.

The Citizen’s Handbook: Practical Assistance for Those Who Want to Make a Difference

The Citizen’s Handbook: Practical Assistance for Those Who Want to Make a Difference

“Practical Assistance for Those Who Want to Make a Difference”

This morning I was looking for some organizing tools for planning the 2010 Three Rivers Bioneers Conference and discovered  The Citizen’s Handbook, produced in Vancouver, BC.

Developed to encourage citizens to become active participants in shaping their own communities, the Handbook provides guidelines for tackling problems locally. Though many of the resources mentioned are Canadian, the U.S. is referenced frequently and the strategies shared are largely universal. I highly recommend taking a look at this resource and sharing it widely.

What happens when people stop observing and start acting?

“When people become involved in their neighbourhoods they can become a potent force for dealing with local problems. Through co-ordinated planning, research and action, they can accomplish what individuals working alone could not. When people decide they are going to be part of the solution, local problems start getting solved. When they actually begin to work with other individuals, schools, associations, businesses, and government service providers, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.”

How can my involvement change anything?

“When citizens get together at the neighbourhood level, they generate a number of remarkable side effects. One of these is strengthened democracy. In simple terms, democracy means that the people decide. Political scientists describe our system of voting every few years but otherwise leaving everything up to government as weak democracy. In weak democracy, citizens have no role, no real part in decision-making between elections. Experts assume responsibility for deciding how to deal with important public issues.
The great movement of the last decades of the twentieth century has been a drive toward stronger democracy in corporations, institutions and governments. In many cities this has resulted in the formal recognition of neighbourhood groups as a link between people and municipal government, and a venue for citizen participation in decision-making between elections.”

In the past several decades, people have moved around more, become less connected to their communities and less likely to know their neighbors. This is not inevitable, and small actions can help redefine our neighborhoods, making them safer, healthier places to live.

“Active citizens can help to create a sense of community connected to place. We all live somewhere. As such we share a unique collection of problems and prospects in common with our neighbours. Participation in neighbourhood affairs builds on a recognition of here-we-are-together, and a yearning to recapture something of the tight-knit communities of the past. Neighbourhood groups can act as vehicles for making connections between people, forums for resolving local differences, and a means of looking after one another. Most important, they can create a positive social environment that can become one of the best features of a place.”