PITTSBURGH, Nov. 25, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Pittsburgh residents are significantly more civically healthy than other Pennsylvanians and average Americans, according to a new report conducted by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and produced by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC).
Civic health, a measurement of community participation in activities such as voting, interacting with and trusting neighbors, and other actions to further public interest, has been shown to be a major factor in a community's ability to be resilient during economic downturns.
Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, a longtime supporter of civic-minded approaches to community building and government, will endorse the findings and recommendations of the "Pittsburgh Civic Health Index" to capitalize on and improve upon the city's strong civic health at 2:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 2 in the library of Pitt's University Club at 123 University Place.
"The results highlighted in the 'Pittsburgh Civic Health Index' reinforce what I have long believed — Pittsburghers care deeply about their neighborhoods and our city as a whole, and they're willing to work with each other and our neighboring communities to make it better," Peduto said. "Active citizen participation and engagement are an essential part of a healthy democracy. I will work to make sure that we create more opportunity for public deliberation at the city level as well as to engage the city more meaningfully with our neighbors."
Ilir Zherka, executive director of NCoC said, "This report reveals Pittsburgh's strong civic health. Compared to many other metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh residents have very high levels of political participation and community engagement. We are proud of our partners at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh who help ensure Pittsburgh continues this tradition of producing highly engaged neighbors and neighborhoods."
The "Pittsburgh Civic Health Index" shows that the Pittsburgh region exceeds both Pennsylvania and the U.S. in levels of political involvement, with Pittsburgh residents more likely to attend public meetings and voice concerns. Pittsburghers also are drastically more likely to have contacted a public official: 36.8 percent more likely than average Americans and 37.4 percent more likely than the rest of Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh residents also interact with their neighbors more and are 37.3 percent more likely to trust our neighbors than other Americans.
"A city's civic health is structurally connected to a city's overall health, and it is imperative that we embrace this opportunity to cultivate a spirit among citizens to become more involved," said Robert Cavalier, director of CMU's Program for Deliberative Democracy in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "By designing opportunities for community members to engage in well-structured conversations, with background information on a topic and trained moderators to guide the discussion, we can improve the quality of citizen engagement and the manner in which communities interface with governments. Many Pittsburghers have already been involved in these kinds of deliberative events, but now we have the opportunity to institutionalize and integrate these practices at the level of local government."
The report outlines three recommendations to strengthen the city's overall civic health, each neighborhood's capacity to engage in public discourse, and the connections between municipalities within the region. The recommendations are:
1. Make Pittsburgh a center of deliberative democracy. Create opportunities for issue-oriented, small group discussions that will be leveraged by stakeholder involvement and outcomes that will have consulting power. For example, include citizen deliberation as part of the regulatory requirements for commenting or engaging in new initiatives, such as participatory budget planning.
2. Shift Pittsburgh's approach to city planning and neighborhood development from top-down to bottom-up by creating an environment in which residents can produce and share their ideas and participate more dynamically.
3. Facilitate communication and activity between municipalities. Pittsburgh's complicated local government system appeals to residents and seems to give them access to civic engagement, so instead of replacing it with a less fragmented system, improve integrations with the city and region. An example of this would be expanding the scope, funding and capacity of Councils of Governments (CoGs) — associations of local governments representing the region that are uniquely positioned to translate urban issues to the suburbs and vice versa.
"Pittsburgh and the surrounding region have already taken steps that work toward the goals of these recommendations," said David Miller, director of Pitt's Center for Metropolitan Studies. "One initiative that is cultivating a greater sense of the urban core that expands beyond city borders is the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT). CONNECT has successfully brought the City of Pittsburgh and the 36 municipalities that surround the city together to collaborate on common issues that cross borders, establishing a cohesive voice for the urban core of our region. Through CONNECT, these communities have developed a greater understanding of the issues that unite them, have built trust, and are able to tackle regional challenges collectively."
The "Pittsburgh Civic Health Index" was funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation. The recommendations in the report are supported by Pittsburgh-area groups and organizations with experience in the practices and principles of deliberative democracy, including 10,000 Friends; Coro Center for Civic Leadership; Design Center; Dialogue and Resolution Center; Fourth Economy; Jackson/Clark Partners; Mediation Council of Western Pennsylvania; and Pitt's Survey Research Program and Center for Social and Urban Research.
To read the full "Pittsburgh Civic Health Index" report, visit http://ncoc.net/PittsburghCHI.
About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon (www.cmu.edu) is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 12,000 students in the university's seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon has campuses in Pittsburgh, Pa., California's Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico.
SOURCE Carnegie Mellon University