People living in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area are significantly more likely to contact their public officials, attend public meetings, volunteer and join community groups than the average American.
Researchers refer to this collection of indicators as “civic health,” and they say Pittsburgh is healthy as an ox.
Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the National Conference on Citizenship, said measuring civic health is just the first step.
“Beyond that, to then start thinking about what comes next,” Zherka said. “What do communities do, what do states do, to strengthen civic engagement?”
Mayor-elect Bill Peduto said he looks forward to capitalizing on Pittsburghers’ strong inclination for community involvement.
“Pittsburgh has the resources to do something that few cities have,” Peduto said. “We have a citizenry that is engaged already. All we have to do is open the doors of government to allow them to have more of a say. And I can assure that during the next four years, they will.”
David Miller, director of Pitt’s Center for Metropolitan Studies, and Robert Cavalier, director of CMU’s Program for Deliberative Democracy, both praised Peduto’s recent efforts to engage the community in the political process.
On Saturday, Peduto met with more than 500 transition team volunteers to discuss solutions to some of the city’s problems.
“The greatest way to get people to want to buy in to change, is to allow them to be a part of that process,” Peduto said. “The way you do that is through a process of democracy, (by) having people at the table.”
Cavalier said Peduto will largely be formalizing something that is already happening in the city.
“In many ways, deliberative democracy has been occurring at the neighborhood level and at the regional level in many different instances,” Cavalier said. “There are many groups in Pittsburgh that in one way or another integrate some of those ideas of creating conditions for informed and well-structured conversations.”
According to Cavalier, creating those specific conditions for deliberative democracy is important. The report recommends holding meetings that allow citizens not just to talk about what the problems are, but to also find ways to solve them.
Other recommendations of the report include strengthening the decision making capacity of neighborhoods, ensuring community voices are heard by the city’s political machine, and facilitating cooperation across municipal boundaries.
The report was funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation and can be downloaded from the National Conference on Citizenship website.