By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

City Planning will soon roll out new information services


November 24, 2009

Neighborhood Planner Justin Miller from the Department of City Planning was the featured speaker at the November meeting of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association.

Mr. Miller came to the SSSNA to explain "what your City Planning Department is up to" and give the organization's membership a first look at a new program City Planning is rolling out.

He briefly explained that the Department of City Planning includes several divisions that incorporate a number of planning aspects including zoning, public art, strategic planning and Geographical Information Systems. As part of the strategic planning process, the City of Pittsburgh is in the process of developing its first Comprehensive Plan.

According to the city planner, every municipality in Pennsylvania is required to have a Comprehensive Plan, except Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The new Comprehensive Plan, or "Plan Pittsburgh," will take place in 12 stages.

"We have to do it one step at a time," he said.

Plan Pittsburgh is in the first phase and is currently looking at open space and parks and recreation, cultural heritage, public art and transportation. Future phases will consider economic development, housing, urban design, education, and land use among others.

"We'll be engaging community groups from throughout the city," he said.

"We want to overhaul the way we interact with residents," Mr. Miller said. "There's a lot of information housed in different locations. A lot of neighborhoods have Neighborhood Plans [and] there's a different amount of data in the plans."

He pointed out that some neighborhoods have less data and less capacity and the new system will allow them to access available data in an easy manner.

The South Side Slopes, as part of the South Side Planning Forum, participates in revising the South Side Neighborhood Plan. The South Side plan has been around for almost 20 years and undergoes revision approximately every two years.

City Planning will soon roll out a new Geographical Information System providing an easy and convenient way for not only city departments to share data, but neighborhood and community members and groups will also have access to the system.

Another aspect of the data collection and disbursement project will be SNAP or Sections Neighborhoods Asset Profile. SNAP is made up of two integrated modules: Asset Profiles and Action Planning.

Mr. Miller described SNAP as an online data center gathering information from a variety of sources. It will provide a "snapshot" of each of the 90 neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that will be updated at least twice a year.

Asked whether new information if it becomes available will be added to the website more than twice a year, "data is always aggregated to the neighborhood," he replied.

According to the city planner, the new system and the data contained in it will allow the city to take a look at "what we want to be 20 years from now and how to allocate resources to get there."

In SNAP, the Asset Profiles will include raw data while the Action Planning will take indicators and group them together.

Currently, the city's 90 neighborhoods are divided into 16 planning sectors. The South Side Flats and Slopes are grouped together in a sector along with parts of Hilltop neighborhoods.

For Asset Planning, data sets will be organized by theme with information collected from a variety of sources including the Census, HUD, GIS, CTAC and city and county sources. At the neighborhood level, information will include population, housing and crime statistics.

Mr. Miller explained that Action Planning will take key indicators and group together neighborhoods that have certain housing indicators.

In addition, according to the City Planning website, "two types of analyses will be used to formulate the SNAP strategies: the Market Value Analysis (MVA) and the Quality of Life Analysis (QLA). The MVA is made up of housing market indicators and the QLA consists of social demographics. The MVA will be overlaid with the QLA to form each strategy area. Strategies will be mapped out at the census block group level, making the analysis as localized as possible."

The city's new Geographical Information System will work similar to Google Maps. Users will be able to apply overlays to the system according to Mr. Miller.

He told the membership of the SSSNA that they are the first community to learn about the new SNAP and GIS programs with the official roll out to the rest of the city coming within about a month.

In the question and answer portion of the program, SSSNA president Brad Palmisiano said the Slopes has wrestled with several zoning issues and asked Mr. Miller to talk a little about zoning in the city.

"Zoning is not perfect," he responded. Adding he works in the same building with zoning officials, but didn't work in the zoning division of City Planning.

"[Pittsburgh's current zoning] mutated from what we had in the 1950s," Mr. Miller explained. "We thought we were going to be a great suburb then."

The Slopes doesn't fit any urban planning, he said. During Map Pittsburgh City Planning had to figure out the best way to update the zoning in the neighborhood.

The city planner commended South Side for having very active and engaged community groups during the Map Pittsburgh process.

"It's hard to sum up what the zoning code is in the City of Pittsburgh because it's such a strange animal," he added.


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