South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By Tom Smith 

RHI talks about night life management plan

 

The summation of months of conservations and meetings concerning Pittsburgh’s night life was presented in City Council Chambers when Councilman Bruce Kraus hosted a post agenda hearing with Responsible Hospitality Institute’s (RHI) Jim Peters.

“This is the culmination of a great partnership between the council and the Mayor’s Office and any number of different organizations,” Councilman Kraus began about RHI’s work in the city.

“This is truly a great day.”

Mr. Kraus said he first began his association with RHI when he was part of a contingent of South Side representatives sent to one of the organization’s conferences in San Francisco. It’s there he met Mr. Peters and learned other cities across the country had similar problems.

“I thought that we were on our own and struggled and suffered in silence,” Mr. Kraus continued.

He explained the city entered in an agreement with RHI about five months ago with the support of the Mayor’s Office and the Planning Department. The Pittsburgh Sociable City Plan is the culmination of those efforts.

Mr. Peters, president of RHI, said the organization has worked in more than 50 United States and Canadian cities.

Three of the things making a city a “Sociable City” include: Vibrancy, Safety and Planning, he explained.

A vibrant city is one where there are activities and things to do: public space activities;

A safe city is where it is easy to get around and people feel safe in it; and,

Planning includes a systematic way cities approach the night time economy and socializing in a strategic way.

Mr. Peters said what is driving the demand or the need for the examination of the city is the transition from an industrial economy. Where in the past the city produced steel, it now produces students.

The city is moving to a service economy “where we no longer produce widgets, we produce knowledge or information or technology tools,” he said.

“The lifestyles of the people who work in these industries don’t require them to be in a place to produce that widget. They can be anywhere and often times do, do to the rise in telecommuting and the rise in instances where people work in coffee shops,” Mr. Peters continued.

He said in Pittsburgh’s 25-year plan, many components focus on a coordinated strategy on the night time economy and opportunities for socializing. Transportation needs are changing and are needed for more than just the office worker who goes in at 7:00 in the morning.

“There are the waiters, the bartenders working until the bars close at 2:00 in the morning. Are their transportation needs being met,” he asked.

Most importantly among the initiatives, the one gaping hole they found was the public safety factor. That many of the goals will require a very strategic and coordinated long-term public safety strategy to complete.

In addition, any planning will have to look at zoning issues and the best land use.

Many of the long-term goals will require a very strategic and coordinated public safety strategy, he said.

According to Mr. Peters, a sociable city consists of four distinct life stages of people: Singles, Mingles, Families and Jingles. Each of the stages has its own demand for social activities and its own schedule. He mentioned young adults may go out at a time when their parents may be in bed already.

His research shows there are a total of 135,000 college students in the city. In the city from 2000 to 2010 the 18-24 population grew while the 35-40 age group left and the over 65 population fell by a quarter percent.

The night life trends and issues that emerge from the changing demographics include:

Neighborhoods may serve different demographic groups that emerge;

The night life district cycles – moving from one area to the next;

There is a concentration of hospitality and night life venues in Pittsburgh;

The city has dwindling city resources;

What the economic impacts on patron spending and behavior such as people drinking before they go out and the negative impacts that aren’t associated with the practices of the venues;

As districts become more active and vibrant does it make them a magnet for crime and gang activity; and,

Closing time crowds.

The Sociable City Plan would include three parts: a Plan for People, Enhanced Vibrancy and Assure Safety.

The Plan for People would address quality of life issues and make transportation available.

Enhanced Vibrancy would include creating private sector options within venues and as well as public space use such as outdoor dining and vendors.

Assuring Safety would consider not only safety from a public safety viewpoint, but also from the venue’s point of view.

The process to come up with the plan included the formation of a transformation team which included the participation of 167 people from 17 city, county or state departments along with 45 business related individuals, 13 residents or people from community action groups and representatives from nine educational institutions.

The study sites included four districts in various stages of night life development: South Side, Oakland Lawrenceville and Downtown.

As a way to present other options for what exists in other cities, the transformation team participated in seminars, had the opportunity to hear from guest speakers, examine case studies and participate in webinars.

The information was then used in a series of district forums and task force meetings where it was used to draft recommendations which were reviewed by the participants before a final report was generated for the Mayor’s Office and city council.

An action plan was formulated looking at five separate areas: District Management and Zoning; Public Safety; Personal Accountability; Hospitality Practices and Transportation.

District Management and Zoning

Mr. Peters said an innovative way of looking at hospitality zones came out of the discussions. One other cities will be looking at as they move forward.

Pittsburgh will be looking at hospitality zones almost like they look at events. It was suggested to calculate the total number of occupancy in a hospitality zone and have an appropriate crowd management system in place including public safety, emergency medical services, trash and waste management for the number of people in zone.

“Normally the only services that are available are the police,” he said.

The RHI’s recommendation is to define and overlay district and calculate what its social venue occupancy is and come up with a zoning standard that would begin to incorporate use patterns that would match resources to that use.

District management actions would include developing a structure for a hospitality zone overlay; document the status of potential districts; establish strong community support; prepare a template and timeline for zoning and regulatory updates and pilot the hospitality zone overlay district.

He said they have received some commitment from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to include some budgetary resources to allow for the inventory of some of the districts and begin to document some of these variables and factors.

Hospitality Practices

Mr. Peters said many of the South Side’s hospitality businesses are interested in working together to begin to upgrade some of their practices. Some of the recommendations include:

Developing a guide for those planning to open a new business;

Defining the model practices for business plans: Such as having security, safety and service training; promoters and marketing; sound and trash management; community relations; and closing time coordination.

Transportation and Mobility Management

The challenges of parking is key in South Side and emerging in Lawrenceville and a part of any district that’s adding residential housing with an active night life, Mr. Peters said.

They are looking at inventorying the options for night time transportation and working with the Port Authority to enhance late night service.

One of the key initiatives is to pilot additional off-site parking lots for South Side’s late night economy and patrons. Offering a safe place for patrons to park their cars with easy access and not have to deal with closing time crowds and traffic.

Mr. Peters said they would like to make more use of pedicabs in the neighborhoods. Pedicabs, he explained, are becoming increasingly used throughout the country to take people on short runs allowing taxis to take people on longer trips.

They also have to identify hot spots for transportation risks. He said a recent PennDOT study finds East Carson Street ranked as first in the region and sixth in the state for pedestrian and car accidents.

“It’s a high priority for transportation related risks,” he said.

Public Safety and Policing

“The public safety approach which would really revamp the system that’s currently in place that is really resource intensive and perhaps not really effective in managing late night safety,” he said.

The recommended public safety actions include:

Establishing a hospitality and safety team that would operate on two levels: one as a policy liaison to a city alliance they are looking to form that would have input on the evolution some of the districts; and also as a field task force that could collect data, educate and help increase compliance by businesses.

Enhance the deployment of field officers with training and supervision. The plan recommends that bars move away from the current system of hiring off-duty police officers for security in favor of having the police on-duty and on the street.

“It’s important to shift away from a reliance on secondary or detail officer system and have better trained and more focused field officers that work a regular shift and get engaged with the community and businesses,” Mr. Peters said.

Prioritize challenges to address and strategies to pursue data collection so that the issues can be responded to and monitored.

Improve communication and collaborations between and among night life businesses and the agencies that regulate them.

Personal Accountability and Harm Reduction

“The bottom line is the patrons and how can we encourage and educate them to take more responsibility for their own behavior and to reduce risk,” he said.

Mr. Peters said they have already received commitments for funding from several organizations to underwrite a program similar to a campaign in Edmonton, Canada, using themes such as: “Be a Lover, Not a Fighter,” “Save the Party” and, “Night Gone Right” focusing on young women.

Action steps include:

Engaging young adults. Local universities’ government councils have already shown their willingness to get involved.

A social media marketing campaign is planned to begin in August of 2013.

Strengthen town/gown partnerships that would establish standards for a code of conduct for students that live in off-campus housing.

Mr. Peters said they are looking at social host responsibility to avoid incidents such as the one that recently happened in South Side where a young man died after he fell from a third story balcony.

The next steps will include a meeting in January with the RHI and representatives from all the Main Street districts in the city to share the plan in an effort to get those districts more actively involved.

Mr. Peters said they want to create a sociable city alliance or a night time economy alliance that would be inclusive with all the groups represented at the post agenda hearing to serve as a liaison to the working groups.

Representatives of the police, fire, planning and building inspection departments, the URA and a large contingent of business owners were in attendance for the hearing.

“We would lean upon the city council and the Mayor’s Office to provide the resources from the different departments and agencies that need to be involved so their staff can be participatory in this process and then institutionalize this process either through policy of resource allocation to sustain and develop this plan for an ongoing basis,” Mr. Peters concluded.

“Success will be measured by: Will Pittsburgh become a city that’s known for its districts of night life in the same way that we go to New Orleans, or we go to Chicago, or we go to San Francisco, or we go to Paris, or we go to cities where we know there’s vibrancy and know that it is safe and we know that there’s some planning there.”

More information is available on the RHI’s website at: http://www.rhiweb.org/city/pittsburgh/. The entire plan and its recommendations is expected to be available on the city’s website in the near future.

 

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