South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Al Lowe
Contributing Writer 

Survey says: MWCDC needs to communicate better


"What we got here is a failure to communicate."

It is a classic movie line. In the 1967 movie "Cool Hand Luke," a prisoner named Luke played by Paul Newman, is continually reprimanded by his tough chain gang bosses with this remark.

At the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. community forum meeting held July 21 there was a discussion of the results of a survey of 200 neighborhood residents regarding how they felt about the Mount and the faults and merits of the organization. One of the complaints about the MWCDC was concerning its failure to communicate and lack of self-promotion.

Some faulty communication was apparent that night.

The topic for next month was announced as a discussion of plans to build an off-leash dog park as part of the neighborhood park system. But none of the attendees that night was aware of South Siders efforts to also build a dog park in their community about a mile away from Mount Washington. Councilman Bruce Kraus is working to obtain monies to fund the South Side project.

Also, handouts for the night's presentation had notations in very small, hard-to-read print. J.T. Smith, president of the board of directors, who made the presentation along with executive director Chris Beichner, was unaware of the size of the print on the distributed handouts.

Mr. Beichner mentioned some of the criticism of the MWCDC obtained by the surveys seemed unfair. The group was chastised for failure to acquire funding for projects.

"That's one thing that we do really well," Mr. Beichner said.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Beichner shared the results of the surveys with the group.

Respondents were asked what they thought were the greatest strengths of the Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights neighborhoods. The answers included: access to downtown and local highways, the magnificent Grandview Avenue view, quality affordable homes, access to the library and parks, and the community's history.

Those taking the surveys were also asked about the greatest weaknesses of Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights. Among the answers were: slum landlords, bad sidewalks and curbs, lack of business diversity, limited parking, and not enough activities for tourists.

A vision for the area among respondents included: a thriving business district, no graffiti or garbage, reduced crime, no vacant lots, a restored library, better streets and sidewalks, and increased tourist traffic.

Mr. Beichner mentioned seven or eight respondents continued to reference an unleashed dog park among their answers.

There were 164 respondents who thought the neighborhood was moving in the right direction and 29 who thought it wasn't, due to such aspects as drug problems, slum landlords, and lack of business diversity.

"There are always going to be curmudgeons," Mr. Smith said.

"There are a lot of things that still need to be improved," Mr. Beichner said.

Respondents were asked: What does the MWCDC do well?

Answers included: creating a vision, its working relationship with the city, the capable staff, the organization's transparency, and its representation of the community.

A related question was: What does the MWCDC not do well? Responses included: failure to communicate and lack of self-promotion, recruitment of volunteers, failure to create diversity among businesses, and failure to acquire funding.

Should the MWCDC engage in direct advocacy and what should it do? Those who thought it should included among their answers: fighting for better infrastructure, trying to enhance city services, and attempting to enhance mass transit.

If the MWCDC had unlimited money or resources, what new directions, goals, focus or goals should it pursue? Replies included: striving for diversity for the business district, more housing development, improved public safety, more community outreach and marketing, and more infrastructure improvements.

Suggested priorities over the next eight to ten years included: public safety, business district diversity, marketing and self-promotion, opportunities to enhance tourism, improvements for trails and parks.

"Those are guidelines, not gospel," Mr. Beichner said. But he said the suggestions would be given to staff to take to the next level.

MWCDC observations included: the organization seems to be moving towards what the community feels they should be doing, there is disappointment some residents are unaware of what the MWCDC does, the Dollar Energy program is perceived as strong, there should be more comparison of Mount Washington among the staff to other neighborhoods.

In other business, Mr. Beichner mentioned the developer for Prospect School, Rodriguez Associates, who wants to convert the building into an upper scale market rate apartment complex, has obtained an option agreement with the school board. It now has first right of refusal regarding development and is seeking financing.

He also announced developer Craig Cozza was cited by the Bureau of Building Inspections for the condition of his property at 341 Grandview Avenue, near Bertha Street. In 2004 he planned to build a condo building on the property. The MWCDC's members have complained for years about two properties he owns on Grandview being eyesores and board members have met with him to relay their concerns.

The MWCDC wants him to repair a fence so they can put a mural designed by Art Institute students around the property.


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