You hear it a lot these days: "we need to act more like a region." While I agree with the statement 100%, I tend to cringe when I hear it because we fail to recognize the many wonderful and effective regional approaches already underway addressing and fixing big problems in Southwestern PA.
So here's my list of five regional strategies, some of which might be new to you. What's on your list?
1. Pittsburgh's the safest place in the world, thanks to PA Region 13
Task Force. In 2005, 95 of Allegheny County's 130 municipalities were declared a state of emergency within 24 hours of Hurricane Ivan hitting here. Within that same 24 hours, Allegheny County had more fire trucks, pumps, sand bags and row boats delivered than we knew what to do with. Just last month during the G-20 Summit, the FBI and Secret Service recognized Pittsburgh as one of the best coordinated security regions in the country. And when help was needed for Flight 93, the QueCreek Mine accident or the Hepatitis A outbreak in Beaver County, Region 13 responded with incredible speed.
Region 13 is a coordinated emergency response system covering 12 counties and the City of Pittsburgh. It started shortly after the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing in 1995, when the City and County began to talk about joint emergency preparedness for possible terrorist attacks. Thanks to County Emergency Management Director Bob Full who was serving as Director of the City's Hazardous Materials Response team, the City and County quickly developed a joint program that was immediately joined by 11 surrounding counties. Today, Region 13 covers 3.1 million people, living in 706 municipalities protected by over 1100 fire and police departments – all working as one unit in response to natural or man made disasters. Region 13 is credited for passing State Law Act 227 that established nine other regions across the State and has been recognized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Emergency Management Agency, and the National Association of Counties as a national model to be replicated.
Who were the key drivers in addition to Chief Full? Credit goes to former Mayor Tom Murphy and his deputy Sal Sirebella; former county Executive Jim Roddey and his manager Bob Webb along with current County Executive and Manager Dan Onorato and Jim Flynn. Special drivers include the former Beaver County Commissioners who saw the importance of such a coordinated approach as a result of the USAir flight 427 accident and their nuclear power plant.
2. We're not only safe, but we're smart and efficient, too. Sometimes bigger really is better and that's exactly the case when Pine Twp., Marshall, Bradford Woods, and more recently Richland Twp., merged their independent police departments into one new force called the Northern Regional Police Department of Allegheny County.
On their own, each department was too small and too costly for their individual municipalities. Today, with a force of 30 full time officers, led by Chief Bob Amann who was one of the key drivers, 35,000 residents are receiving improved and less costly protection as a whole. In addition to better coordinated protection, the creation of the Northern Regional Police Department allowed for the addition of a detective school resource officer, accident reconstruction, and combined pension money that made the overall plan much stronger and more affordable to each of the individual municipalities.
Who were the key drivers? The four township managers: Dean Bastianini of Richland Twp, Cheryl Fisher of Pine Twp., Maryann Moretti of Bradford Woods and Neil McFadden of Marshall Twp.
3. Water knows no boundaries! And everyone needs it. That was the impetus behind the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics' creation of the Regional Water Task Force
in 2006. Representatives from eleven counties under the leadership of Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon and President of California State University Angelo Armenti, came together to address regional water challenges such as flooding, sewage overflows, outdated infrastructure, and abandoned mine draining. They also came together to exploit our region's greatest asset – water – to attract businesses, talent and major events like the Bass Master Tournament. With the help of 17 task force members and over 100 technical volunteers from 600 municipalities, the task force developed and agreed upon a regional water resource planning and funding prioritization plan to be implemented by the Southwest Planning Commission.
Who were the key drivers? Members of the Institute of Politics Environment Committee, Washington County Commissioner Bracken Burns, State Representatives Dave Lavdansky and Scott Hutchinson, and University of Pittsburgh Professor Ted Muller. But one of the most important drivers who staffed the task force is IOP's very own Ty Gourley!
4. CONNECT the dots – or Communities. Getting tired of waiting for the City and County to consolidate, former City Budget Director and professor at Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, David Miller decided on a different course: establish a Congress of Neighboring Communities otherwise known as CONNECT.
With the belief that a strong urban core makes for a strong region, and that collaboration is a key to success, Miller brought together 35 municipalities bordering the City of Pittsburgh and the City together to form CONNECT. Representing a population of 680,000 along with 75% of all jobs in Allegheny County and 90% of all port authority activities, CONNECT has one simple mission – to strengthen the urban core by helping the leaders of the 680,000 people consult with and work together.
With support from several local foundations, CONNECT held its first Congress in June of 2009 with designated representatives from 27 of the 35 municipalities. Mayor Luke Ravenstall was elected chair along with fellow officers Pat Schaffer, President of Edgewood Borough Council, Dan DaMarco, Ross Twp. Supervisor, and Marcia Taylor, Mt. Lebanon Secretary. The group has already achieved success with a water agreement between Millvale and the City of Pittsburgh and shared services for the G-20 Summit and they recently hired Kathy Risko as associate director. Look for bigger and better cooperation on the EPA consent agreement with ALCOSAN and next generation of transit issues.
Who were the key drivers? Everyone mentioned and more, but especially Pitt's David Miller.
5. Steelers vs. Browns, maybe. But Pittsburgh working with Cleveland, definitely. We can still diss the Browns and cheer for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh and Cleveland simply must work together on economic development and that's what the Tech Belt Initiative
is all about. Replicating the Research Triangle in North Carolina and Silicon Valley, Congressmen Jason Altmire (PA-04) and Tim Ryan (OH-17) established the Tech Belt Initiative and its 134 miles of economic opportunity between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Over the past several years, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, BioEnterprise in Cleveland and a host of other organizations have repeatedly joined forces to draw more venture capitalists to our area and to facilitate collaborations between research firms in both states.
The Tech Belt covers 7.2 million people, making it the 4th largest industrial/technology region nationally, with a potential economic impact of more than $1 billion in annual academic R&D. Currently, 700+ companies employ over 25,000+ in bioscience enterprises alone.
Who were the key drivers? Top of the list is John Manzetti, President of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse along with various foundations and organizations include the McCune Foundation, the Raymond John Wean Foundation, Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.To sign up to receive Pop City weekly, click here.John Denny is director of community relations at the Hillman Company. To read his article on 5 Things that Allowed Pittsburgh to Turn the Corner, click here.
Captions: John Denny; cleaning up after a major storm in Schenley Park; bicycle police; the Allegheny River Downtown; Claes Oldenburg's "Free" rubber stamp in Cleveland.
Photographs copyright Brian Cohen