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Friday, June 24, 2016

National revitalization conference scheduled in Pittsburgh next May

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 4:59 PM

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald - PHOTO BY BILLY LUDT
  • Photo by Billy Ludt
  • Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
At a press conference held Friday at the City-County Building, local officials announced that the Main Street Now conference will be held in Pittsburgh next May. Main Street Now is a conference organized by Main Street America, a national organization that encourages community revitalization through preservation, working in neighborhood, business and industrial districts.

The organization boasts a strong track record of revitalization and economic development within participating communities, which would be beneficial for struggling neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area.

“I live in a loft apartment and I love downtown living,” said Valerie McDonald Roberts, the city's chief urban affairs officer. “I love North Shore living, I love the Strip District living. But you know what? As much as we commend the development within our Downtown and our connecting corridors, that’s not where the masses live.

“The masses live in communities and this conference hits on exactly what the mayor wants to do: It’s to serve the underserved; to reconnect to our communities and to commend communities and one another. In order to build equity and in order to build adequacy within all of our structures — not just the city of Pittsburgh, but the greater Pittsburgh area — we do have to connect the dots. And the one thing in connecting the dots is developing our main streets.”

Pennsylvania’s Main Street program is part of the Keystone Communities program, through the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Over 150 communities in Pennsylvania are a part of the Main Street program and 35 of those are accredited by the senate. 

Dennis Davin, secretary of the department of community development said that every dollar invested into Main Street communities leverages around $18.

The Main Street chapter focusing on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County has past experience working with sites that are heavily disinvested and distressed. Patrice Frey, executive director of Main Street Center, said the chapter has a good track record of attracting investment to the areas they work in.

“In the last 30 years we’ve seen investment in our Main Street communities north of $65 billion,” said Frey. “We’ve seen over 260,000 buildings — old historic buildings — put back into active reuse in these communities. We’ve seen over 550,000 net new jobs created and we’ve seen over 125,000 net new businesses.”

In the last year in Pennsylvania, in the 47 communities that currently participate in Main Street, over 1,100 new jobs and 139 new businesses were created and 267 rehabilitation projects were started, according to Main Street America.

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Health professionals tell Allegheny County to make HPV vaccine mandatory

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 3:06 PM

This week, the Allegheny County Department of Health, along with Allegheny County Council members, heard testimony in support of and against — but mostly in support — making the HPV vaccine mandatory for children, both boys and girls, ages 11 and 12.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which along with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the three-dose (over a period of six months) vaccine at that age, meaning before kids generally become sexually active.

More than 25 speakers — including doctors, researchers, executives from health-care foundations, high school students, cancer survivors and even a dentist — addressed Dr. Karen Hacker, head of the Allegheny County Health Department, and council members.

Dr. Liz Miller, director of community health at Children's Hospital at Pittsburgh and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine, called the vaccine mandate "critically important" for "bridging the gap" in parts of Allegheny County where parents might not be educated on HPV, or where access to primary care is less likely.

"The HPV vaccine is frankly a no-brainer," she said.

According to the CDC, in most cases HPV will go away on its own. But when it doesn't, it can cause genital warts and cancers, including cervical cancer, cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis or anus. Cancer caused by HPV can also manifest itself in the throat, tongue and tonsils.

Currently the vaccine is mandatory for school entry in Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

"We have spoken with all three states to better understand their perspectives and experience," Hacker wrote in an email to City Paper. She says the vaccine is covered by most health-insurance plans and is included in the Affordable Care Act's preventive measures.

John Rhodes, a 50-year-old assistant basketball coach for the Duquesne University Dukes, testified as a throat- and neck-cancer survivor. He called himself a "6-foot-9 walking billboard" for the HPV vaccine. He has been in remission for seven months after being treated for stage-four cancer that settled in his lymph nodes and was caused by HPV. 

"My kids are vaccinated," he said. "As a coach and a competitive person, I challenge you [to mandate the vaccine]."

Several doctors shared concern for the pain and complications their patients feel once they are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV.

Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri, a head- and neck-cancer surgeon at UPMC and the local VA hospital, told the crowd about his 55-year-old male patient from Dubois, Pa., who found a lump on his neck. "I spent the day removing a large portion of this man's tongue," he said. "That could've been prevented."

After the meeting, he explained that he and colleagues will be operating on six patients and treating four others for "oropharyngeal" cancers — head and neck cancers — and that those types of cancers are predicted to rise by 2020.

Sixteen-year-old Sydney Reyes, of Riverview Junior-Senior High School, addressed another common argument against the vaccine — that it will encourage sexual promiscuity in teenagers.

"This assumption can be resolved by having a proper discussion with your teen, not by blocking a vaccination," Reyes said. "Why should we risk a life like this when we really don't have to?"

A few speakers against the vaccine mandate expressed their concerns to the councilors. A parent named Amy Rafferty read a letter from a friend whose daughter allegedly suffered severe hypertonia — muscles spasms — to the point where she couldn't walk anymore after receiving Gardasil, the HPV vaccine from Merck.

James Lyons-Weiler, who formerly worked at the Hillman Cancer Center and who started his own research group entitled the "Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge," told the crowd he was concerned that the current vaccine would allow for stronger virus strains to attack humans in the future.

Yesterday, Lyons-Weiler posted a 3,000-word essay on his blog denouncing the medical professionals who asked Allegheny County to mandate the vaccine. He also mentioned that he met Rafferty because she organized the local screening of VAXXED — an anti-vaccine documentary that was kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival schedule, and which City Paper's film critic Al Hoff said came "across as an infomercial by way of a conspiracy theory for a discredited argument."

Speakers who followed opponents of the vaccine mandate contradicted their arguments.

Hacker says the comments gathered at the hearing will be presented to the board of health in July.

"They wanted us to consider what the public felt [about an HPV-vaccine mandate]," Hacker said by phone today. 

If the board decides to recommend a mandate, a public-comment period would follow.

Editor's note: This post has been udpated to include comments from Dr. Karen Hacker.

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Advocates ask Port Authority of Allegheny County to move toward all-electric fleet

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 1:42 PM

Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, speaks at Port Authority board meeting. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, speaks at Port Authority board meeting.

According to a 2016 report from the American Lung Association, the Pittsburgh region failed its criteria for healthy levels of ozone and particle pollution. The region improved on its air quality report from last year, but still has a way to go.

"While air quality in Pittsburgh has improved over the last several decades," says Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, or GASP. "We continue to have some of the worst air pollution in the country, especially in terms of fine-particulate matter. One source of these emissions is Port Authority buses." 

It is for this reason that a group of environmental and transit advocates spoke at June's Port Authority of Allegheny County board meeting and are calling for the authority to “green their fleet” by 2030, specifically an all-electric fleet. 

There are currently 426 diesel vehicles built after 2007, which some would consider “clean diesel,” and 310 diesel vehicles built before 2006, which are not considered clean. PAT board passed a resolution at the meeting that would replace 70 of the older vehicles with newer “clean diesel” options, making the fleet around 70 percent “clean diesel.”

While advocates applaud this effort, they are asking PAT to go even further. Filippini says she would like to see all pre-2006 buses eventually taken out of service and is asking the authority to transition to a fleet of electric buses that are fueled by renewable energy sources. “We must work to green the fleet.”

Kimmy Dihn, of transit-advocate group Pittsburghers for Public Transportation, says moving toward more environmentally friendly vehicles could help address public-health issues, too. “We are voicing the concern of how buses affect the public health of pedestrians, cyclists and public-transportation riders.”

She too is asking PAT to transition to an all-electric fleet. Warwick Powell, of environmental group 350 Pittsburgh, says greening the bus fleet could make Pittsburgh a climate-change leader. He also says this is a great time to do so, given all the local support, including the arrival of solar-energy giant, SolarCity, to the Pittsburgh market.

“Renewable energy has never had stronger support from the government and the public,” says Powell.

PAT spokesperson Jim Ritchie says including electric vehicles is “something we are interested in.” He says the authority is currently working on specifications that will consider including electric buses in the next contract of bus replacements, which could be presented this fall. Ritchie adds that PAT has already tested electric vehicles from companies like California-based Proterra and Canadian-based New Flyer, and plans to test electric buses from one more company. He also notes that the PAT fleet does include 32 hybrid vehicles

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“Interactive video bath” premieres tonight at Pittsburgh’s Neu Kirche

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 12:35 PM

Internationally exhibited, California-based artist Tra Bouscaren will open Projection Theory Slant Rhyme Institute, a cutting-edge video-based installation.

Image of a video installation by Tra Bouscaren
  • Image of a video installation by Tra Bouscaren
The work promises to immerse viewers “within images of themselves, literalized by interactive video software via live surveillance feeds from within the gallery,” according to press materials. “The projection mapping functions as an ‘interactive video bath’ constructed from multiple live surveillance feeds mashed together with drone footage, GIS imaging, and poached live webcams from all over the world.”

The purpose is to explore “the crossroads of addiction and demolition.”

Bouscaren is a lecturer in the Department of Art at the University of California Santa Cruz. His work has been exhibited at venues in Barcelona and Madrid, in Spain, and the Museum für Naturkunde, in Berlin.

Tonight’s reception starts are 6:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $10.

Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center is located at 1000 Madison Ave., on the North Side.

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What you need to know about Pittsburgh news this week

Posted By and on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 12:31 PM

Here's what's going down in Pittsburgh:

1. Environmental advocates 
and a local chef hosted a symbolic picnic, demonstrating what foods would be left to eat if the honeybees who pollinate our produce completely disappeared. According to USDA figures, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year, and their colonies are dying at an annual average of 30 percent.


  • Photo by Luke Thor Travis
2. Ball on the Bridge took over the Andy Warhol Bridge last weekend. The event, which had 28 competition categories, highlighted ball culture and the need for improved health-care services for Pittsburgh’s LGBT community. See our slideshow of the night.


3. The Allegheny County Health Department held a hearing this week on whether to add the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to its mandatory schedule for boys and girls ages 11 and 12 (in addition to the required tetanus and meningitis vaccines), which is now the Centers for Disease Control's official recommendation. HPV can cause certain cancers, including cervical and throat, among others. The majority of speakers — including pediatricians, gynecologists, researchers and oncologists — spoke in favor of the mandate.  Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri, a head- and neck-cancer surgeon at UPMC and the local VA hospital, told the crowd, " I unfortunately have to see these patients on the back end of this, when they've already had [cancer caused by HPV]. An ounce of prevention is worth of a pound of cure." 


  • Photo by Ryan Deto
4. Affordable-housing advocates are aiming to collect 15,000 signatures to put a referendum to city voters, asking for a 1 percent realty-transfer tax increase to create and fund the Housing Opportunity Fund. The fund is a recommendation of the Affordable Housing Task Force. Advocates say the goal is to raise at least $10 million per year, which would help rehabilitate 270 homes for renters, create 234 new affordable homes, and provide rental assistance to 180 families each year.


  • Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Public Theater
5. "Venus in Fur" is in its final weekend at Pittsburgh Public Theater. Theater writer Ted Hoover wrote a rave review of the "sly, dark comedy" for City Paper, and arts editor Bill O'Driscoll seconds Hoover, writing this week that "The production is driven by terrific performances ... And then, in its final minutes, the play kicks imperceptibly but decisively into another gear entirely."


On our podcast:

  • Photo by Nathan Hall
This week on the City Paper Podcast, host Alex Gordon sits down with local artist David Bernabo, whom you might recognize from his many appearances in local art, music and dance. Today, David discusses his new(ish) album The Inn and his novel approach to writing and recording. Featuring the album version of "Material," plus acoustic re-renderings of "Winter God Light" and "Table In The Circle."


The food scene:

  • Photo by Celine Roberts
On our Sound Bite podcast, food writer Celine Roberts visits Chillegal, a pop-up kitchen tucked away in a hillside garden in Pittsburgh. 


On our music blog:

  • Photo courtesy of Jessica Flynn
Contributing music writer Meg Fair comments on the inclusive atmosphere that acts Modern Baseball and Joyce Manor create to combat "dude-dominated spaces [that] can feel unsafe and are unfortunately rife with harassment" for women and others across the gender spectrum who attend pop-punk and emo shows.


From the pages of our print edition:

  • Photo by Ryan Deto
Staff writer Ryan Deto writes about Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, who after receiving a driving citation from Mount Lebanon police was picked up by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on May 2. Esquivel-Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, has been called a community staple and advocate by family, friends and local business-owners. Now, after being moved around for weeks to various detention facilities, he has decided to fight his own deportation.

In his "Pittsburgh Left" column about Esquivel-Hernandez's case, City Paper editor Charlie Deitch writes, "What an oversimplification of a situation based on broken and backward immigration law. They say he’s here illegally. They say he’s not one of us because he’s from Mexico. They couldn’t be more wrong. Martin Esquivel-Hernandez might not be a documented resident of the United States, but he’s a well-documented resident of this city and that has to count for something."


This week in City Paper history:

This cover, from our June 19, 2013, issue, is historic because it documents Pittsburgh's final PrideFest held without marriage equality. Here’s hoping this year’s cover was the last PrideFest without discrimination protections for the LGBT community. Read more about this week in City Paper history.

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A conversation with Pere Ubu

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 10:31 AM

Pere Ubu’s ‘Coed Jail! v.1.1’ tour comes to Club Cafe on July 1, with songs from the enigmatic Cleveland pop band’s early days (1975-82). CP sent some questions to singer David Thomas via email. Here’s that talk.

  • Photo by Kathy Thompson
  • Pere Ubu
I was provided a lengthy FAQ to avoid asking questions you’ve already been asked. How often do you update this list?
Whenever it needs updating

Why do interviews at all if you’re so consistently frustrated by them?
I’m not frustrated by them in the main because, having been asked the same questions for decades, I decided the best thing to do would be to put up a guide to interviewing me so that everyone can do the best job possible.

If me answering the same questions for forty years is not going to be progressed in any way then I cheat the journalist, the journalist cheats the reader, the reader walks away with nothing but the same old facts that anyone Googling can find has been written a hundred times before. I don’t particularly care — that’s not my job — but let’s just make it all a little bit more interesting.

Have you ever enjoyed doing an interview? What was it like?
I enjoy most interviews. Especially with phone interviews or radio interviews, you find they’ve done their homework and you can have a really great analysis and expansion of things. The written interview is less conversational so you react rather than interact. But if the person putting the questions to you is coming from place of genuine interest, it can be beneficial to all.

Do you believe labels have any purpose in music (as in genres, not record labels)? They can be reductive and inconsistent and misleading, but I’d argue that most music fans are aware of that and that labels are simply placeholders, temporary reference points to describe music until it’s heard. So calling Pere Ubu punk or avant garage or pop isn’t a life sentence, just a starting point.
We’re not insulted by avant garage — we invented it! You knew that right? We have always insisted we are the mainstream. We are a pop band — I’ve never argued any different. But for the record, the garage graphic was adopted as a logo to go along with the descriptive ‘avant garage.’ A fan from New York City had sent the band a certificate, bestowing the honorific as an ‘award.' That was how things were then. Punk hadn’t been invented. Journalists were struggling to categorise what was happening at that time — we had journalists coming to see, travelling all the way from Europe, as part of the ‘New Wave’ they’d heard rumor of. ‘Avant garage’ appealed to the band because it conflated the two seemingly contradictory faces of the band — the appreciation of abstract noise and an affection for pop music, particularly of the '60s garage band aesthetic. It was a label that didn't mean anything but seemed like it might mean something. More importantly, it was a way to deflect the media’s obsessive pigeonholing of anything and everything. One of our t-shirts sums it up — And when they ask you what the Avant Garage means, you just stare at them in disbelief — a Johnny Dromette-ism.

Do you ever talk about music using genre-labels?
All music should be folk music. If it’s not true to the origins of your forbears then go be a used car salesman.

How do you spend your time on the last day before a tour? Preparation or relaxation?
We rehearse for anything from 10 to 18 hours each day for a few days before every tour, we load up the van, check the itinerary, try to get a few hours sleep. It’s work and there is no relaxation. We take the job seriously and no-one lets the team down. There is no relaxation until the tour ends and all the band agree that the brutality of touring is offset by everyone knowing what they should be doing, or anticipating what needs to be done for every eventuality. Everyone has a tour role aside from playing an instrument.

You close out the tour in Ohio. Are you received well there, or any differently than other locations? How does it feel to play there after 40 years as a band?
I don’t pay attention to my feelings. All gigs are equal. But Ohio is where we like to end the tours. We go home, get some sleep, get back to work. Pittsburgh is always a good place to come — we’d gigged there a few times throughout this era and it seemed like an essential stop.

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