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Monday, December 19, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 3:02 PM

click to enlarge ChaRon Don with Shayontani Banerjee
ChaRon Don with Shayontani Banerjee
This week’s MP3 comes from Pittsburgh-based hip-hop artist ChaRon Don. Stream or download “Future Take Hold” (featuring Shayontani Banerjee) — the shadowy and high-drama (in the best way) title track from ChaRon Don’s forthcoming record — for free below. And be sure to keep an ear out for Future Take Hold when it drops next year.

ChaRon Don: Future Take

To download, right-click here and select save-as.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 11:18 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis

The sixth annual Holiday Lights Run took place in Downtown Pittsburgh last night, raising money for the UPMC Children's Hospital Free Care Fund. Runners and walkers met at PPG Place Wintergarden, choosing between a four and six-mile course or a one-mile Holiday Stroll, passing indoor and outdoor holiday displays along their way.

Despite frigid temps, the event had more than 250 participants, with runners braving the cold temps in festive holiday hats and Christmas sweaters.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis
click to enlarge PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
Photo by Luke Thor Travis

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 2:37 PM

click to enlarge CP PHOTO BY JOHN COLUMBO
CP photo by John Columbo
When it was conceived, Allegheny Center Mall on the North Side was meant to appeal to city dwellers attracted to the comforts of the suburbs. Though somewhat successful for 20 years after it opened in 1966, it did not last.

Today the mall, now known as Nova Place is one of the largest mixed-use, urban renewal projects in the country. And it's in this space that Mayor Bill Peduto announced his campaign for re-election at his 12th Annual Holiday Party last night (Dec. 14).

"This building was built to keep people from leaving the city. Now we're re-envisioning it and making it a center for a better economy," Peduto said. "Our city is changing more now than it has in the last 50 years."

Hundreds packed into Nova Place last night to voice their support for Peduto.

"He supports the LGBT community and he's a fucking great guy," said attendee Joe King. "I've been a friend and supporter for years and I agree with his policies. He has a good heart and loves this city."

Several Democratic Party leaders stopped by to show their support for Peduto throughout the evening including Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald,  U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, and State House Rep. Ed Gainey.

"He's extremely creative," said Allegheny County Democratic Committee Chair Nancy Patton Mills. "He's energetic, he has a vision for Pittsburgh. And he's highly respected around the nation, especially with other mayors and that's why I support him 100 percent."

Others reflected on the mayor's performance over the the past three years in office along with his time on Pittsburgh City Council.

"I remember once when I was protesting the treatment of Jordan Miles I did a sit in outside of the mayor's office," said local musician Phat Man Dee, recalling that Peduto was among the members of city council who addressed the protesters.

She also praised Peduto for appointing former Pittsburgh police chief Cameron McLay, who advocated for community policing. McLay wasn't well-liked among rank and file officers and Pittsburgh's Fraternal Order of Police issued a no-confidence vote in him earlier this year. McLay resigned last month and Phat Man Dee said he has big shoes to fill.

"Considering the FOP endorsed Trump, I really don't know where we go next," she said. "Whoever Peduto picks to replace McLay, [the FOP are] not going to like them. So we need to stand behind Mayor Peduto. It's going to be difficult. I don't envy his job."

Richard Parsakian, who was recently appointed to the board of the mayor's LGBT advisory council praised the mayor's commitment to being inclusive. "I love the fact that he is beyond inclusive and that we are becoming a sanctuary city for progressives. In this time of change nationally, we need that," he said.

"Since being elected he has really proven to have a genuine concern for the present and the future of this city," said Rev. Glenn Grayson.

Grayson's son was killed a few years ago when he was shot at a party. He thanked the mayor for helping with the development of the Hill District community center named for his son. Asked about Peduto's performance around the issue of gun violence Grayson said, "Unless the mayor takes an interest in it, it can't happen. It may not be moving to the level we want it to, but we're glad he's taken an interest."

Unlike previous administrations, Mayor Peduto has the support of the majority of council members, many who were in attendance last night.

"I support Mayor Peduto. I worked with him on council and I think our city is moving in the right direction," said Councilor Corey O'Connor. "We're all on the page and I think it's been really great for our city."

When Council President Bruce Kraus thinks about his support for Mayor Peduto, he says the word that comes to mind is "unwavering."

"I know him as a mayor and a collaborator," Kraus said. "So often we align in the ways we view public policy. It's not orchestrated in any way. We just see the world in the same way."

"He's accessible to me and my constituents," said Councilor Theresa Kail Smith. "If there's an issue in District 2, he listens. Do we disagree on somethings? Yes, but we do so respectfully."

So far, no one has announced plans to run against Bill Peduto, but Councilor Darlene Harris has been a vocal opponent of the mayor and it's no secret she's considering a run. Harris did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Pittsburgh City Paper.

"I've heard various rumors, but I don't know if anyone is seriously considering challenging him," said Kail Smith. "I don't think he takes that for granted, but I think if you talk to anyone at this party, they're not worried."

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Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 1:14 PM

Photo courtesy of Adam Shuck
This September, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation installed two new traffic signals at two corners of Butler and 46th streets in Lawrenceville. The new poles were installed smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk.

The community was quick to criticize the placement, saying that the poles now obscure access for pedestrians and people with disabilities in what has become one of the city’s most popular walking districts.

“Without telling or asking anybody, [PennDOT] just put them in the center of the sidewalk,” says Will Bernstein of Better Streets Lawrenceville, a local bike/pedestrian group. “There is a reason we have sidewalks: so people can have an unobstructed path for walking. And for people with disabilities, these poles can be especially problematic.”

Advocates have reached out to neighborhood group Lawrenceville Corporation, bike/ped advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh City Councilor Deb Gross, and all have gotten behind the call to move the poles or redesign their placement.

PennDOT however, has yet to give a solid response to the community. Bernstein says that PennDOT has indicated that utility lines would make it difficult and expensive to move the poles, and Eric Boerer of Bike Pittsburgh says PennDOT may be considering a redesign with sidewalk “bump-outs,” but no commitment has been made.

PennDOT Pittsburgh district office spokesperson Steve Cowan wrote in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper that “the installation is not complete” and PennDOT is “investigating potential changes at the intersection to address [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessibility.”

Regardless, the community is taking their advocacy to the next step: satire. According to a photo taken by Adam Shuck, curator of the popular Eat That Read This newsletter, Signs were recently taped to one of the poles, deeming it the “PennDOT Festivus Pole.” (Festivus is an imaginary holiday from the popular '90s sitcom Seinfeld, in which a pole is meant to replace a Christmas tree and celebrators are encouraged to air their grievances with their family and friends.)

click to enlarge Traffic-signal pole on Burtler Street - PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAM SHUCK
Photo courtesy of Adam Shuck
Traffic-signal pole on Burtler Street
It's unclear who exactly put up the sign, but the PennDOT Festivus Pole also asks community members to “air their grievances” and so far at least one grievance has been taped to the pole. It reads: “This enormous pole is blocking the access ramp & sidewalk. You need to adopt a different standard for cities.”

Lawrenceville community groups agree with this sentiment. Bernstein says this is “another example of PennDOT engineering for highways, not neighborhoods.”

(Last year, PennDOT attempted to install a center-line rumble strip, which are typically installed on rural highways, on Butler Street in Lawrenceville before state Sen. Wayne Fontana and others stepped in and got PennDOT to nix the project.)

“The pole itself is completely incompatible with what we are trying to do, and goes against Complete Streets design,” says Lawrenceville Corporation director Matt Galluzo, referencing the city’s recently passed legislation that encourages roads to give equal access to cars, bikes and pedestrians. “We are talking about a dense urban environment; it’s not comparable to a suburban highway.”

Galluzo, however, is hopeful that the poles will be addressed soon and says that “PennDOT has been willing to talk about the issue.”

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Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 12:40 PM

click to enlarge Max Paulat, 6, looks on as his candle is lit outside Jeron X. Grayson Community Center. Anti-gun-violence groups gathered there on the fourth anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., to organize and pay respect to the dead. - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
CP photo by Stephen Caruso
Max Paulat, 6, looks on as his candle is lit outside Jeron X. Grayson Community Center. Anti-gun-violence groups gathered there on the fourth anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., to organize and pay respect to the dead.
Rob Conroy knows exactly where he was four years ago on Dec. 14, 2012.

Conroy, a anti-gun-violence advocate with CeaseFire Pa., was at the final day of a conference for fellow advocates in Washington, D.C., discussing tactics and strategies to combat gun deaths.

As they spoke, news started filtering in about an incident at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. It started as only one wounded. Then a teacher was announced dead. Next came news that a few children were casualties as well. The number of dead rose still higher.

As everyone was preparing to catch their flights home, the final tally from that day became clear — 26 dead, including six teachers and 20 children. As “horror filled his heart," Conway recalled weeping around him — as well as a resolve building.

“Every single person stopped in their tracks,” Conroy said. “[And] everyone just wanted to know ‘what can we do?’”

That call for action led him and 30 other Pittsburgh residents to gather at Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in the Hill District on the fourth anniversary of the tragedy to reflect on their grief from that day. They also thought of the 35,177 gun deaths from the day of the massacre to 2014 — the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has data.

Kate Oravec, a retired educator, attended the meeting as a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Remembering the lock-down drills she practiced, Oravec said that the feeling of even an imaginary shooting was “enough” for her.

“I put myself in my school [during a school shooting] ... I can’t even imagine,” she said.

Some attendees, like Penn Hills resident Wynona Harper, didn’t need to stretch their imaginations to feel the loss from guns. Three years ago, on Nov. 14, Harper lost her son, Jamar Hawkins, who was shot and killed.

In response to the violence, she joined CeaseFire Pa., as well as forming Jamar Place of Peace, an activist group that hopes to “redirect” the “dysfunction” in neighborhoods like her own that led to her son’s death.

“[Gun violence] comes from where they live at,” Harper said. “We have to come together to help one another.”

Speaking to the crowd, community activists like Rich Carrington, of Voices Against Violence, and Tim Stevens, of the Black Political Empowerment Project, implored the crowd to hold onto the energy that brought them to the community center on the frigid night and use it to continue to pursue activism — whether by attending more meetings or pressuring their representatives in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.

“We owe it to ourselves to not let this issue be buried in the graves of the children because we are tired,” Stevens said.

The night concluded with a candlelight vigil and prayer outside of the community center led by Rev. Liddy Barlow of the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. Barlow said she attended the event to bring attention to the “violence in the streets” she feels her faith should be more vocal about.

To ward off the cold, attendees huddled deep into their coats as they cupped flickering orange flames in their hands. Some began to cry, leaning onto compatriots for support as Barlow began to list the first names of victims at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown — “Madeline,” “Noah” and “James.”

Through the tears, Barlow still tried to present hope.

“We are here because we have not lost faith,” Barlow said. “We still believe we can make a difference.”

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 4:28 PM

click to enlarge Advocate speaking out in opposition to LG's proposed redevelopment of Penn Plaza. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Advocate speaking out in opposition to LG's proposed redevelopment of Penn Plaza.
On Dec 13, at a Pittsburgh planning commission public hearing, there were some new faces present in the ongoing battle over the development of the Penn Plaza complex in East Liberty. In June 2015, hundreds of Penn Plaza residents were given 90-day eviction notices by the building’s owners, LG Realty.

The 312 apartments that made up Penn Plaza were some of the last non-subsidized, below-market rate housing in all of East Liberty. As a result, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stepped in and helped negotiate a deal that led to dollars for the affordable housing trust fund, Penn Plaza residents received relocation assistance and LG was allowed to redevelop the property.

Throughout this process, there have been many familiar faces: neighbors from nearby single-family homes focused on the future of Enright Park (the small public park in the center of the Penn Plaza site), housing advocates from Action United and Homes for All Pittsburgh, and developers from LG.

But at the Dec. 13 public hearing to discuss the preliminary plans for LG’s new development, which includes a controversial expansion by Whole Foods, a dozen new faces emerged, and all were from Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, which is located near the Larimer-East Liberty border. And while at past meetings the majority of East Liberty residents have been opposed to LG’s plans, because they say the neighborhood can’t stand to lose any more affordable units, the Rodman Street group was solidly in favor of the new development due to its contribution to East Liberty’s affordable-housing fund.

“We think this project will help us, through the affordable housing trust fund,” said Rev. Darryl T. Canady of Rodman Street to the planning commission. “We are here to support this.”

After the pastor spoke, about 12 of his parishioners, some who had lived in Penn Plaza before part of it was torn down, spoke in favor of the development and the affordable-housing trust fund. (In September 2015, the Urban Redevelopment Authority created an affordable-housing trust fund for East Liberty, which is generated from tax increments of select developments in the neighborhood. Penn Plaza was added to that list of projects when the city reached a deal with LG in late September 2015.)

However, many of the parishioners merely said they support the pastor and some called the trust fund the “affordable care trust fund.” Some opponents of the development said they felt LG was trying to "manipulate" the planning commission. And Michael David Battle, a local housing advocate, exclaimed at the meeting, “they don’t even know what [the fund] is called!”

LG’s attorney Jonathan Kamin rejects the idea that his client is unfairly manipulating the planning commission and said one group doesn’t have a monopoly on community engagement. “Our community outreach has been significant and involves talking to neighborhood groups and churches,” said Kamin. “And we’re happy to have built a consensus and support for our project.”

Before the start of the public hearing, a City Paper reporter saw LG president Lawrence Gumberg, talking to the group of parishioners and overheard the developer say, “bottom line, we get the tax break, then we contribute to the affordable housing trust fund.” After the meeting, Rev. Canady said that Gumberg approached him a “few months ago” to detail the Penn Plaza development and the affordable-housing trust fund.

East Liberty resident Arthur Allen spoke in opposition of LG’s plan at the meeting because of its lack of affordable units. He also objects to the redesign of the city-owned Enright Park. He says he believes LG is trying to manipulate the planning commission by “trying to change the tone for the entire project,” instead of meeting with residents like himself to come to a shared vision.

“It’s over a year later and we are not seeing what should take place,” said Allen after the meeting. “If you are on the planning commission, you should be able to see right through [what LG] is trying to do.”

During the meeting, Kamin outlined in detail how LG had met every obligation required by the city and said the project will contribute $10-12 million for the affordable housing trust fund over 10 years. He also said that as the development is designed right now, all of the 400 proposed units will be market-rate.

Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations’ director Carlos Torres said generally the commission feels that future housing developments should include affordable-housing units, so  they don't violate the U.S. Fair Housing Act. “Housing developments that perpetuate segregation or that effectively exclude members of protected classes cannot be found to create a favorable social impact,” said Torres in a statement released after the meeting.

But Kamin said that LG would have to acquire federal and state funds to create affordable units, which they are not currently seeking. According to the agreement forged between the city and LG in 2015, LG is not required to include affordable units in their new development.

The public hearing lasted more than four hours, with more than 40 people speaking. Because the meeting was so contentious, the planning commission decided to delay the vote until next month. Planning Commission Chair Christine Mondor said the vote could take place either Jan. 10, 2017 or Jan. 24. Check the planning commission website for up-to-date information.

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Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 10:10 AM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section. Give it a listen below:

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 3:01 PM

A Filipino domestic worker who turned to photography to document abuses in the field visits MCG for a public reception and artist talk.

click to enlarge Xyza Cruz Bacani
Xyza Cruz Bacani
Xyza Cruz Bacani left her home country to do domestic work in Hong Kong and borrowed money to buy her first camera. Her photos documenting the poor conditions faced by foreign domestic workers spread via social media, and her work has been featured in the New York Times and on CNN. She also is one of the 2015 Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellow, and one of the BBC’s 100 Women of the World 2015.

Bacani has also photo-documented human trafficking in New York City and Abu Dhabi.

Modern Slavery, her show at MCG, features 12 images of domestic workers. (One is reproduced below.) “Hong Kong is a very modern, successful city but people treat their helpers like slaves,” says Bacani. One image depicts a Filipina woman who suffered extensive third-degree burns at work but was fired after being denied medical leave.

The show opened in October. Bacani is in town this week to hold a workshop with MCG photography students and for tomorrow’s reception.

The reception runs 6-8 p.m. Admission is free.

Modern Slavery runs through Jan. 6.

MCG is located at 1815 Metropolitan St., on the North Side.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY XYZA CRUZ BACANI
Photo by Xyza Cruz Bacani

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 12:36 PM

Photo courtesy of Greg Brunner
This week’s MP3 comes from indie-rock four-piece Dinosoul. Stream or download “Dimension,” the atmospheric and dramatic title track from the band’s new EP for free below, and read more about the band here.

Dinosoul: Dimension

To download, right-click here and select "save as."

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Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 11:30 AM

Hundreds jumped into the cold Ohio River at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning for the Pittsburgh Polar Plunge, an annual event raising money for the Special Olympics. Plungers on the North Side, including bare-chested men and others in costumes, pledged to "Freezin' for a Reason," raising a minimum of $50 for person to enter the cold waters. Check out our slideshow by photo intern Luke Thor Travis.

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