Opinion | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 10:53 AM

Cobb, one of our top public intellectuals on race, is the featured Martin Luther King speaker at Carnegie Mellon University.

The associate professor of history at the University of Connecticut (and director of the Africana Studies Institute there) is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his articles  have included “The Anger in Ferguson,” “Murders in Charleston” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Reparations.”

Last year, Cobb won the Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism. The jury wrote, in part, “Cobb met the challenge of describing the turmoil in Ferguson in a way that cut through the frantic chaos of 'breaking news' and deepened readers' understanding of what they were seeing, hearing, and feeling. Ferguson was not an aberration, he showed, but a microcosm of race relations in the United States — organically connected to the complicated legacy of segregation and the unpaid debts of slavery itself.”

Cobb's books include Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress and To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic.

Cobb’s talk at CMU is titled “The Half Life of Freedom: Race & Justice in American Today.”

The talk, which is free, begins at 4:30 p.m. Thu., Feb. 11, in Porter Hall 100. (Here's an interactive map of CMU's campus.)

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 5:21 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY AARON WARNICK
Photo by Aaron Warnick

Editor's Note: This letter was sent to
City Paper Friday afternoon from Chris Sandvig, a transit advocate and nonprofit Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group staffer. The letter is concerning the new Downtown bus "super stop" at Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue that was completed by Envision Downtown, a public-private partnership established by Mayor Bill Peduto.

If you spend any time near Downtown Pittsburgh’s Sixth Avenue and Smithfield Street corner, you’ve probably noticed the sidewalk extension installed earlier this year. What that’s all about was revealed this week, as Envision Downtown — with support from the Colcom Foundation — transformed it from a narrow sidewalk stop to a wider, sheltered stop. We couldn’t be happier.

Why? For over 6,000 reasons, plus a couple more. And all of them are huge.

Every weekday, 6,500 people access Downtown via this corner. Like everyone else, they’re going to work, to school, to shop, to appointments. In other words, living their lives, spending money and making Downtown more vibrant. They’re spending their money wisely by leaving their cars at home, or not even owning a car, and they deserve something better than a sign on a stick.

Improving transit’s visibility also improves Downtown's quality of life — and, thereby business viability. The new "super stop" could help improve pedestrian access through the area and to nearby businesses. The design itself is also not only an accessibility improvement — it’s an image improvement. Investing in transit increases ridership and its attractiveness; unsnarls Pittsburgh streets; and improves the health and wealth of everyone — even if you don’t use it.

Most importantly for our neighborhoods, this sets in motion a change in thinking that we’ve been pushing for some time: improving transit’s viability and accessibility is not just the Port Authority’s responsibility. We all own it, and we all must step up. The streets, sidewalks, intersections and traffic signals influence transit’s attractiveness at least as much as how Port Authority puts buses on those streets. Mayor Peduto showed strong leadership by owning that responsibility and doing something about perhaps the most overlooked part of the trip —  waiting for the bus. Pittsburghers for Public Transit, agree, saying, “[We] are thrilled about this new and improved bus stop. We commend Mayor Peduto, Envision Downtown, and everyone who helped to implement this 'super stop.' We look forward to more opportunities to improve the transit riding experience.”

If Pittsburgh is to continue to attract new talent; realize its carbon-reduction and community-revitalization goals; and keep itself affordable for its most vulnerable residents, more "super stop"-like projects are needed Downtown and in our neighborhoods. This new way of thinking must become institutionalized. Our neighborhoods were transit-oriented before it was chic, and their rebirths are as linked to making transit, walking and biking safer and more appealing as any bricks-and-mortar redevelopment strategy. PCRG and its members are doing our part, advancing projects with similar transit-accessibility-improvement philosophies. We are also advocating for policy changes so that such future infrastructure projects simply become how we do business. We thank Mayor Peduto for his leadership and look forward to working with his administration, and all stakeholders, to make the Smithfield "super stop" the first of many transit street projects and a new way of thinking.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2015 at 4:10 PM

Editor’s Note: This open letter was sent to City Paper Wednesday afternoon from Ava Grace O’Brien, a trans woman concerned about steps the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is taking to prepare for its first transgender police officer. The letter is printed in its entirety below.

To Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay and the rest of The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police,

Yesterday I read the article about you welcoming a transgender officer to your police force. I was pleased to read that you are taking steps to better understand how to make the work environment and, by extension, the city more safe and inclusive for trans people. As a trans woman active in various political spaces throughout the city, it is refreshing to see the police doing what they can to learn and grow. I am concerned, however, with the way in which you are going about this.

The person you chose to consult regarding trans issues is Gary Van Horn, president of The Delta Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based organization self-described as “improving the quality of life for and visibility of the LGBT community [in Pittsburgh.]” I understand that The Delta Foundation is often the first Pittsburgh LGBT organization that comes to mind because of their work organizing Pride in the Streets, but they are primarily an organization that throws parties, many of which are inaccessible to people in the LGBT community (poor, sober, and/or disabled people, to name a few). Aside from that, Gary is a cisgender man (someone who is the gender they were assigned at birth),and thus, should not be speaking about trans issues, regardless of whether or not he works with the trans community.

In the article, Gary was quoted as saying, “You wouldn’t want this officer to be a target out there for the general public,” which is a valid concern, but what sort of internal protocols will be put in place to ensure this officer’s safety? As trans people, we constantly fear for our safety, including at our workplace. Insinuating that the biggest threat to this officer is the general public shifts the focus to the city’s citizens instead of any internal wrongdoing. For example, if this trans officer were to call for backup but no one shows, then is harmed in the line of duty, will the general public be blamed or will there be an internal investigation as to why something like this would happen? Transphobia exists in many forms and spaces, and it is quite possible that some of this person’s fellow officers will exhibit transphobic tendencies.

There are plenty of community leaders better suited to discussing the issues facing trans people in this city because they are trans. Somebody who is associated with, but not a part of, a community should not speak on behalf of that community. If I wanted to know what the culture of firefighters is like in Pittsburgh, I could ask you, and you may have a general idea because of your association with them, but you would probably refer me to some firefighters who would be better suited to speak about such things. That is what a trans ally should be doing: lifting up the voices and experiences of trans people instead of speaking over us.

Organizations such as The Garden of Peace Project, Initiative for Transgender Leadership, and Dreams of Hope are directed or staffed in part by trans people. These organizations work tirelessly to give many of their resources to the trans community and help combat common struggles like a lack of access to housing, employment and food.

I wish nothing but the best, and hope everyone involved can learn and grow from this.

Best,
Ava Grace O’Brien

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