Split Decisions | Pittsburgh City Paper

Split Decisions

Hill District advocates may be divided, but they won't be conquered

For a long time, I have been trying to find a way to talk about the divisions in the Hill District without subjecting it -- and all of black Pittsburgh -- to the ignorant commentary that plagued us during the debate about whether to put a casino in the Hill.

The normative white gaze is ever-present. Most importantly, I have not wanted to give anyone an excuse for dismissing our most worthy cause: seeking a Community Benefits Agreement that will secure reinvestment in the Hill as part of a developing a new Penguins arena.

The CBA is being negotiated by One Hill, a diverse group of neighborhood representatives whose members are often on different sides of the issues. And in a fractured community, a name like "One Hill" is open to ridicule by cynical outsiders. It provides a false ideal to which no other neighborhood is being held. Go to the South Side or North Side -- or any neighborhood seeking to redefine itself -- and let me know when you find unanimity. Yet when divisions arise in the Hill District (a community fractured by repeated displacements) they provide fodder for the media. Worse, they are presented as "proof" that we are failing to accomplish our goals.

When a group of ministers recently sat down with public officials separate from the One Hill process, for example, some doubters were quick to dismiss them. City Councilor Tonya Payne told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the ministers were "presumptuous" for "say[ing] they would be better negotiators than the ones chosen by the community."

Do we have some disagreements? Well, yes. One Hill has been problematic for many reasons. But it's not the fault of the majority of well-meaning persons in our neighborhood. Our most ardent battles have been over membership authenticity, the voting process, and selecting the team to represent the community in negotiations with politicians and the Penguins.

What bothers me most about One Hill is not the arduous process of determining the most important issues for the community -- those arguments are to be expected. Rather, I'm concerned about the undermining of the process I believe is being led by Payne (whose aide, an otherwise lovely woman, is on the One Hill negotiating team) and, directly or indirectly, by the Penguins themselves.

Unfortunately, too many persons in One Hill leadership seem to be bending to political pressure. Despite protests, the Executive Committee (made up of four persons) insisted on choosing the negotiation team for the Hill. Community members nominated candidates for the negotiating team, but based on claims that "Downtown" would not meet with some of our members, the committee excluded seven of those persons from the slate before the community could vote. And, although this caused a huge uproar at a One Hill meeting, none of these seven persons ever appeared on the slate to be voted upon.

The process of choosing the negotiation team, and the controversy behind it, has been swiftly swept under the rug. But it is the biggest reason for the division between the ministers, other residents and stakeholders, and One Hill. There is not just a small set of persons dissatisfied with the operations in One Hill; there are many members and many organizations who have been saddened by the divisions within it.

I voted "no" on the negotiation team, but I have not abandoned One Hill. I also don't disparage the ministers or other stakeholders -- especially not those who stood up during the casino debate -- for seeking proper representation. In fact, I find it imperative to remind One Hill leadership to reflect upon what caused these divisions, and to focus on healing them.

No matter what, however, both sets of representatives are knocking on the same door, sharing a vision that only varies by degrees. For that I am grateful, and know that we will be able to sort out our differences and be a model neighborhood in activism and urban renewal.

Dr. Goddess Says: Stand for nothing and you will fall for anything.