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Mural in Larimer. Photo by Erika Gidley

Earlier this week, councilmembers R. Daniel Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess, flanked by Mayor Bill Peduto and the leaders of several local nonprofits, unveiled an ambitious set of legislation aimed at tackling the persistent and widening gaps between Pittsburgh’s white community and communities of color.

“The long-standing racial disparities that continue to plague our city are the direct result of decades of structural racism, accompanied with both public and private policies that devalued the lives of black and brown people,” said Lavelle in a media statement. “With the introduction of today’s legislation, we are acknowledging that in order to move beyond our past and for the future success of our city, the City of Pittsburgh must become equitable and just for all its citizenry.”

What’s in the legislation?

The legislative package covers a range of projects and initiatives, from the ceremonial to granular details of public works. Here’s a quick summary:

-An ordinance requiring department directors across the city to regularly report their progress on diversity and equity, with certain diversity benchmarks required to receive public funds via the City Council.

-An ordinance amending the Pittsburgh Zoning Code to require Affordable Housing Impact Statement prior to any new construction. As with environmental impact statements, which are an industry standard, prospective developers will have to study and report how their projects will alter the local housing market.

-A resolution that would establish an Equity and Inclusion Implementation Team to oversee these initiatives.

-A resolution formally declaring Pittsburgh a part of the “All-In Cities Initiative,”  a national network which providing expert analysis and assistance to cities looking to spur inclusive policy and growth. A local chapter for Pittsburgh has been active in our region since 2016.

As Lavelle explained, the legislation is a first step in addressing the root causes our city’s current disparities.

“The City of Pittsburgh must become not just livable for all, but a city where people of color can thrive,” said Lavelle. “That requires an intentional focus on eliminating racial inequities and barriers and making accountable and catalytic investments to assure that historically disenfranchised communities and lower-wealth residents directly benefit from our new and growing economy. These pieces of legislation aim to do just that.”

What’s next?

During the press conference announcing the package, the council members said their reforms will be formally introduced within the next week several weeks, with formal debates and public comments to follow.

The announcement comes as the Mayor’s office is reaffirming inclusive development as one of their key priorities. On May 10, Mayor Peduto announced that the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment would be reorganized into the City’s Office of Equity, headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Majestic Lane.

The office will continue the bureau’s community development work, while also pushing inclusionary policy at every level of city government.

“Local government has the opportunity and capacity to address issues of equity and close disparities,” said Lane after the announcement. “I look forward to continuing to work with internal and external stakeholders to make Pittsburgh a more welcoming and equitable city for all.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.