When the OnePGH initiative was announced, the goal was clear: In order to be a resilient, thriving place, Pittsburgh must be a livable city for all of its residents. Not just the fortunate ones.

But how does a city figure out exactly where inequalities exist and how best to tackle them? One way is through rigorous measurement. That’s where Pittsburgh’s branch of the nonprofit research institution RAND comes in.

Catherine Augustine has been director of RAND‘s Pittsburgh office since January of last year. She’s also a senior policy researcher with a focus on education.

Catherine Augustine is director of RAND’s Pittsburgh office. Photo courtesy of RAND.
Catherine Augustine is director of RAND’s Pittsburgh office. Photo courtesy of RAND.

Since 2015, her office has worked with the city to develop Pittsburgh’s first citywide resilience strategy and has helped measure long-term progress toward the OnePGH goals.

“We were working with the city through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation on improving the city’s resiliency,” Augustine explains. “In the process of working on that resiliency strategy, there were several working groups focused on ‘What are the main stresses facing the city?’”

As they explored that question, she says, the subject of inequity emerged as a key theme.

“We are a place where there is not equal access to resources in some places,” Augustine says, “and quality of life outcomes in some cases.”

The city, she says has “always been a very open partner in this regard,” and welcomes having RAND as an accountability partner measuring progress (or lack of it) and publishing the data they gather.

RAND’s role isn’t to help the city decide what strategies would make the city more equitable, Augustine points out. Instead, their job was to figure out how equity can accurately be studied, and then “letting them know whether what they’re doing is having an impact.”

So together, RAND and the city created a set of baseline “equity indicators” to measure inequality in terms of variables like race, income, gender and also homeownership, eventually breaking out 80 different indicators of equity. Then they set about measuring how Pittsburgh was doing on those fronts.

The initial report on equity in Pittsburgh was released in 2017, and it found good news and bad:

“Some of the worst inequalities,” Augustine says, were found in homicide rates, homelessness and health issues including asthma.

But she says the study did find more encouraging equality in areas including levels of civic engagement, numbers of registered voters, access to transportation and access to green space.

Since that report was published, Augustine says, the city has increased attention toward homicides, homelessness, childhood asthma hospitalizations and things like access to banking services. And efforts are underway to create a social investment fund that will help achieve the OnePGH goals described last April.

A new report on progress toward the OnePGH goals will be published later this spring, Augustine says. That’s when the community will be able to “see what the fruits of these labors have been.”

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The Associated Press. Find a selection of her work at melissarayworth.pressfolios.com.