Saturday, August 11, 2012

Visionary or ADHD?

Fifth Street Grade School: From the time I was in the second grade my parents did not receive good reports on me from the school. In fact, I was passed to the third grade “on condition,” which meant if my academic performance was not up to snuff in the third grade the school reserved the right to demote me and have me repeat the second grade. Somehow I made it through the third grade and beyond but the comments that accompanied my not-so-stellar report card nearly always included, “He daydreams when he should be working.”

Definition of a visionary: I once heard a visionary described as “one who looks at the same thing but sees something else.” I do not profess to be a visionary – my daydreaming was probably undiagnosed ADHD - although to this day I see things differently than many other people. My view of Clairton and the image vs. the vision is also different than that of many others. I am not talking about the Clairton of the 1920s through the 1950, nor the people who claim Clairton as their hometown but have moved on to impact the world. I’ve written about many such people in this blog; Ron Lancaster in sports, Johnny Moio in Hollywood, Dr. Walter Cooper Cooper, scientist and inventor, Nancy Bekavac, college president, Joan Cutuly, writer and educator, Benny Benack, musician, Claudine Cmrada Schneider, Congresswoman and Harvard professor, and many, many more. But today we will discuss neither the good old days nor the sweet by and by, but what’s happening in the here and now.

What’s happening in Clairton: Short history: Our town was born, thrived, and like much of the Mon Valley and Pittsburgh went into a period of decline. Many left for better job opportunities but remain in spirit with family ties or memories of the good things of our past. New residents moved to Clairton and some long-timers remained and have weathered the storm. Civic leaders have put together several initiatives including a coalition to strengthen the education of our school children, another to plant gardens for the community, and one to clean up neglected gems such as Memorial Hill in Clairton Park. Clairton’s renaissance has begun. It is evidenced by Clairton Activist and Clairton History Facebook pages and with the newly created web page, which every current and former Clairton resident should visit.

It is time to repopulate our town: At its peak Clairton had a population that approached 30,000. Car dealerships, movie theaters, city parks, businesses and opportunities were abundant. With the closing of the area’s mills the population has dwindled to fewer than 7,000 according to the 2010 census. But those numbers include activists who are now ready to rebuild the community “one brick at a time.” It is time to look at Clairton’s assets that will attract new residents. Atop on the list is affordable housing and low taxes. A nationally recognized high school football program and one of the top athletes in the country will boost the fortunes of the local high school. But to whom how to market the community and its assets remains a question.

One vision that might work: The core group of people who have been doing everything from pulling weeds to planting gardens has set the wheels of revitalization in motion. Low cost housing and low taxes are in place to attract new or returning residents. One demographic group to target; former Clairton residents who left for college or service or jobs and settled in other parts of the country, are now retired and would like to return to their roots. Several have already made the move and others have expressed an interest in doing so. Another target demographic includes young urban professionals who work in downtown Pittsburgh but would like to live and rear their children in a healthy bedroom community rather than the city. A third demographic is renters and potential first-time homebuyers. These groups include people who would be willing to take the Clairton advantages in exchange for sweat equity that would require repair and cleanup of Clairton properties. Most Clairton homes have garages, off street parking, and those wonderful alleys that allow access not found in most urban homes. Had the Highway 43 at the Large interchange been completed, it would be an easy commute to downtown. But since completion is not expected in the near future, lets look at alternatives.

What comes next: My career included teaching graduate university students and my favorite class was Research. The first class would start with the following story: “A boy scout needed one more good deed to complete requirements for a merit badge. He decided his good deed would be to a little old lady across the street. So he told his mother of his plan and that he might be a little late getting home in case the lady needed additional assistance. Dinnertime came and went and the lad did not come home. When he finally arrived his irate mother, who had been worried sick by his absence asked, “Where the HELL have you been until this hour?” The lad sheepishly reminded her of his mission and his mother asked, “…And that took you until NOW?”

His response: “She didn’t want to go.”

The parable is a reminder that before a task is to be undertaken several steps must be completed. A needs assessment and a plan outlining specific tasks, a timeline, project priorities and a host of other planning will insure that things are accomplished and that the improvement plan continues. A core committee needs to be formed with representatives from as many components of Clairton life included as possible. The mayor and City Council must be included as well as key members from the churches, business community, school district, and the community in general.

Only the beginning: The ideas above are some that can be implemented with little upfront cash and lots of sweat equity. We have already seen what a handful of Clairton residents are capable of doing. The time is now. The place is Clairton. Send your contact information to the email address below and it will be forwarded to those who have begun the taskof rebuilding Clairton one brick at a time.

 A little blogging music Maestro: “Help” by The Beatles.

Dr. Forgot

1 comment:

C.J. Williams said...

Thanks for this good post on Clairton's future prospects. I moved to Clairton in 1998, mainly attracted by the housing prices and low taxes, and have found it to be a fine place to live and raise my family. I have also seen great improvements over the last 14 years in terms of public services, police presence, crime reduction, etc. Thanks for keeping a positive outlook on Clairton alive on the internet!