As his title suggests, Majestic Lane is the neighborhood guy in Mayor Peduto’s office. He is the primary interface for all ninety city neighborhoods and their many representative organizations, for matters connected to equity, fair housing and other forms of community engagement. Relative to p4, Lane served on both the Performance Measures Committee and the Technical Team.
Early for my appointment, I waited for Majestic in the the mayor’s conference room. The walls are lined with glass shelves that display awards, photographs and various keepsakes that, when taken together, present an intriguing look into the world of Mayor Peduto. An aged picture of Peduto’s grandfather working in a steel mill speaks to his multi-generational connection to the city.
Nearby is a photo of the mayor posing with Mickey and Minnie Mouse while attending a CityLab conference in California. Adjacent is the cover art for a lesser known album by the band The Clash. While I puzzled over this photo arrangement, a dog entered the room. This was River, the office dog, who checked me out and then left. It wouldn’t be until I rode the elevator two hours later that the connection between Mickey, Minnie and an English punk band unfurled in my mind: the singer and guitarist for The Clash is named Mick Jones. Brilliant.
Top Photo: Majestic Lane, Deputy Chief of Neighborhood Empowerment, Office of Mayor William Peduto, City of Pittsburgh
Photo courtesy of Green Building Alliance
p4 Pittsburgh, a joint-effort between the City of Pittsburgh and the Heinz Endowments, provides a framework to guide citywide development in ways that are inclusive, sustainable and innovative. p4 is organized around four themes: People, Place, Planet and Performance. The initiative includes annual conferences along with projects geared towards implementing p4’s vision for Pittsburgh’s future. One such project referred to in this interview – the p4 Performance Measures – is a scorecard for how well prospective development projects align with p4 goals.
This is but a glimpse into the enigmatic daily environment in which Majestic Lane works. He, however, spoke with candor, leaving me with nothing to decode about housing, race and civic engagement. Lane’s bio and journey to the Mayor’s Office can be found here. Following is the first of several interviews that will bring the content and tenor of October’s p4 conference to a broader audience.
Downstream: p4 PIttsburgh spans many disciplines. The 2016 conference and subsequent ‘performance measures’ include many strategies, goals and technical components. What is at the center of all of this?
Lane: The center of p4 is the idea, shared by our mayor and Andre Heinz, that the City of Pittsburgh needs to put a focus on the four P’s – People, Place, Planet and Performance – in order to resurrect the city from its scrappy rustbelt past, and elevate it to a place that can compete globally. The first conference in 2015 focused on people and place, but through the lens of international cities, predominantly Nordic cities.
There was a lot of discussion immediately after that conference. A lot of folks, both inside and outside the African-American community, felt the focus was ignoring what was actually happening in Pittsburgh, as well as the shifting narrative of things going on in the country around equity, cities, neighborhoods, and relationships between African-Americans and police, writ large. So the conference, while rightly focused on things that would make us a better place, somewhat missed the boat on conversations around equity and inclusion. We started looking at the leverage points that the City and philanthropies like Heinz have, and the ability to positively influence good development based on the p4 principles.
Downstream: The P4 ‘Measures’ are very much development-oriented. Is that the primary focus?
Lane: So much of what is going on in our city is framed by what is being developed and how our neighborhoods are changing. From the Strip District to East Liberty to the Lower Hill District, neighborhoods are changing around development. It’s the point from which all other things are evolving.
Downstream: Is it fair to say then that development is the touchstone for matters of equity and inclusion?
Lane: We’ve had to frame it like that because of many things that have happened. Broadly speaking, if you said “equity” five years ago, most people wouldn’t understand it the way they do now. Five years later, it’s part of the conversation.
“Personally, I think that to end segregation – there’s two sides to it, and we talk about one side but not the other.”
Downstream: p4 is complex. How would you explain it to the layperson?
Lane: That’s difficult because it means different things to different people. Working on this while I was at the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group meant one thing; working on it as part of the administration means something else. It’s sort of in the eye of the beholder. I could give you platitudes like “we’re making our city better for everyone.” The metrics of P4 are about incentivizing good and smart development for the betterment of the city, but the conferences and implementation plans are different. They will most likely shift according to the mood of the city and the mood of what’s happening on the ground in the future.
Downstream: Within a span of a month or so, the All-in Pittsburgh report was released; a public hearing was held for the Housing Opportunity Fund legislation; fair housing rallies have taken place; and now the p4 conference has wrapped up and the performance measures were released. Are we witnessing a dramatic sea change that will permanently alter the city’s trajectory? Or is this more reform-oriented, by way of education, raising awareness and setting goals?
Lane: It’s more the former, but God is in the details. What we have come to realize is that the All-in report and other things have highlighted the disparities we have as a Most Livable City, such as being fourth from the bottom in quality-of-life for African-Americans. We’ve gotten the accolades, but every year we also get what I call ‘ruin porn’ – the reports about how bad African-Americans are doing in this city. In a weird way we have accepted both of those things as normal until relatively recently.
Because of the changes in the national landscape around income inequality – broadly defined, not just racially – and movements like Black Lives Matter, we began to have a broader conversation. The elites in Pittsburgh began to have an internal dialogue about what that meant for the city, and how resources can be diverted and sent to that end of things we hadn’t been thinking much about. Also, the new administration inherited a space where great things were and are happening in the city, and some of the things we were doing started to have some intended and unintended consequences.
Downstream: By any measure, Pittsburgh neighborhoods are segregated. It’s relatively easy to see how All-in Pittsburgh and p4 strive to create equitable opportunities (more affordable housing, better employment opportunities, etc.), but is it reasonable to expect that the city as a whole will become less segregated by neighborhood?
Lane: That’s an interesting and complicated point. I’ll answer the smaller question and then speak to the larger one. Through equity and inclusion, p4 is about creating opportunities.
It doesn’t explicitly say this neighborhood should be less segregated. PolicyLink’s All-in document speaks more to ending segregation; that’s a little more specific to their organization and they have a specific interest in doing that. p4 broadly defined? No, it’s about equity, inclusion and opportunity. PolicyLink is a large factor in the ‘People’ part of p4 and says yes. It says we want to create opportunities that will not segregate, and thereby begin to end segregation.
Personally, I think that to end segregation – there’s two sides to it, and we talk about one side but not the other. We look to end places of perpetual poverty, and in this city we make it racial. No one says we should move higher-income African-Americans into the pockets of poverty. Whether we say it or not, what we mean is that white people have to move into these neighborhoods. That’s one side.
The other side says: When do we have a discussion about ending the segregation in Brookline, or the eastern neighborhoods of the Northside, or a large swath of the South Hills? We don’t call those segregated neighborhoods. They generally are. There are burgeoning Latino and immigrant refugee populations in some parts of the South Hills, but generally those places are white. HUD says that for you to be successful in affirmatively furthering fair housing, you have to be just as focused on moving people over there as you are about ending persistent pockets of segregation in black and brown neighborhoods by injecting white people. We don’t have the second part of that conversation.
Downstream: That conversation is slippery. If we look at the East Liberty community plan, increasing diversity of residents and businesses is a stated goal. Does Trek bicycles increase business diversity? If Sam’s Shoes or other small businesses close, is that a loss of business diversity? Does the increase in higher-income white people mean that we’re seeing the desegregation of a neighborhood? If so, why do a lot of people say that something doesn’t feel right?
Lane: Right, as I said, if we saw a whole lot of working class or poor white families move into East Liberty, would we feel like we had accomplished our goal? I would argue probably not. I don’t think we’d say we succeeded if we took a bunch of folks from Greenfield who weren’t doing well, or the Scotch Bottom part of Hazelwood, and said, Hey, you move over into East Liberty. So we’re not talking about race in and of itself. We’re really talking about economics, and growing a tax base.
How do you do that? How do you deal with some of the problems that come along with pockets of economic segregation that do have a racial component, especially when we don’t provide the public goods to properly support those neighborhoods? When poor white people live together we call it a hardscrabble neighborhood. There’s still crime, you can still have opioids, but we call it hardscrabble people trying to get along. There are still some public goods that are happening there that allow that neighborhood to become more stable, but you have largely African-American neighborhoods in this city that have not received the public goods for so long. They’re not called hardscrabble, they’re just poor.
What does the opportunity of going to better schools allow you to do? How much is your house worth? This now starts to connect to all these other things in places where it’s more dysfunctional. Again, we often don’t pull this out by name and say this is what it is. Even though we use the term diversity, I would argue that our idea of diversity and ending segregation has more to do with markets than race. People lead with race, and think it’s different than leading with economics. We don’t have this conversation in Pittsburgh because we can’t have the conversation about the black middle-class in Pittsburgh, for a lot of reasons, or how the development of a black middle-class could stabilize some neighborhoods, at least socially and culturally. Since we cannot have that conversation, we have not presented that kind of space, we have not created that kind of growth for people. So, we then have to make it green, we have to make it artistic, we have to make it something else.
“p4 will challenge those who want to use public subsidy.”
Downstream: To some, the Eastside Bond apartments are a great achievement as high-end, high-rent residential living. To others, it’s a wasted opportunity to provide affordable housing directly adjacent to the busway. The project was mostly privately financed, but included public subsidy for infrastructure. With p4 Measures in place, as they are envisioned, will Pittsburgh see another Eastside Bond?
Lane: This brings up an interesting point. Five years ago, when Eastside Bond was just a glimmer in the eye of developers and public officials, we have to ask: How much demand was there was for affordable housing at that time – when the project was conceived and approved – as compared to now? Yes, there were people out there who were saying it was needed, but we have to keep in mind that we just built a lot of affordable units at Fairfield; the new Larimer housing was coming along as a green neighborhood primarily for African-Americans; new affordable housing was coming online in Garfield; and throughout East Liberty people could still find affordable rents fairly easily, unlike today. If you’re talking about using subsidy to provide higher level amenities, those amenities are used by a lot more people than those living in the apartments at Eastside Bond. The transit center is a public good, and we sometimes don’t look at it as a larger public good, but it’s not walled off for the 300 or so folks living in those apartments.
Now, moving forward, when p4 is in place as envisioned, if you need a public subsidy, you would have to show what local hiring looks like. You’ll have to show if there’s a community group engaged, or maybe even going as far as a community benefits process. How walkable is it for everyone? How healthy is it in terms of air and water? p4 will challenge those who want to use public subsidy, whether it’s for gap financing or infrastructure upgrades.
Downstream: Based on the scoring system proposed for p4, there are lots of ways to score points. Hypothetically, could a project score enough points in some areas so as to not need the points attached to affordability? In other words, can a project flunk the Housing Metrics and still be deemed a viable project?
Lane: We discussed that and the thinking is that there will be a baseline required score for all of the metrics. A project may score high in community engagement but not in storm water, or vice versa, but it’ll have to meet a baseline.
Downstream: A lot of people have made the point that poor people weren’t represented on the Affordable Housing Task Force, and because the p4 conference was by invitation only, a lot of people couldn’t participate. Will p4 provide a forum for ordinary people – those that are concerned with any of the things that p4 aims to address – to directly engage during the months or years ahead?
Lane: Pittsburgh has a lot of civic engagement. I think that p4 and the task force are tables, but they don’t supersede the traditional manners of civic engagement – the touchstones and leverage points that a common citizen already has. It’s still about: Who is your city councilperson? Who is your community organization? It’s still all those things that say to the vox populi, Hey, here’s where those people are. They can still call – they can call me. They can tell me how they feel about this city and this process. But it’s not so much about calling to say you don’t like something in p4, per se. It’s more about your relationship to broader civic engagement, and your ability to organize and activate around issues that are important to you. p4 does not supersede any of that. It’s a measure or lens that says: here are some added things that are important, from talking to experts in these areas. The issues that concerned people have will still come up at zoning and places like that. p4 does not go around zoning or the URA. People still have space to address their concerns.