Monday, February 3, 2014

Land Banking and Community Investment: And So We Return...


Gather up. Councilman Daniel Lavelle earns another gold star, this one with platinum tail, for hitting pitch-perfect posture towards the land bank bill.

There are two issues which bear reflection: an analogy and a suggestion.

Towards the analogy: Any City once twice as populous still halfway abandoned, with broad and uneven clusters of vacant, tax-delinquent and sometimes crumbling parcels contributing towards decay and chaos, can stand to benefit the judiciously expeditious exercise of land banking powers.

Right now, only the most economically secure of property speculators can afford to pursue and redevelop broad and key tracts, as their own opportunities and designs arise. Once upon a time, the public might have been thrilled to get directly involved in planning and organizing its community through its government -- or as directly as possible, as through a public agency like the URA or a City land bank devoted wholly to this business.

Yet there is apprehension. Public-spirited liberals have been burned before. 20th century urban renewal was catalogued. The Internet began making that knowledge far more common. And Occupy joined existing movements in radicalizing that waning faith in public institutions. Government decisions have not always been judicious or mindful.

In the end, this is a bit like a health-related epidemic in terms of neighborhood disinvestment. We fear to summon the Paramedics, because we are afraid that the Paramedics, instead of assessing, stabilizing, informing and serving us, will jab us with their needles, dose us on painkillers, secure us in the van and harvest our organs. Nevertheless, we really are wise to have empowered a Bureau of Paramedics to exist -- and to have put procedures, training and accountability in place so that health care is offered to residents soundly and as advertised, and we can transport resources and people to where they need to be.

Where some Greater neighborhoods have, for a very long time, been ailing on the couch.

Towards the suggestion: Call it the Joe Biden plan. You remember, the former Senator's original suggestion to partition Iraq, which had its logic at the time it was stated, and if it had caught more fire, who knows what might have been?

Only instead of managing total warfare, here we would be shepherding productive peace. If one at-large City-wide land bank is felt by very many to be insufficiently overbearing to address community concerns, consider perhaps breaking it up into 3 to 5 smaller land bank jurisdictions. Recognizing that Pittsburgh is a City of neighborhoods, different strategies determined along different accountability chains may make common sense.

These sectional land banks could share certain resources as they deem fit. If nothing else, the Biden plan makes for a constructive thought-exercise.

Meetings looks to continue through February or all six weeks of duly amended and supplemented winter. It's a big'un, s'get it right.

(@DSKinsel's thread)


  1. Why can't Burgess and a new Councilwoman work collaboratively…Sounds like when Romney was for Healthcare before he was against it. Grandstanding…If I was Councilman Gross I would get Burgess to take the credit and the related responsibility for getting it right...

  2. I'm not sure this is a path we should be going down. Let's at least discuss some of the common risks of such balkanization/partitioning plans.

    First, partitioning represents an official endorsement of the view that there is not enough trust and sense of community in the larger unit in order for its self-governance to be seen as broadly legitimate. Note this is not really a view that is naturally limited to a single issue like land-banking. In other words, why should there be such a thing as a City of Pittsburgh at all if it can't be trusted to handle basic municipal tasks like land use policy?

    This is a more dry point, but there are lots of potential inefficiencies that can arise from excessive balkanization of local governments (a problem Allegheny County really has already). Less dry, it can lead to significant difference in outcomes between jurisdictions due to luck, mismanagement, and so on. When you fold in the fact people have a lot of other factors and constraints relating to their choice of residential locations, this can lead to some very unfortunate effects (see, e.g., the effects the balkanization of local school districts).

    Finally, partitioning efforts that may sound attractive in theory often fall victim in practice to some serious line-drawing problems. For example, some people may feel they ended up on the wrong side of a line in the sense they feel a more natural affinity for, or otherwise would expect better governance from, the community on the other side of the line. This dynamic often arises when you are trying to draw borders with respect to ethnicity, an issue which has been explicitly raised in this context already, but it could also apply to class issues, and so on.

    None of this means it is always improper to "devolve" or otherwise allocate increased powers and responsibilities to lower levels of government. But it isn't always a good idea either, and shouldn't be done lightly.

  3. First of all, this isn't even Gross' legislation. Dowd had been working on this for years with PCRG, Gross jumped on this and ran it as her own. Why did she try to rush such an important piece of legislation? Her district will be minimally impacted compared to others, yet she put this forth without even considering the communities that would be impacted. Why not reach out for community input? Now, after she realized that her jump the gun attitude, could cause this Legislation to fail, she chooses to take it back to the residents. And why was Thursday's public comment session cancelled? She kept delaying the Terminal vote also. She either doesn't know what the heck she is doing or is making decisions that keep her name in the paper so she seems relevant when her special term comes to an end and she has to run again. I spoke to Deb during the election and I thought she was a little wet behind the ears but figured I would give her a shot. Starting to feel like I wasted my vote.

    1. The new Pennsylvania Land Bank law was only signed as of October 24, 2012.

  4. Your point? Feel free to confirm with PCRG or Moira from the Councilwoman's staff to confirm if she provided any relevant pieces to the legislation. The draft that was presented, existed before Gross was even sworn in. It's not hers and she had no right to jeopordize it's potential by rushing it. The only ones that loose by her actions are those that live in neighborhoods that Gross probably wouldn't even drive through because of crime stats.

  5. Actually,

    The Land Bank Ordinance currently before City Council tracks closely to the model bill designed for wide dissemination shortly after Act 153 of 2012 was signed into law by Governor Corbett.

    Model legislation you ask? Yes. Special interest groups (like the American Legislative Exchange Council) write cookie-cutter laws (like VoterID, "Stand Your Ground", "Trans-vaginal" Ultrasound, etc.) and then get lawmakers to run with them for the gain, primarily, of the special interest groups.

    Only here, the special interests weren't the Koch Brothers.

    I generally opt to proceed with great caution in these instances and with more than a grain of salt.

    It is true, to bolster the point of one of the anonymous commenters, that this legislation had been in the pipeline prior to January, or even December for that matter.

    The problem here isn't the timing of the introduction, but rather the substance of the legislation itself.