In 1907 some of the world’s preeminent social scientists embarked on what would become the most comprehensive and impactful study of urban life in the history of our country. The Russell Sage Foundation of New York City funded the Pittsburgh Survey of 1907. The Foundation was a philanthropic fund designed to identify the challenges of urban life and reform city government in a progressive direction to address these challenges head on. The voluminous results of the Pittsburgh Survey were compiled in four books and became a blueprint for the ills of early 20th century urban life and how to solve them. The Survey exposed rampant government corruption, deplorable working conditions in the early factories and mills, poor living conditions for most working-class families, inadequate water and sanitation, and deep divisions among ethnic communities that led to mistrust and exclusion. The conditions exposed by the Survey played a major role in the political activism that led to the hard-won reforms of the Progressive Era and the enactment of labor laws, government reforms, and our social safety nets.
While the challenges today’s Pittsburghers face are different, some common themes remain. Part of the beauty of the original Pittsburgh Survey was that it was conducted during the arc of Pittsburgh’s transformation from a small fort town to an industrial titan. We are at a similar turning point today. Our economy is changing rapidly, we’re seeing development like we haven’t in 40 years, and we face significant challenges in lifting people out of poverty, creating family sustaining jobs, and educating all of our children to the highest level. It has been 106 years since the original Pittsburgh Survey and I believe that it is time for an update. As mayor I will work with some of the preeminent social scientists of our time, many of whom are located right here in Pittsburgh, to develop a 21st century Pittsburgh Survey. We need a comprehensive look at our problems and a new Progressive Coalition to address them.
1. A 21st Century Pittsburgh Survey
Groups like Pittsburgh Today and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research are already doing fantastic work in documenting the conditions and challenges of today’s Pittsburgh, but I want to go even farther. I want to pull together a team that rivals the original Pittsburgh Survey team to comprehensively investigate the political, economic, and social challenges of today and develop policy recommendations for how to address them.
A modern Pittsburgh Survey could be one of the most significant experiments in civic participation and sociological investigation in our generation. I envision sitting with groups from every neighborhood in our city to talk about their lives and the conditions of their neighborhoods and developing ideas for how to do things differently. We need to talk to workers, to entrepreneurs, to people who ride public transportation, to community leaders, and to the corporate and foundation communities – people of all stripes throughout Pittsburgh – to find out where we are now and where we could go and to put it into metrics that we can use to make positive change.
We also need to look inward at city government and trace the weaknesses that have led to the scandals and failures of recent years. We need a new era of Progressive reform in government that begins to truly address these problems.
And most importantly, we need to seriously investigate the opportunity gap that exists between black Pittsburghers and white Pittsburghers and work collaboratively to close it. We need to bridge the divide between the two Pittsburghs and become one city with opportunity and prosperity for everyone. But before we can do this we need to truly understand the roots of the problems and what government can do to address them.