Last spring, I was selected as one of 30 people to take part in the city's Civic Leadership Academy. In this free 10-week program, participants meet once a week from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to learn about various city departments and authorities. The intent is to help residents better understand how the city functions, what various city departments or authorities do, and to foster "neighborhood leaders" (isn't that a cool title?!) who are more informed, effective, and inspired when interacting with city government.
I found my experience last spring to be very helpful in demystifying some of the complexities in city government and in making connections with city leaders. After the ten weeks I returned to my neighborhood equipped with the knowledge of how the city operates, as well as which city departments or authorities do what and whom to contact at the various departments and authorities. I found it time well spent and highly encourage other Point Breezers to apply! Applications are due by Friday, March 4, and classes begin Wednesday, March 30.
Each week features a new city department or authority, with department heads or other staff leading the presentation and discussion. My class heard from the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, Department of Public Safety, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Finance Department, and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewage Authority, among many others. Most of the ten classes met Downtown at the City-County Building, but there were a few nights when we met elsewhere, such as at Police Headquarters on the North Side. The specific department director and their staff would present during the first portion of class, and then the floor would be opened up for Q&A. This was a great opportunity to ask any questions I had to department directors and top staff themselves directly and in a casual format.
Just some of the things I learned or experienced over the 10 week Civic Leadership Academy course when we "went behind the scenes" in city government included:
- Touring the PWSA water treatment plant (I promise it doesn't smell nearly as bad as you may think, and it's actually a really cool thing to see!)
- Seeing how firefighters use thermal imaging cameras to locate trapped victims
- Learning what happens to the money collected from parking meters and tickets
- Hearing about the Planning Department's initiatives in sustainable buildings and green infrastructure throughout the city
The Civic Leadership Academy culminates with a graduation ceremony during the final week. Graduation takes place in the City Council Chambers, and usually Mayor Bill Peduto speaks and presents your certificate. (In my case, the mayor was unavailable so Council President Bruce Kraus awarded us our certificates and thanked us for participating in the program.) A few weeks prior, you and your classmates will work together to devise a community service opportunity for you all to complete as a group upon graduation. My classmates and I spent a Saturday morning in Homewood last June assisting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank with their weekly Produce to People distribution. We pushed carts, sorted and passed out produce and other staples, and loaded up cars for the neighbors who attended.
Overall, the Civic Leadership Academy is a great opportunity, and personally I encourage you to apply! The more Point Breeze residents know about the city, the better we will be in interacting with the departments, authorities, and city leaders.
More info: http://pittsburghpa.gov/servepgh/cla/
Participation details: http://pittsburghpa.gov/servepgh/cla/participate
Application: http://pittsburghpa.gov/servepgh/cla/application (due Friday, March 4)