Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Putting the We Back in We the People

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Putting the We Back in We the People

Article excerpt

It's time to do everywhere what volunteers in Perrysville finally did this summer.

Tired of dilapidated public structures and cash-strapped, slow- moving governments, residents and business owners in this Ross neighborhood rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

They overhauled the bedraggled gazebo on Perry Highway, donating their own time and sweat equity. They saved other taxpayers -- some of whom are their customers -- many thousands of dollars. They made a government project better than it had been. They invested in the community that supports their businesses.

And here's the part that could and should have an impact on future projects in any community: The Perrysville volunteers called into question which undertakings are the reasonable responsibility of government and which are better left in the capable, more efficient and more cost-effective hands of private citizens.

Unfortunately for all of us, it's a question we usually contemplate only when public money runs thin.

Government was involved from the outset of the Perrysville Revitalization Streetscape Project 13 years ago, when the dominance of Ross Park Mall and the McKnight Road commercial juggernaut threatened the survival of the smaller Perry Highway district.

Allegheny County provided a $750,000 community block grant and Ross threw in $25,000 to give the struggling community a smorgasbord of aesthetic improvements: a lovely gazebo with a huge, old- fashioned clock; brick sidewalks; ornamental benches; fancy street lamps; trash cans; and even new facades for the buildings.

The money was there and the work got done. But not all of it has held up.

Ever hear -- or use -- the phrase "Good enough for government work"? If it applies here, should it have?

Some of the Perry Highway project has worn well -- especially the facades redone by a contractor whose business is located in the district. Other parts are falling apart, despite occasional township maintenance. Some were destined for failure -- like the sidewalks buckled by the roots of poorly chosen trees.

My purpose is not to bad-mouth government. After all, we the people are the government, from whom we put in the White House to whom we seat on our township councils. We aren't always happy with our collective choices, but we do choose.

We keep getting ourselves into trouble, though, when we ask the government we elect to undertake things it can't do well, like building Victorian gazebos.

Strictly defined, government is supposed to do the collective work that no individual or single entity can or will undertake alone. The federal government takes on the big stuff like maintaining an army and a national highway system. Local governments repair local roads, provide police protection and fund school systems and libraries. …

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