More Lebo Follies

I've been laying off the Mt. Lebanon posts for a while, trying to give my neighbors a break. But today I can't resist: Mt. Lebanon publishes a glossy magazine about itself (it's not the only township . . . er, municipality to do that), and the most recent issue has a story called "What's So Special About Mt. Lebanon?" (Here's a big pdf copy, if you really want to read it) that features tidbits about local stores and restaurants and parks and things to do.

I'm tempted to answer the magazine's question ("Nothing"), but I'm tempted even more to assemble a list that answers a different question: "What Drives Me Crazy About Mt. Lebanon?"

In a later post, I'll put up the same questions for Pittsburgh as a whole. Today, though, I'm just going to rant a little -- recognizing, as I've written before, that I like where I live. There's a lot to like: I love the passion of the folks who put on Martha's Run each year as part of efforts to memorialize Martha Dixon. I love how the sidewalks make it safe and easy to walk around town, and to meet and know your neighbors. Mt. Lebanon is a nice town with nice people, not all that different from a lot of similar nice towns near other nice cities. If you move to Mt. Lebanon today, what are the odds that you'll look around and say, it can't get any better than this? Pretty low. It could get better.

What Drives Me Crazy About Mt. Lebanon?

6. It's so f****** precious. The insistence by some people that Mt. Lebanon and people who live here are special or unique just drives me nuts. The powers-that-be like to promote the image of Mt. Lebanon as a wealthy, highly educated, "quality" community where people will do and spend whatever it takes to be the best -- public safety, schools, recreation, municipal government, snow removal, etc. etc. The website says that Mt. Lebanon has a "national reputation for excellence." The insecurity that drives that attitude is painful to listen to.

5. Not everyone out in Mt. Lebanon can afford to spend what it takes. We all love our kids as much as the next town, but not everyone out here is a banker, lawyer, or investment professional. We've got stay-at-home dads, gay couples, a South Asian community (not a lot of diversity, but some of us are working at it), people who clean houses for a living, working artists, and couples who just bought their first home. Mt. Lebanon has its share of the wealthy, but it has a big middle income population, and a significant fixed income population.

4. Spending what it takes isn't all that it's cracked up to be. I hear the argument made, from time to time, that we have to spend what it takes in order to preserve the quality of the school system and other public services -- which keeps real estate values high. Spending isn't helping: There is a lot of discontent in town over the school system. Wasted spending, misplaced priorities, failure to maximize value for the money that is spent. Long-time residents can see that the schools aren't delivering what they used to, and the growing number of new families moving to town can see that they aren't getting the bang for the buck that they were promised. With the 2006 Allegheny County real estate assessments on the horizon, people are nervous that the school district won't adjust the millage rate downward, even though it should. The town has more police officers than it needs, IMO, and it recently approved installation of "traffic calming" speed bumps on a local street even though a regular diet of speeding tickets -- there and elsewhere (I'd be happy to suggest intersections) -- would be just as effective.

3. Lack of meaningful racial and ethnic diversity. Mt. Lebanon isn't atypical on this score, but there is a corresponding lack of public concern and public effort to address the problem. Just take a look at the photos that illustrate the Mt. Lebanon website. A year ago an African-American family that had rented a house in our neighborhood for several years decided to buy a house in Sewickley rather than stay here.

2. Needs more locally-based retail. Mt. Lebanon's streetside commercial businesses are a mixed bag. For every winner of a locally-owned business like Aldo Coffee (on Washington Road; hands-down the most interesting coffee house in town), there's a chain outlet nearby. The best thing about what Mt. Lebanon calls "Uptown" (the retail stretch along Washington Road) is that it includes a half-dozen restaurants, plus two coffee houses, an old-fashioned little bakery, two pizza counters, a breakfast counter, a sandwich store, and a candy shop. How many of those are Mt. Lebanon-only locations, locally-owned? Not enough.

1. Absence of meaningful, constructive public criticism of Mt. Lebanon. Mt. Lebanon magazine costs the municipality about $40,000 per year, net of advertising revenue. That's not a lot. Is it too much to ask that the magazine do a little less cheerleading and a little more description of how and what people are really doing here? (Maybe so, if the magazine is primarily a marketing tool for the real estate community.) The scandal over the departure of the Superintendent of Schools continues to reverberate, not only through the recent school board elections but in the recent announcement by the school board that it intends to elevate the current acting superintendent to the permanent superintendent's position. Without a search. This is the best we can do? The magazine's staff has the best tools and contacts in town. Maybe it could write a bit about the district's struggles, and its plans (does it have them?) to get back on track.


2 Responses to "More Lebo Follies"

Linda Mitchell said... 9/29/2006 7:32 PM

Greg and I own Planet Art Gallery and we live here in Mt. Lebanon on Park Entrance. Guess what? Most of out customers are coming from Peters and Upper St. Clair. If the people who live here want Washington Rd to have lots of cool,locally owned businesses they have to start shopping, eating, really living here. I've lived a lot of places and this IS a great place to live (Pittsburgh and Mt.Lebanon), the schools and teachers really are great, and I have yet to live anywhere where people didn't bitch about something -- maybe we should all stop bitching and do something about it, eh? Truth is there's no Utopia, but we can try.

Anonymous said... 11/19/2006 4:44 PM

My partner and I are considering a move to Mt. Lebanon and are questioning the community attitude toward lesbians? We are planning to start a family and the schools are attractive. But we are unsure if there will be trouble for us from locals. I'd appreciate any thoughts on the subject from you (i.e. locals).

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