ACCD, ACDC, and Other Acronyms

Pittsburgh's mayoral ballots have barely been counted and already the "out with the old, in with the new" refrain has found another target. Chris Briem shines his light on the Trib's lengthy critique of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development on the occasion of the ACCD's upcoming annual meeting. The message of the story is that the ACCD has outlived its original mission. Now, Pittsburgh needs nimble, progressive urbanism focused on job creation, not big city ideas led by big business people. (None of that is news; in the past, I've written as much myself. Here's the link.)

I wish, however, that the Trib had focused less on staff titles and the ACCD's budget, and less on the implicit suggestion that the ACCD fiddled while Pittsburgh burned, and more on the content of the Conference's current priorities. The questions should be: What are those priorities? Do those priorities represent things that the ACCD can pursue more effectively (and more cost effectively) than other individuals, governments, or organizations in the region? Maybe the answer is no; maybe the answer is yes, but those are the questions to which answers are worth nailing down.

The ACCD gets into trouble, I think, at least in part because it doesn't effectively sell itself. After I published my ACCD critique two years ago, I heard from a lot of people -- including some quoted by the Trib -- who wanted to congratulate me for hitting the nail on the head. Over time, I started to hear a smaller and quieter suggestion that the ACCD's more public intiatives (such as the Pittsburgh 250 campaign, of which I'm skeptical) don't represent the bulk of its activity. It may be that both points of view are right, but it's difficult for me, as an outsider, to assess them. I don't mean that the Conference should hire a marketer. Rather, I wish that the ACCD would do more to pull back the curtain. Here's the ACCD site list of the Conference's current initiatives. Given that summary, which is all over the place, I'd wonder, too, about how staff time is being spent and how the ACCD budget is being allocated. Maybe the ACCD should change how it goes about its -- and the region's -- business. Let the people know what's happening, and let them participate in Pittsburgh's future. Can the ACCD do that? Will it?

I'm not optimistic, but I'd be delighted to be proved wrong.

I'm equally skeptical today regarding Pittsburgh's populace as a whole. Ruth Ann Dailey's column today picks up the "change is good, and change is inevitable, regardless" theme from the mayor's race, and while she doesn't call the Allegheny County Democratic Committee to account, she might as well have accused the party of standing in the way of the future. "Change is, well, inevitable. The election's biggest question was how fearlessly, or capably, we'd embrace it. That's still the big question." In a manner of speaking, that's right, but only in a manner of speaking. Are the 60+ percent of voting Pittsburghers who opted for the mayoral status quo prepared to accept "inevitable" change? Here and there, perhaps, but on a large scale, I just don't see it. I read the election result as a broad endorsement of the "no meaningful change" agenda. Pittsburgh is mostly just fine as it is.

For individuals and institutions that do (fearlessly) embrace change -- that is, who are willing to trade a bit of social and cultural bird in the hand for some speculative economic two in the bush -- the lesson to draw from the ACCD/ACDC combo is that neither local government nor local business bigwigs nor the 7th and 14th Wards can make change happen, or make change succeed. At least not in their standard modi operandi. Where the earth is moving in Southwest PA, it is moving on account of new players, and old players with new agendas. For better and for worse, keep your eyes on the universities, on UPMC, on the foundations, on high-tech manufacturing, and on the startup community. Keep your eyes on economic development competition from the suburbs. Keep your eyes on nonstop flights to and from the West Coast. In short and in sum, keep your eyes on Pittsburgh's newcomers.


10 Responses to "ACCD, ACDC, and Other Acronyms"

Felix Dzerzhinsky said... 11/13/2007 4:14 PM

I have a rather less charitable take on the Trib article; not that my view of the Conference is positive (far from it!). But the article was clearly engineered by Scaife himself as an ideological attack on the Conference from the right.

Frank said... 11/13/2007 7:11 PM

This might be a heretical idea, but I'm going to go for it, anyway. The whole problem is that the people who want change are waiting for someone to do something about it. They're either waiting for the ACCD to do something, for a politician to do something, for a new developer to do something, and so on.

Change happens when people make it happen, and there is no reason we have to only think about it seriously during the two months before an election. If we started doing things--even little things--and let them grow on each other, the politician's will follow.

Who cares who the mayor is! If you have an idea for making the city a better place, talk to some people and start making it happen!

Anonymous said... 11/14/2007 9:20 AM

I'd be interested in how the funding for the ACCD has changed over the years. It has been my impression that it has become largely foundation-driven, which may account for the incoherent jumble of initiatives and the lack of accountability for results.

Economic development is undertaken to benefit the broader public, but it is ironic that there has been a general assumption among leaders in both the corporate and foundation world that the general public must not be involved in economic development decision making. At least in the forties the Democratic Party and the unions brought an organized rank and file voice to the discussions. Where is that voice now?

Fundamentally, though, after all of the years of poor performance and unbearably dull meetings wouldn't someone think that it's time to try something different?

C. Briem said... 11/14/2007 7:24 PM

I for one would pay to watch a reality show where Felix and Dick were running against each other for some political office. Can you imagine those debates?

Felix Dzerzhinsky said... 11/14/2007 8:33 PM

Chris: No way, dude! I would be too scared to run for office against Scaife, because I would be afraid of his little henchman, Colin McNickle, constantly doing his bad H. L. Mencken impersonation and using words like "horsefeathers" and "poppycock" to describe my every move. It would be a fate worse than death, I tell you.

However, you don't have to worry about Scaife actually running for office, either. Scaife's preferred hobby is playing at being a newspaperman. Other billionaires purchase themselves county commissioner seats and tap into sweet gold-digger poon-tang.

Warren said... 11/15/2007 2:25 PM

I was just looking at the ACCD's site and web outreach. Do they even know there is such a thing as blogs? If so, do they know robust discourse related to their work takes place on blogs? Do they care to engage? Do they have the intellecual horses to do so even if they wanted to?

Mike Madison said... 11/15/2007 5:16 PM

I know that some ACCD staff read this blog, and occasionally ACCD staff have posted comments here.

C. Briem said... 11/15/2007 9:16 PM

there was a PRA blog.. sort of.. for a short period of time.

Anonymous said... 11/16/2007 9:34 PM

Mr. Rohr suggests the region's people really don't want to grow at 10% or 15% and the problems that come along with it; rather an average growth rate is what "we" want to achieve. Well, excuse me Mr. banker of the year, since the population has declined so much, we need a 10 to 15% rate to grow BACK INTO the infrastructure, government and tax structure that we still have...and to reduce that monster debt... There's plenty of room for growth without occuring such headaches. We're so far away from reaching such growth problems it's ridiculous.

Anonymous said... 11/16/2007 9:48 PM

I think I'm finally starting to get the differences between Mr. Rohr and his followers, and the rest of us. I'm a little slow...

He looks at the region today and tells us what is good about it. The assets we created yesterday and maintaining them are good. He looks at a better than average growth region of tomorrow and tells us what is wrong with it.

We look at the region today and say what is wrong about it. Downward trends and slowly developing new assets are bad. We look at a better than average growth region of tomorrow and say what is good with it.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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