Community Matters

Sarah MayerCommunity


It’s my turn to write a blog post. My article was supposed to be about the civic mindedness of our team members. Our team members champion important causes and they invest time and put energy into them. The work deserves to be highlighted, but I just can’t write about it right now.

Only months after Pittsburgh is named one of the most livable cities in the country, we experience a tragedy in Wilkinsburg when gunmen opened fire on a backyard full of our neighbors. NPR was in town one day before the shooting to host a candid and at times tense discussion about who this city is most livable for.

Is our city livable for all humans, all of the time? Is that even possible?

Sense of place is a huge part of the human experience. We combine sights, smells, people, and memories to form our view of community and our place in it.  We are grounded by the space that we move into and out of every day. But, what happens when that sense of place is disrupted or even ripped out from under us?


Photo credit: Jim Christensen,

I’d like to think of this time, this very moment in our history, as a turning point. We have the opportunity to create a community where everyone matters, where everyone is heard, where everyone is loved, and where nobody is invisible. On its face, this statement might seem altruistic or unrealistic. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try.

berkana-model-bridging-systemsThe Berkana Model states, “A system is born. It thrives and grows and then reaches its apex, at which point it begins to decay.” At the apex, some folks begin to question the system and jump off. Those people are called pioneers. Those pioneers go out and build networks. Those networks turn into communities of practice. And eventually this new group forms a new system to replace the decaying system. Some would say pioneers created a new system in East Liberty, where our office is located. Some say they didn’t engage with the community to understand its past, its current needs and what the community wants to become. There are so many considerations to building a community that works for all and it’s not done without everyone who has a vision at the table sharing that vision.

So, there ought to be lots and lots of conversations, open to everyone, about how to close the divide between the two divergent Pittsburghs. Civic leaders, real estate developers, residents, business owners, artists, engineers, young people, old people, new residents, etc we all need to work together. No, it’s not easy. I venture a guess it will be really hard and uncomfortable most of the time. But, what if a new Pittsburgh emerged where each of us could define and articulate our place in the community?

We might just be named the most human place to live in the country.