So the Census Bureau has released yet another survey estimating population loss in the region, and everyone is screaming that our young people are leaving. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has responded by ... forming a commission. The "Propel Pittsburgh" commission will have 35 members ages 20-34; its goal will be to give young adults "a major role in moving the [city] forward."
How would I handle this alleged crisis if I were mayor?
First off, I wouldn't panic. Pittsburgh isn't losing population because young people are leaving; it's losing population because old people are dying. Sure, lots of college kids split after graduation. But that's what college kids do. Thousands of them leave State College every year, but you don't see them worrying. When graduates leave, it's partly a symptom of what we do well: attract and educate young people from all over the world.
But if we want to retain more young people, here's what we could do.
First, don't create new "youth commissions" ... put youths on the commissions we already have. Why do we need "Propel Pittsburgh" to give young people "a major role" in the city's future? Why not appoint them to the boards that already have such a role? How come a 27-year-old can run the city, but not sit on the Regional Assets District board, where two members are mayoral appointees? Out of the two-dozen commissions and boards with mayoral-appointed members, I'm hard-pressed to find any with significant representation by people aged 20 to 34. Other than the mayor himself and aide Yarone Zober, of course. Give some other kids a chance, fellas.
Second, here's a thought: Restructure the tax base to help young workers, not retired homeowners. Combined, the city and school wage tax add up to 3 percent. That's more than twice the rate in, say, Mount Lebanon. Raise property taxes to keep a wage-tax cut revenue neutral. The oldsters will complain, but they have a slew of exemptions already. And if they do move away ... more housing for young people.
Third, actually try raising money for the "Pittsburgh Promise." When this plan to provide college tuition for Pittsburgh school students was announced months ago, the mayor acknowledged it would need at least $5 million. So far, it's garnered a single $10,000 contribution. Instead of puttering around in Propel Pittsburgh meetings, why not get things moving with a dodgeball fundraiser with a pro-youth group like PUMP? The average young professional is saddled with student-loan debt; every dollar you save in tuition helps tomorrow's college students stay in the city they grew up in.
Finally, ignore the "creative class" claptrap about how young people need amenities. Anything government tries to do to make Pittsburgh "cool" will come off like your dad trying to hang out with your friends.
Although, come to think of it, we should pressure the Steelers to get rid of the season-ticket waiting list, and replace it with a lottery people sign up for anew each year. By the time young people get season tickets, they're no longer young people.