This spring, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC) invited 350 Wilkinsburg stakeholders to participate in a visioning process from June to August 2020. Because large community gatherings could not be held during COVID-19, participants engaged in a series of surveys and zoom conferences to replicate the community meeting process.
Facilitation and Participation
The Wilkinsburg Focus Group 2020 was facilitated by Ellen Ruddock, who was also the facilitator for the WCDC’s original Wilkinsburg Focus Group held in 2006 and Jordan Pallitto from The Hill Group. Overall 134 individuals were part of the conversation to identify and increase awareness of the issues facing Wilkinsburg and to become part of the solution.
During the sessions participants agreed that Wilkinsburg has distinct strengths of location; community ties; resiliency, friendly and positive people; prominent churches; and existing racial and economic diversity. The group also shared a vision for the future of Wilkinsburg as a regional destination that is diverse and welcoming for all with a vibrant business district, and visibly strong neighborhoods.
Despite Wilkinsburg’s tremendous progress, the group identified a number of barriers to achieving their vision. The list of obstacles needing to be addressed includes high property taxes, vacant property and blight, the visible state of the business district, perceptions of crime, school district performance and resistance to change.
By the third round of meetings, the group reached consensus that property tax issues were of top priority. “Property taxes are half of a commercial mortgage payment” said a local business owner participant. “If taxes don’t change, I will have to move to a new location. I employ 30 people with decent wages and they all bike to work.“ Another local business owner spoke to how the issue affected their home buying choice “I’d love to buy a house here, but I can’t pay those taxes.”
The sessions wrapped up with the group brainstorming solutions to high property taxes and their interconnectivity to other issues such as vacant property and communication. Understanding that there is more research, analysis and work to be done in order to bring about change in the community they love, more than half of the participants have volunteered to join and form committees. A plan of next steps will be developed by these committees over the coming months.
By the end of 2020, a complete report of Wilkinsburg Focus Group 2020 will be compiled and made available on the WCDC website. To learn more or get involved in a committee, visit the our Focus Group Webpage HERE or email firstname.lastname@example.org.