Mark Fatla on Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Center, Theater Pubs and Pete Seeger

    Mark Fatla is executive director of The Northside Leadership Conference, a coalition of community-based organizations committed to addressing quality of life issues on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

    “Five Questions with …” is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Mark Fatla is executive director of The Northside Leadership Conference. The NSLC is a coalition of community-based organizations committed to addressing quality of life issues on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

    Tell us about an amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to Pittsburgh?

    We’re always looking for ideas – don’t re-invent the wheel if you can borrow someone else’s wheel – and there are many in the backs of our minds. I’ll highlight two: the Theater Pub concept popular in the Pacific Northwest, which combines modest priced second-run and classic movies with gourmet pizza and microbrews to breathe new life into classic theaters and neighborhood business districts; and the music, food and joie de vivre of New Orleans (minus the public nudity and binge drinking).

    What’s one urban improvement idea that you could categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

    Allegheny Center — a 1960’s urban renewal project that demolished 550 structures at the heart of the Northside to build a mall and hi-rise offices and apartments. It’s a classic case of destroying the village to save it. It interrupted the traditional street grid and looked inward, creating an “urban campus” sheltered away from the surrounding neighborhoods. It turned two major streets into pedestrian walkways, taking the economic, social and emotional center-point out of the community. It was built with the best of intentions and massive amounts of public money, but it provides a cautionary tale about the risks and hubris of top-down city planning.

    Describe a person in Pittsburgh who is a “spark” — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people.

    My job is to work with and support the neighborhood volunteers and community leaders of the Northside. They provide the spark, or more accurately thousands of sparks! They drive the community plans, the neighborhood projects and the connections with people. Folksinger Pete Seeger said, “Be wary of great leaders. Hope instead for many, many small leaders.”

    What is a flaw or habit of Pittsburgh that you would like to see change?

    Pittsburgh’s leadership often values people by how nice they are, rather than on the quality of their ideas or their record of performance. I have little patience for that. Too many people survive in important positions because they are nice, even though by any clear-eyed analysis they are under-performing or missing opportunities that the community would benefit from. We need change and sometimes you have to be willing to not be nice to achieve change.(Maybe it’s not nice to say this?)

    5: Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail.

    Everybody working to build and strengthen neighborhoods, towns and cities should read Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. And in the category of being effective rather than just nice, read Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” (which rests at my bedside).

    Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done? Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend “Five Questions with …”. Please let us know in the comment sections below, via Twitter @Pacrossroads, or on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.