Report Finds Pittsburgh to Be a Civically Healthy City

Issue Date: 
December 9, 2013

Pittsburgh residents are significantly more civically healthy than average Americans and other Pennsylvanians, according to the Pittsburgh Civic Health Index, a new report compiled by faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and produced by the National Conference on Citizenship. Civic health, a measurement of community participation in activities such as voting and interacting with and trusting neighbors, has been shown to be a major contributing factor in a community’s ability to be resilient during economic downturns.

Report coauthors David Miller, director of Pitt’s Center for Metropolitan Studies, and Robert Cavalier, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Program for Deliberative Democracy, discussed their collaboration and findings during a Dec. 2 press briefing at Pitt’s University Club. Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, a longtime supporter of civic-minded approaches to community building and government, endorsed the findings and recommendations for building on the city’s strong civic health.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship, which produces America’s Civic Health Assessment, said the report reveals Pittsburgh’s strong civic health: “Compared to many other metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh residents have very high levels of political participation and community engagement. We are proud of our partners at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh who help ensure Pittsburgh continues this tradition of producing highly engaged neighbors and neighborhoods.”

The Pittsburgh Civic Health Index features a demographic profile of Pittsburgh and presents charts and data on measures of civic engagement such as volunteering, voting, relationships with neighbors, and residents’ reports on their overall quality of life. The faculty drew data from previous surveys and from the Current Population Survey, sponsored jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The index shows that the Pittsburgh region exceeds both the Pennsylvania and national averages in levels of political involvement, with Pittsburgh residents more likely to attend public meetings and voice concerns. Pittsburghers are also significantly more likely to have contacted a public official: 36.8 percent more likely than average Americans and 37.4 percent more likely than other Pennsylvanians. Pittsburgh residents also interact with their neighbors more and are 37.3 percent more likely to trust their neighbors than other Americans.

The report outlines recommendations for the city to strengthen its health in three areas: overall civic health, each neighborhood’s capacity to engage in public discourse, and the connections between municipalities within the region. The recommendations follow.

  1. Make Pittsburgh a center of deliberative democracy. Create opportunities for issue-oriented, small group discussions that will be leveraged by stakeholder involvement and outcomes that can guide policy. For example, include citizen deliberation as part of the regulatory requirements for public comment or engage in new initiatives, such as participatory budget planning.
  2. Shift Pittsburgh’s approach to city planning and neighborhood development from top-down to bottom-up by creating an environment in which residents can produce and share their ideas and participate more dynamically.
  3. Facilitate communication and activity between municipalities. The Pittsburgh region’s complicated local government system appeals to residents and seems to give them access to civic engagement, so instead of replacing it with a less fragmented system, improve integrations with the city and region. An example of this would be expanding the scope, funding, and capacity of Councils of Governments—associations of local governments representing the region that are uniquely positioned to translate urban issues to the suburbs and vice versa.

“Pittsburgh and the surrounding region have already taken steps that work toward the goals of these recommendations,” said Miller, a Pitt professor of public and international affairs. “One initiative that is cultivating a greater sense of the urban core that expands beyond city borders is the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT), which has successfully brought the City of Pittsburgh and the 36 municipalities that surround the city together to collaborate on common issues that cross borders, establishing a cohesive voice for the urban core of our region. Through CONNECT, these communities have developed a greater understanding of the issues that unite them, have built trust, and are able to tackle regional challenges collectively.”

Cavalier, a Carnegie Mellon teaching-professor of philosophy, said a city’s civic health is structurally connected to a city’s overall health.

“By designing opportunities for community members to engage in well-structured conversations—with background information on a topic and trained moderators to guide the discussion—we can improve the quality of citizen engagement and the manner in which communities interface with governments. Many Pittsburghers have already been involved in these kinds of deliberative events, but now we have the opportunity to institutionalize and integrate these practices at the level of local government,” Cavalier said.

Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Peduto welcomed the results, saying that they “reinforce what I have long believed—Pittsburghers care deeply about their neighborhoods and our city as a whole, and they’re willing to work with each other and our neighboring communities to make it better.”

“Active citizen participation and engagement are an essential part of a healthy democracy. I will work to make sure that we create more opportunities for public deliberation at the city level as well as to engage the city more meaningfully with our neighbors,” Peduto added.

America’s Civic Health Index is an effort to educate Americans about civic life and to motivate citizens, leaders, and policymakers to strengthen it. The National Conference on Citizenship has engaged partners in more than 30 cities nationwide in the creation of state- and city-specific reports measuring the level of civic engagement and the health of democracy in partner communities. In 2009, the National Conference on Citizenship was incorporated into the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and directed to expand this civic health assessment in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Pittsburgh Civic Health Index was funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation. The recommendations in the report are supported by Pittsburgh-area groups and organizations with experience in the practices and principles of deliberative democracy, including 10,000 Friends; Coro Center for Civic Leadership; Design Center; Dialogue and Resolution Center; Fourth Economy; Jackson/Clark Partners; Mediation Council of Western Pennsylvania; and Pitt’s Survey Research Program and University Center for Social and Urban Research.

To read the full Pittsburgh Civic Health Index Report, visit