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Guest Editorial: Making Your City Better Begins With You

Editor’s note: This guest editorial come from Brett Wiewiora, Founder and CEO of Onlyinpgh (http://onlyinpgh.com), a tech startup creating an online system to visualize an area’s sense of place and connect people to local happenings.

Take a second to think about the favorite places in your city. What types of places are they?  Do they tend to be places unique to your town? Are they places that the locals know but are otherwise off the beaten path? I know that’s the case with me.

My favorite part of Pittsburgh is an area called the Strip District.  It’s a part of town that retains much of the character one would expect from a turn-of-the-century open-air market.  It’s old school, and it’s full of life.  And especially on a Saturday morning when there are crowds of people coming and going, accordionists playing polka and lines out the doors of the city’s best breakfast joints, there’s no place that oozes Pittsburgh more. 

How did those places come to be? In most cases it was simply because someone decided to start something small. That great little sandwich shop where you work was probably started by someone with the simple goal of supporting their family. The local coffee shop on the corner was started by someone with a dream of being their own boss. The founders didn’t necessarily start with grand visions of creating an establishment that would become a cornerstone of the area’s “sense of place”—they were just taking a chance and doing what they wanted to do.

Making an impact on the world around you doesn’t have to be a David vs. Goliath situation and it doesn’t require solving all the world’s problems at once. All it requires is doing something positive and talking to people about it. Places like the Strip District are what they are because of the community created by so many people doing things they care about. When that happens, it makes an environment where positive action is encouraged and unproductive negativity is checked at the door, and that’s when the magic starts to take over.

So when it comes to revitalizing the cities, neighborhoods, and blocks that we care about, it starts with doing something small and positive. If you play an instrument, go out and start playing regularly on the street and see what happens. If there’s a corner store you love, go talk to the owners about why they started and what else they’d like to see in the area. And most importantly, if you see someone else putting something positive put into the world, think about what you can add to it.  It’s not just about stopping to smell the roses—real change happens when people stop to smell the roses and then plant some more across the street.

In the end, decisions are made by those who show up, and the same applies to revitalization. We all have the power to make a difference as long as we’re willing to take a chance. 

-Brett Wiewiora

Photo credit: Creative Commons licensed for commercial use, photographer sharonmleon

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