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Politics & Government

Not sick of redistricting yet? Have a look at this draft of new City Council districts

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A committee charged with drafting new City Council District maps is asking for public feedback on this draft

Sure, you survived the endless bickering and legal fights about drawing Pennsylvania’s Congressional district map … not to mention the maps for the state House and Senate seats. You may think you are done with the 2020 Census and the drama it set in motion.

But the 2020 Census isn’t done with you — at least not if you live in the City of Pittsburgh.

As with other government bodies where members are elected by district, Pittsburgh City Council’s nine-district map be redrawn after each Census. And a Reapportionment Advisory Committee, each of whose members are selected by one of those councilors, has drawn up a draft map of its own.

The proposed map ultimately must be approved by council itself. But committee members have been meeting since last fall to come up with a draft that meets the criteria — and they are asking for public feedback on their proposal.

The new maps don’t look radically different from the old ones, and any map must meet certain legal criteria. It must be compact and contiguous, and roughly equal in size: Variations of up to 10% are permissible, which means districts can range between 31,980 and 35,436 residents. Districts should be drawn with an eye toward preserving the city’s two districts in which a majority of the residents are Black, District 6 and District 9.

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The new map reflects the difficulties of meeting that last challenge in a city where the Black population has shrunk, both as Black residents leave the city and become more scattered within it. In particular, District 9, a majority-Black district centered on Homewood and other East End communities, has seen population drops.

Not surprisingly, the committee’s map proposal expands District 9’s geography to offset that loss. The newly configured district would extend further into Point Breeze — currently part of District 8 — and Regent Square, which is now part of District 5.

District 6 also would expand, part of a North Side reshaping that may be the most notable feature of the proposed new map. The district has always had an unusual two-lobed configuration, with one foot planted in Downtown and the Hill District, and the other in the North Side, like a bowtie knotted near the Point. The proposed new map would exaggerate that configuration by extending the district along the Ohio River to include Marshall-Shadeland.

District 1, meanwhile, continues to split the northern third of the city District 6 — and the new map would consolidate all of the central North Side into the district. But District 1 was the second-biggest loser in the 2020 Census, and it, too, must expand. The map proposes to do so by reaching across the Allegheny River to encompass the Strip District and Polish Hill.

Political cartographers expect complaints about some of those proposals. Polish Hill, for example, would find itself across the bridge from its new district’s political center of gravity, instead of just down the street from its current District 7 linchpin of Lawrenceville.

But those who have looked at the map said the landscape itself is hard to navigate, and the draft map succeeds on a lot of factors.

“Having gone through this process in the past, I know how involved re-apportionment can be,” said Matt Merriman-Preston, who took part in the last redrawing exercise a decade ago. “The advisory committee had a lot of competing priorities and requirements to balance, and everything has to fit together perfectly, like a puzzle.”

In all, Merriman-Preston said, “It looks like they have done a good job in minimizing neighborhood splits, which is not always easy to accomplish. This looks to be true even among the North Side neighborhoods.”

And whatever discontentment the map may inspire, there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss it. The city need not finalize its map until August — a notable change of pace from the tight timetables for other redistricting exercises.
The public’s first chance to weigh in will be at 6 p.m. Thursday in a hybrid public hearing that will allow for both online feedback and in-person comments at City Council Chambers on the fifth floor of the City-County Building, Downtown. Future meetings are set to be in-person only, and they will be held for each region of the city as below. The advisory commission also offers an online form for feedback on its website, which also includes such tools as a map that allows precinct-by-precinct comparisons of 2010 and 2020 Census data.

Wednesday, March 30, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

YMCA: Homewood-Brushton Branch

7140 Bennett St., 15208

Thursday, April 7, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

Pride Project Inc.

227 Bonvue St., 15214

Wednesday, April 13. 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters

10 S. 19th St., 15203

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m.-2 p.m.

Carnegie Library Main Branch

4400 Forbes Ave., 15213

Saturday April 30, 12 p.m.-2 p.m

Sheraden Healthy Active Living Center

720 Sherwood St.,15204