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Pittsburgh leaders launch new data dashboard to track crime, economic recovery of downtown

As Downtown Pittsburgh continues to struggle under the public perception of safety and cleanliness issues, city and county officials unveiled a new digital tool Wednesday to track the vitality of the city’s urban core. IndexPGH, managed by the Allegheny Conference, is designed to provide up-to-date information about crime, economic indicators and cleanup efforts as well as featured stories about Downtown’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our downtown was hard hit by the pandemic, and for all those who spend down tons of time downtown like I do every day, these changes can be palpable. And they’re tough,” said Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference. “The struggles are real, but so are our efforts.”

The IndexPGH dashboard provides data about Downtown under four categories: safety and public health, economy, vibrancy and cleanliness. Pashman said the data would be refreshed every two weeks and that new data points under each category would appear soon.

The dashboard’s vibrancy section currently highlights 1.7 million visitors downtown during the month of July, which is the highest recorded since 2019, according to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. The group said Wednesday that downtown has seen an 81% recovery of average daily visits of employees, residents and tourists compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The economy section highlights a 91% residential occupancy rate and an 81% commercial real estate occupancy rate. The cleanliness index shows more than 304,000 square feet of alleys were cleaned in July as well as nearly 67,000 square feet of sidewalks. Nearly 78,000 pounds of garbage was removed.

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The safety and public health indexes as of Wednesday have the oldest and broadest datasets, something Pashman said would evolve. The index currently lists arrest data for June, indicating that 76 arrests were made that month; eight for serious criminal offenses and 68 for less serious crimes.

The dashboard doesn’t currently break down crime data into more granular subcategories, which leaves a laundry list of “minor” offenses grouped into one section without further description. Those offenses range from disorderly conduct and weapons offenses to prostitution and drug abuse violations.

Despite the dashboard’s lack of specificity about crimes, it’s the primary online resource for Pittsburgh crime data as the city’s own violent crime dashboard remains “down for maintenance.”

“Data has been and will continue to be a powerful tool to help us understand downtown's recovery,” said Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. He said publishing the data “keeps us honest,” about the progress still needed “while helping direct resources” toward relevant projects.

The data initiative was announced alongside a $2 million private investment in downtown improvement projects. Among the first projects to come from that investment will be public bathrooms downtown, something advocates have been begging for over the last several months to improve hygiene among those experiencing homelessness. Officials said new, “temporary” public restrooms are planned to open early next month.

Though they’re temporary, “they're not porta-potties,” Pashman said, comparing them instead to multi-stalled trailers “that you see when you go to a gala or an event.”

The restrooms will have running water, sinks and heat. Ambassadors with the Downtown Partnership program will staff the facilities 16 hours per day. The temporary restrooms are part of a six-month pilot program, but Pashman said the goal is to find locations and funding to install permanent public restrooms downtown.

City officials said they’re currently working to identify locations for the public restrooms.

At a press conference in Market Square on Wednesday, leaders said the data available on IndexPGH could help inform future initiatives like the public restrooms. City and county officials said, in addition to informing public policy, the dashboard will help inform the public about downtown.

“Any time you put the data out there publicly, it gives people more confidence in what's going on,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said he routinely hears from constituents with opposite impressions about whether downtown is improving or getting worse. He pointed to IndexPGH as a resource to help understand the issues of the neighborhood beyond individual experiences.

“I think it'll start to put in context for other people, not just anecdotal things that we all experience, but actually what does the larger picture and the larger data say?” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald declined to say whether he thinks the data will show a different picture of downtown than the narrative that has emerged about the area being dangerous and dirty.

Mayor Ed Gainey said the data gives officials more credibility when they talk about the improvements that have been made downtown this summer. But he also sees it as a way for the public to keep leaders accountable.

“We can talk about it all day, but nothing speaks louder than numbers,” he said. “In order to make people believe again, you have to show them the numbers.”

Though much work remains to be done to revitalize the city’s urban core, Gainey said he’s optimistic in the city’s partnerships with the county and private sector.

“We are still dealing with the remnants of the pandemic,” said Gainey. “We can only solve this if we come together and have tools that let us know where we improved, where we need to improve, and what we need to keep improving.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.