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Change in leadership coming to Pittsburgh's Department of City Planning

Jamil Bey speaks at a podium during a press conference
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Jamil Bey, shown here speaking at a press conference rolling out the city's comprehensive plan process, will become the city's Acting Director of the Department of City Planning next month.

Pittsburgh's Department of City Planning will soon have new leadership, as Karen Abrams leaves the post of director next month. Mayor Ed Gainey has said he intends to replace her with Jamil Bey, the founder and CEO of the Urbankind Institute.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Gainey said Bey will assume the position as an acting director on April 8, pending approval by City Council.

The statement hailed Abrams for "creating the framework for Pittsburgh's upcoming comprehensive city-wide planning process" — a long-anticipated master-planning effort that will set the rules for future development citywide. The Planning Department will oversee that effort, and Gainey said that Bey had "been a strong advocate for our communities and the need for a citywide Comprehensive Plan and I look forward to working with him as he steps into this new role.”

Bey pledged that "Together, we'll develop a clear and actionable plan to fulfill our commitment to creating a just and equitable city for everyone who lives, works, and visits here."

Bey founded Urbankind in 2016 both as a research center and an advocacy group focused on issues of social equity and justice, and intent on connecting academic research with social change. And he won't be coming into his new city post cold: UrbanKind espouses community engagements of the kind that will accompany the comprehensive plan, and a member of the group has been retained to consult on that process.

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Bey himself spoke at a press event kicking off the initiative earlier this month, though his role in the process wasn't explicitly described. When completed, he said, the plan would "creat[e] a more just, sustainable and equitable Pittsburgh that eliminates the historic disparities across neighborhoods." The public engagement effort, he added would reflect "the voices of every corner of this city, not only downtown or the East neighborhoods.

Bey has also served on the city's land bank, which seeks to acquire and clear title for long-abandoned properties that could be revitalized. And he co-chaired Gainey Transition Team committee focused on Infrastructure And Environmental issues.

In addition to presiding over the comprehensive plan process, city planners seek to ensure that development of communities accords with the broader vision and character of the surrounding area.

Word of a potential change in leadership had been circulating for weeks, but Abrams' departure marks a high-profile change in an administration that has largely remained stable once Gainey put his stamp on city leadership.

Abrams arguably made a similar jump when she took the director's post in 2022: She'd previously been a program officer at The Heinz Endowments, focusing on equitable development and offering experience with facilitating community development in long-neglected communities like Homewood and the Hill District.

According to the city, Abrams will take a leadership position at The Chisholm Legacy Project, which focuses on climate-justice issues.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.