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Pittsburgh City Council and Wilkinsburg residents consider annexing the borough

The Wilkinsburg Borough municipal building.
Rebecca Reese
90.5 WESA
The Wilkinsburg Borough municipal building.

On today’s episode of The Confluence: The Borough of Wilkinsburg could be annexed into the City of Pittsburgh, but the proposal still has a long way to go; the University of Pittsburgh is welcoming Afghan scholars targeted by the Taliban to continue their work in the U.S.; and arts organizations weathered the pandemic with the help of government funding and are starting to welcome back in-person audiences, but whether Pittsburgh audiences are ready and willing to return is yet to be seen.

Wilkinsburg’s annexation to Pittsburgh is under debate
(0:00 - 5:34)

In 1872, the city of Pittsburgh annexed four boroughs along the south bank of the Monongahela River, now known as the South Side. In 1907, Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City, now the North Side.

“In 1873 Wilkinsburg did become the 37th ward of Pittsburgh,” says WESA reporter Kiley Koscinski. “Then a long legal battle ensued, at the end of which the Supreme Court issued an injunction which returned the village, at the time, back to its independent status in 1876.”

The latest effort has been led by the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (CDC), which studied the concept and says annexation is the best solution to the borough’s problems of blight, stagnant population growth and home prices.

Those opposed to the effort say a majority of Wilkinsburg residents are renters, so benefits to home prices or property taxes wouldn’t go to them.

The Pittsburgh City Council has held hearings about the issue, the latest taking place last Saturday.

“Public comment came from both Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg residents. There was a slight majority of speakers who favored [annexation]. They cited similar arguments made by the Community Development Corporation,” says Koscinski.

Pittsburgh City Council is holding an invite-only post-agenda session tomorrow where it will hear from members of the Wilkinsburg Borough Council, who have largely opposed the effort. Some Pittsburgh council members have shared thoughts on the issue, but have not indicated a strong lean for or against annexation.

Once the Wilkinsburg CDC brings enough signatures to the court, Pittsburgh City Council will take up the issue. If council members approve it, then the decision will go before Wilkinsburg residents for a vote as early as next spring’s primary.

Pitt has launched a new project to welcome academics leaving Afghanistan
(5:35 - 17:24)

The Center for Governance and Markets, a global policy research center at the University of Pittsburgh,has launched the “Afghanistan Project.” It provides an intellectual and physical home for scholars and policy thinkers who had to leave Afghanistan.

“In August, we were helping Afghans apply for asylum in the United States, and helping them with the paperwork to do that,” says Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, an associate professor and the director of Pitt’s Center for Governance and Markets. “As a professor, who’s been working in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, I have so many relationships with scholars, … and I became very concerned about their long term fate.”

An anonymous $250,000 donation is helping fund the project. Omar Sadr is the first scholar to join so far.

“We had been thinking about how to move [Sadr] in particular to safety for several months,” says Murtazashvili. “Once that government collapsed, we realized that as a university, how can we help? How can we help the people who have helped us so much in our work? As academics, we felt the best way to do this was to create a home for those scholars who needed a place to work.”

Sadr is a professor at the American University of Afghanistan, and he and his family escaped Kabul after spending a few nights at India’s embassy.

He has been a staunch critic of the nation’s government and leaders, and the Taliban, which could have made him a target of violence.

Sadr says he’s stayed in touch with colleagues who are still in the country.

“It was a very uncertain and difficult time. … The university [in Kabul] is trying its best to evacuate them, but it’s time taking,” says Sadr. “But at the same time, the nature of activity that they are doing as a professor, as an intellectual, that they write, they engage and they speak, that is not something that Taliban will tolerate.

Sadr says despite the danger of his profession in his home country, he remains committed to academia.

“I feel that what we need more in Afghanistan, of course, not many politicians, but we need critical thinking. We need to produce, for example, when it comes to policy proposals, evidence-based policies, which I think academics can contribute to this,” says Sadr. “Afghanistan, it has a very small but vibrant academia. I am committed to remain in academia, to think about issues which are very crucial to the people of Afghanistan, but also to contribute in terms of knowledge protection.”

The Afghanistan project is planning to welcome three more scholars. Murtazashvili says two economists are making their way to the U.S. from overseas, and a third scholar is traveling to Pittsburgh from Washington.

Pittsburgh arts venues are open and ready for audiences
(17:25 - 22:30)

After months of virtual and outdoor shows, Pittsburgh theater companies and other nonprofit performing-arts groups have returned indoors for in-person productions. But have audiences followed?

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll reports.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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