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What’s next after court approves Wilkinsburg annexation petition

Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: WESA’s Kiley Koscinski gives an update on what’s next now that a judge approved the petition for a ballot question on the annexation of Wilkinsburg; we discuss how worker shortages and reduced services due to the pandemic are impacting the economy; and, the Frick Pittsburgh’s Victorian Radicals exhibition, which showcases artists who challenged norms in the second-half of the 19th century.

County judge moves Wilkinsburg annexation process forward to Pittsburgh City Council

Last week, a county judge approved the petition for a ballot question on the annexation of Wilkinsburg, and the plan received an endorsement from Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

According to WESA's Kiley Koscinski, the next step is now in the hands of the Pittsburgh City Council.

"The council has three months from last Wednesday to consider this, and either vote to consent, which sends it back to the court, which could then order a referendum for voters to decide," she says. "Or council could vote to disapprove, which ends the process."

She says this means Wilkinsburg residents could know as soon as early April whether the referendum will be up for a vote.

Those who support annexation say that the merger will lower property taxes in Wilkinsburg, and the increase in population would allow Pittsburgh to remain classified as a big city, she says.

While there is support for the move, there isn't necessarily a consensus. Koscinski says the group, Wilkinsburg Future, has been against the annexation.

"I've spoken with several members of this group and they're all concerned that Wilkinsburg residents would be taken advantage of in this scenario," she says. "They're calling the annexation a land grab for developers who want to gentrify Pittsburgh."

Koscinski says five "yes" votes are needed from the Pittsburgh City Council to pass the proposed merger to the next phase. She says, so far, only two members, Anthony Coghill and Corey O’Connor, have publicly endorsed the annexation.

The economic ripple effect of pandemic-related work shortages

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to climb, many sectors, including travel, are seeing major service disruptions. Across the country, airlines canceled thousands of flights around the holidays as travelers attempted to make their way home. And in Pittsburgh last week, the Port Authority had to warn riders of potentially delayed bus service to accommodate sick operators.

These disruptions can add up as the effects ripple throughout the economy. Risa Kumazawa is a professor at Duquesne University, specializing in labor economics. In some cases, she says, reduced access to public transportation in Pittsburgh could push people out of the workforce, and that could make the existing labor shortage worse.

"We were already dealing with a labor shortage issue in the sense that people were not coming back in the numbers that we had expected," she says.

She says the economic impacts of the pandemic have been difficult to predict overall. For example, economists initially expected child care to be a temporary problem at the start of the shutdown. But, after nearly two years, it's been a significant factor preventing people, especially women, from rejoining the workforce.

She says time will tell what the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic will be. For example, she says some industries, such as agriculture, have adapted somewhat to a reduced labor force by relying more on technology. But she says one of the most significant shifts could be how people relate to their jobs, both now and in the future.

"One of the reasons why people are not coming back to work in the numbers that we had hoped, I think, is because people are starting to realize that they're worth more and they don't want to be stuck in these low paying jobs, doing things that they don't really want to do," she says. "And so people really opened their eyes to make their lives better. So that's actually something that is impacting the economy now."

‘Art as a force for social good,’ Victorian Radicals at the Frick

Until Jan. 30, visitors to the Frick can see an exhibit that features works of bright colors, clarity and industrial arts.

The exhibit is called Victorian Radicals, which the Frick’s chief curator Dawn Brean jokes is a bit of a contradiction.

“Most people hear Victorian and think they frilly, fussy, whereas radical means bold and really changing the world, but this show is really about three generations of radical victorian artists who were very rebellious in how they were thinking about the arts and thinking of art as a force for social good.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a secret society group started in 1848, according to Brean. Brean says the main artists who started this brotherhood decided to rebel against what they were being taught at The Royal Academy in London, England.

“The Royal Academy really espoused this notion that you should emulate old master paintings and look back at the classics,” she says. “So the reason they called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is because they felt like Raphael was really the first artist who made things more beautiful than they were true.”

Brean says she thinks the artworks’ vibrant colors will surprise visitors.

“These artists are making use of new synthetic pigments that allow them to create brighter more colorfast paint, and they are also using them on a white background so that they are even more luminous,” she says.

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. 

JC Larsen contributed to today’s Confluence episode 

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