Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Debating Pittsburgh

The "leader" for the piece on the Jewish Diaspora (see previous post) in the latest issue of The Economist offers another sounding board for the role that Pittsburgh's expatriates might play in revitalizing the region:

Helping Israel should no longer mean defending it uncritically. Israel is strong enough to cope with harsh words from its friends. So diaspora institutions should, for example, feel free to criticise Israeli politicians who preach racism and intolerance, such as a recently appointed cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman. They should encourage lively debate about Israeli policies. Perhaps more will then add their voices to those of the millions of Israelis who believe in leaving the occupied territories so that Palestinians can have a state of their own, allowing an Israel at peace to return to its original vocation of providing a safe and democratic haven for the world's Jews.

I'd like to see a debate about Pittsburgh's future that includes the Burgh Diaspora, breaking what I see as a political stalemate in need of a fresh perspective. Pittsburgh Today and Null Space's Chris Briem publish a wealth of data on the web. There are a number of pundits blogging about economic development for the Pittsburgh Region. Overall, there is sufficient expertise online to generate effective policy prescriptions.

What's missing is a forum where all these elements come together in the form of civil discourse, hashing out a vision of progress for the entire area.


John Powers said...

The forum issue is a tough nut to crack. I follow African and African-friendly blogs and a similar issue comes up frequently in that part of the blog-o-sphere. Among the suggestions is that African blogs should link to each other more, and that suggestion is low hanging fruit for Pittsburgh bloggers too.

I wanted to respond to this post because often the notion of constructive debate entails limiting the audience and participants of forums. Sometimes this is a good strategy, but to start things off a more open forum seems like a great idea, at least an idea that might include me and people like me.

During the past election The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette live blogged the election with Reg Henry and Jack Kelly responding to readers comments too. It went pretty well, I thought. A similar debate or series of debates hosted by The Post Gazette might be one way to get the ball rolling.

If you suggest the idea to the Post-Gazette, I'll gladly lend my support for to the chorus to support it.

Jim Russell said...

The Pittsburgh blogs I read seem to do a good job of linking to each other. At the very least, I've benefited from some unsolicited PR. I think the main problem is that most blogs don’t link to other blogs that may sit on the other side of the fence concerning a number of important issues.

The blogosphere is a great place for collaboration, but a poor place for constructive debate.

Promoting civil discourse of any kind, in any environment, is a tough nut to crack, but I think that expanding inclusiveness doesn’t necessarily undermine such efforts. As long as all the actors are primarily committed to constructive debate (instead of a bully pulpit), a diversity of opinion can thrive.

The forum’s purpose and protocol must be clear. Also necessary is a skillful moderator who doesn’t have a horse in the race. The burden placed on the participants tends to shrink the number involved in the debate and that entropy usually kills the forum in short order.

I think there are basic skills that everyone needs to master in order to cultivate an inclusive environment for civil discourse. However, I’ve seen a moderator command a forum (in this case, a face-to-face interaction) to engage in a constructive debate, despite the presence of a number of people with polarized viewpoints.

Perhaps your experience at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s live blog was supported with excellent moderating. Regardless, I would be open to the Post-Gazette sponsoring a debate about economic development in the Pittsburgh Region if you feel that venue would maximize inclusiveness.

Pittsburgh desperately needs to talk across cliques and boundaries.