Run Around the Square 2014 – race report

Steel City Road Runners Invasion at Run Around the Square
Steel City Road Runners Invasion at Run Around the Square

Run Around The Square (or RATS) is a 5K run that goes around Regent Square in Pittsburgh, PA. This race takes place in August and is a neighborhood, friendly event. The race starts in Regent Square, go through some streets in Swissvale, PA and finishes in Frick Park. This is only 5K (or 3.1 miles if you prefer).I did not want to sign up for this event, I consider that paying for something I can do every day without support is useless. Do not misunderstand me, I totally understand that many people are excited about these races and I will encourage – and cheer – anybody to sign up. But as I run more than 10 miles per day, this is something I used to so I do not really need a special event to do it. However, my partner in crime convince me, arguing that it was a friendly event, a good reason to hang out with friends in the area rather than a competitive race. In order to demonstrate it, she signed me up. I cannot refused.



The start is at 9:00. In order to keep my sanity, I did 5 miles before in Frick Park and join the starting line. First of all, I was amazed by the number of runners around (the square). The event is very popular and for good reasons (see later). During the race, you pass several groups that play music, which is very cool, especially for such a short distance. Once you get into the Park, there is a champagne and beer stop sponsored by Dunnings! There are also two additional water stops along the course.

The finish is in Frick park where you can hang out with friends. The place is very nice and you can cheer people that completed the race and have hot dogs and beers provided by D’s. Other sponsors provide interesting perks (Park Pizza and Cream for a slice of pizza, the east-end food co-op for bananas, True Runner that promoted the Hoka Clifton).

Want a banana?
Want a banana?


So, is it worth it? Definitively. I am clearly not a short distance guy, averaging 10 miles a day. This is not a race but a reason to meet friends and have some time to have beers and hot dogs in the morning. It engages people that are not used to run to participate in an event that might help them to start (my former roommate that hates running completed it and seems to like it!) and can connect non-runners with more trained people.

The take away? Sometime, you just have to listen to the others, have some fun and forget your daily mileage and take the opportunity to have some good time. And this can also be an opportunity to have a personal record: this year, three fellows Steel City Road Runners placed in their age group! Congratulations to them, my own Personal Record (PR) at this rate has more to do with the max numbers of beers I was able to get before 10am. Way to go!

Run Around the Square 2014 – race report

Join us for Pedal Pittsburgh on August, 24


Pedal Pittsburgh is an established event in the area. You can ride your bike on different distances: 12, 25 or 62 miles. Depending on your fitness level and your ability to keep your butt on a saddle, you can discover different parts of the city with your bicycle. My partner in crime and I signed up for the 62 miles, which pass by most neighborhood around the city. The event is really cheap (about $35) considering the support provided along the course and the festival at the finish area. Also, you can choose to sign up for a membership to BikePGH, the local association that promotes biking around the city. Definitively a good deal!

If you want to bike this day and be part of the crew, you can sign up and bike with us! I created a team, everybody is welcome to join! The name is “Swissvale Active” and everybody is welcome! Hope to see you there!

Join us for Pedal Pittsburgh on August, 24

Sign-Up for the Swissvale 1-Mile


Dear Friends, Enemies, Frienemies,

On June, 28, an fantastic event will take place in Swissvale, the Pittsburgh need-to-know neighborhood! Join the neighborhood for a 1-mile dog walk to benefit Swissvale’s K9 police officer program. In addition to supporting a great cause, this event is a fun way to build community with your neighbors while enjoying a 1 mile fitness walk during Swissvale’s Community Days. Canine Office “Brando” (see picture) will be on hand to lead the pack. The money raised will then support the K-9 police officer program, so, you support a fun event but also a great cause for this lovely neighborhood!

No need to tell you that, walking or running, I will definitively be there!

So, spread the word, come and have fun!


Info, registration on


Note: picture is copyright from the Swissvale Police Department

Sign-Up for the Swissvale 1-Mile

Swissvale Security Statistics: get the facts

When speaking of the lovely neighborhood of Swissvale, the first thing that comes into the discussion is safety (ok, another is the school district) but rarely accessibility (with the I-376 or the direct street to Squirrel Hill) or the proximity to Regent Square area (without having to deal with congested traffic or potential noise). It seems that there was a general opinion to consider Swissvale as an unsafe neighborhood and many folks recommend not to walk around and just drive. Being a newcomer in the area, my first thought was to follow what the existing residents say and follow their recommendations. This is one of the reason I previously followed the Swissvale Crime Watch group: my concern was to learn more about how to stay safe in my neighborhood. Coming from Squirrel Hill (and previously Shadyside), neighborhood considered as very safe, I wanted to learn more about safety concerns in the area.

For various reasons, I needed data about crime in Swissvale. At first, I was expecting to find a lot of crimes reports. Unfortunately, I was surprised that my neighborhood was in the average and even better in some cases. Let’s have a look at the numbers.


Overall Statistics

Let’s have a look at the following map found on city-data.




When looking at the numbers, Swissvale has a crime rate of 320 (within the average rate) whereas Pittsburgh has a index of 358. One can argue that the Pittsburgh district also includes some unsafe neighborhood but on the overall, this is just surprising. Also, another argument would be to deny these results on the fact that these data might be outdated or not reliable. So, I try to get other statistics and ended up on the neighborhoodscout website that reports the number of crimes per 1000 residents.




When looking at this numbers, it seems that Swissvale is also doing better than Pittsburgh overall. Other data might contradict this fact, such as the number of crime per square miles, but this is less reliable and useful since we live in the city and numbers for the state includes also the country side.


The take away

What is the meaning of all these metrics? Does it mean that Swissvale is very safe and you will not experience any issue? Definitively not. Common sense still applies whenever you go and you can get trouble anywhere. This data just shows that Swissvale is not more dangerous than most parts of Pittsburgh and probably even safer than some well-know active neighborhood. It probably shows that the general opinion to see Swissvale as an unsafe neighborhood is not so legit as we might think. And this is definitively a nice place to live. Hope this few statistics may defuse some established ideas and encourage people to come and visit this fantastic part of Pittsburgh.

Swissvale Security Statistics: get the facts

Building communities: example by failure, Swissvale Crime Watch

Building a community is difficult: it requires to listen to people, understand different (and potentially opposite) point of views and be pretty open-minded about opinions from others. Because success of a community is mostly defined by involvement and actions of its members, building a new one from scratch requires a lot of efforts while letting room and space for everybody to talk, exchange and be comfortable.

Since several years, I have started and participated in several communities and  groups of interest in different domains. Some were focused on technical and geek objectives (such as Tuxfamily or POK) while others were more casual (such as the French meetup group in Pittsburgh with its weekly dinner – called “Les Francofous”).

Criteria that will make a community a success may varies on factors (domain of operation, members, environment, etc.) but there are some common, general and basic traps and pitfalls you do not want to get into. So, if this is hard to get you general advise about what to do to build your community, it is pretty straightforward to detail NOT what to do. Last weeks, I spotted them in a local community in my neighborhood (the Swissvale Crime Watch). I will try to take this example to detail these traps and pitfalls, proving example of how they might impact your community. Failure helps us to make progress and thus, should but embraced so that we can learn from them.

Disclaimer: this post discusses community building and was not written for personal purposes/disputes/etc. Please use the comments to discuss the topic but refrain personal attacks. For that, my inbox is big enough. Also, this post might contain part that are fun. Please be aware that is might make you laugh. The author will be not responsible for side-effect. Finally no personal name is mentioned ; people that want to discuss the topic is person are more than welcome!


The story

Living in the lovely Swissvale area since several months and being an enthusiastic home owner, I consider the area like a hidden gem in the Pittsburgh area as soon as I landed here. This is close to main universities (Carnegie Mellon University, PITT),  has direct access to main roads so that commuting time is quick, and finally, housing is affordable. You just cannot beat that.

I took me a couple of hours to fall in love with it and think it deserves to be valued and highlighted. So, I decided to be active and part of the existing group and communities. I had a look at social networks (facebook, twitter, etc.) to figure out what was going on and what are the existing initiatives around. I found several interesting groups, including the Swissvale Crime Watch. Even if I am not a paranoid, having a safe and secure neighborhood is something most homeowners want (well, who want to live in an area where people get murdered or robbed every night?). If this might not be your primary concern (because you do not consider yourself at risk), it can be useful for your neighbors (in particular if they are old, have kids, etc.). Also, as a software developer, as I am currently programing a security system, I thought this was a good opportunity to probe what people are expecting and eventually present what I am creating. So, I joined this group (among many others) without any special expectation and followed the discussions on the facebook page.




Swissvale Crime Watch is there for your safety – picture on flickr


When it started to suck

After a couple of days, I went to a face to face meeting. Police officers were there, as well as the organizers and few other folks. Very few people were there and the organizers pointed out that the group need to involve guys around the area. Why not: the more we are, the more information we can have. That might be a good idea to recruit!

Life went on but, and, when discussing with some friends, some reported that their posts on the discussion page were removed. They were upset about that  and for a good reason: why would engage in a group if your contribution is removed right away? would you feel welcome? what are the benefits to discuss with other folks if you are even not sure your message will be here in a couple of minutes? It turned out that only some posts were removed whereas other were still there.

So, acceptance criteria for being published or not seems to vary. After a while, the group leaders reported that all non-crime related discussions will be deleted/removed from the discussion board. But there was not evidence that removed discussions were not crime-related and many other non-crime related posts were still there.

This new policy started to restrict interaction between members. It was just a turning point: the group was no longer a discussion group with interaction between users but rather a bulletin board where administrators put stickers. After all, why not, at the era of social media where people connect each other by discussing online, this sounds old-school and it can still be useful.

When it started to really suck

After a while a discussion emerged about a new business (a bar) in the neighborhood. Even if this was not crime-related, everybody discussed the matter, even the group moderators. So, I thought it was authorized and I jumped into the discussion to explain my position: if a new business started in the area, that might be a good opportunity, so, let’s discuss it.

After all, nobody is guilty of anything unless there is any evidence or proof! But after a couple of minutes, posts were removed without any notice, explanation or motivation. I started to feel the same frustration my friends experienced weeks ago, I feel offended, rejected and unfairly treated.

After some time, moderators reported that I started a racial debate on the group, without any supporting evidence or proof. Having never started such a discussion, I felt offended and clearly mistreated because this is something I will never do. Asking for evidence, the group moderators backed off and reported that this was not my fault, failing again to report evidence or the issue.

It seems that censorship applies randomly, without any clear guideline and report. Several folks contacted me privately to express their support regarding this issue and notifying that they already experience such interaction in the past.

Time flies and I thought there are always some glitches here in human relation and you should always give the benefit of the doubt. So, I tried to participate again to some other discussions. But as usual, my posts were promptly removed after just a couple of minutes while others were still there, even if they are not crime-related. After a couple of months, the group is still looking for new people is seems to struggle engaging new folks.



The Swissvale Crime Watch is hiding in secret spots – picture on flickr



This experience was really fruitful to show traps and pitfalls you might make when starting a community. In this situation, members started to be frustrated because they cannot having a free and open discussion and feel to be censored on unfair and random principles. Some members will still be skeptical about that but after a while, when they will try to be engaged, they will experience the same thing and just walk away.

On my side, this was a nice experience to get in touch with my folks from Swissvale. For now, I left the group: I prefer not to invest my time into negative thinking and prefer to dedicate my efforts to make a positive impact in other initiatives in Swissvale (check out the Farmer’s market that is coming, the EDAC group or the Runners/Walkers group!). Other folks seem also to feel that way and this might be a good way to connect together and engage through other opportunities. And even if I am skeptical of the Crime Watch community success on the long run, I wish them good luck to recruit and engage people! Diversity should be embraced, not rejected!

The Take-Away

This example does not show you how to built communities but what you should NOT do. There are basic traps and pitfalls you must avoid at any cost, no matter what you are trying to do:

  1. be fair and honest: like it or not, rules apply to everybody. Even to you and your friends. Be fair and apply to yourself what you ask to other folks.
  2. communicate with others: when spotting a behavior problem, explicitly discusses the matter publicly. Do not write a book: stick to the fact and provide evidence (see 4)
  3. engage, inspire with others ; let people communicate: a community is (mostly) about engaging people. You want more folks involved in your group? Give them room, space! Let them discuss and avoid any frustration by censoring them. Sure, some dudes will not agree all the time and this is what human interaction is about.
  4. provide evidence when problems arise: members can cross the lines and, as a leader, you have to check that discussion are appropriate. But you also need to track evidence of any issue. Otherwise, people will likely think that your decision was not fair (see 1) and/or legit.
Building communities: example by failure, Swissvale Crime Watch