For years, Pittsburgh supporters pointed to Gateway Center and a few other projects as evidence that the “Renaissance” constituted one of the great rebirths in the history of cities. That is no longer a comfortable assumption. And that is good news.
There were always detractors. The Trib’s Bill Steigerwald challenged the conventional redevelopment wisdom in Reason magazine, with an article headlined “Death by Wrecking Ball,” in 2000. But things really picked up after the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision earlier this year. Local-boy John Tierney used his platform as a New York Times columnist to smash the Pittsburgh Renaissance story to bits. (AntiRust discussed that flare up here and here.)
Now the chorus is rising. Bloggers like Jonathan Potts, Mike Madison and Mark Rauterkus are beginning to slam the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the entity long responsible for the region’s revitalization. It is interesting to note that these bloggers are not only calling the agency’s future plans into question: Thoughtful people are finally challenging the notion that these schemes were effective in the first place. Mr. Potts says it well:
Pittsburgh has never needed what the conference has had to offer, and I would submit that the conference has accomplished little, if anything, of lasting value to this region.
Oh, sure, the conference may be able to point to Pittsburgh's alleged "Renaissance." It can claim responsibility for the Point and Gateway Center. But this is nothing but a pretty postcard. Look closer, and it is empty. Pittsburgh's population slide has continued unabated for as long as the conference has been around, and nothing it has proposed as of late--Fifth and Forbes, the convention center, the stadiums--will change that.
But this is even more important than people in Pittsburgh waking up from a long slumber. Pittsburgh’s Renaissance has been used as a model for redevelopment across the country for decades. Isn’t it important that, upon further analysis, the project that inspired all the others turns out to have been a miserable failure?
I think so.
Will that change anything?
Not a chance.
Last, and at great risk, perhaps: Is it safe, finally, to question the notion that Gateway Center and Point State Park constitute a "pretty postcard"? I went down there with the wife a few weeks back. It was a lovely day, but she was singularly unimpressed. Sure, the fountain was nice. But a lot of other elements are falling apart. That would be fine (neither of us is an experienced world traveler) if it had not been for the accompanying hassles. Parking was a nightmare. Not because the garage was full. Just because nothing was marked and nothing made sense. There was no attendant, so we had to pay before we went up to the car. One of the kids started crying and caused a delay, so by the time we got to the gate my payment was no good anymore. But the car was in line and a traffic jam had piled up behind me. So they kept honking at my wife and kids while I ran down to pay the machine again. All that so I can see, what, a Max & Erma's? I don't think so.
Sure, it looks great from Mount Washington. And regionally-minded folks love putting such images on calenders and posters. But is Point State Park all that useful for people living in Pittsburgh? I admit, many people love it and there is a lot to do there if you have the time. So I guess it is a real resource. But is it such a great resource, so unmistakably stupendous, that it should have launched a thousand similar development projects around the country that, collectively, have cost hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars?
At least Mr Steigerwald, Mr. Tierney and a few lonely bloggers are beginning to ask such questions.