Yesterday's Post-Gazette ran an optimistic story about downtown's new condo building. It includes this familiar--and frustratingly vague--statement about who will live there:
Mr. Falbo is hoping to build off the success of 151 First Side, Downtown's first new condominium building since 1968. He has sold 62 of 82 units in the high rise, with the bulk running from $350,000 to $450,000. About 23 buyers have moved into the building so far. Forty percent of all buyers have been from out of town.
Seeing that so many of the downtown projects are receiving public support, it helps to know these statistics. But the "40 percent of all buyers" figure is to squishy to tell us anything. What does "out of town" mean? Does "town" mean "region," or "city limits"? Moreover, the percentage of "buyers" is less important than the percentage of actual "residents." If some speculator from Upper Topeka buys eight condos and rents them out to a bunch of guys who currently live in Shadyside, that doesn't do the city a whole lot of good in terms of new people or new taxes or vitality, etc.
If you think that's quibbling, it's not. Other city's, such as Baltimore, have made serious efforts to define who is moving where. I mention one effort here:
New downtown residents are predominantly young, white and highly educated, with household incomes of $50,000 or more, the report found. Nearly three of every four come from out of state.
"The new residents are fairly different than what the Census shows for Baltimore City, but the downtown area is much different from other areas of Baltimore City," said Matthew Kachura, a research analyst for the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, which surveyed 470 new downtown residents.
I am sure Ralph Falbo is a nice fellow and an honest man. But it doesn't make sense to rely on him for these kinds of statistics. A clear assessment of what's happening downtown--and who should pay for it--requires an independent actor to do the asking. This is basic stuff: How many of the people moving downtown have simply moved there from other city neighborhoods?
Hello? Pittsburgh Post-Gazette? One of the universities?
Note that this is the first condo building in Pittsburgh since 1968. And tweaking Falbo's numbers reveals that a full 60 percent of all buyers are NOT from "out of town." Would an objective observer expect future condo developments to attract more out-of-towners or fewer? I am open to any explanation anyone is willing to offer. But I remain flabbergasted that nobody is asking any of these questions. These developers continue to promise that their projects draw a substantial interest from people in suburbia and even farther afield. But do they?
People ask in other places. Why not here? We are renowned for our "world-class development institutions" and "one of America's great newspapers." But all seem curiously un-curious in this regard.