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Jonathan Barnes

Social engineering is a harsh phrase to use, but I'm not sure I disagree.
It'd be interesting if somebody did an analysis of downtown Pittsburgh residential trends from say, 1900-present.
They'd probably learn that the city was the most successful when some of the fewest numbers of people lived there, because space was so expensive that only businesses could afford to locate there.
Was downtown Pittsburgh ever a real residential center, even 250 years ago?

Jonathan Potts

I think the problem is that people have confused cause with effect. People look around at their crumbling cities, and the most obvious symbol is their downtowns. So they assume that the deterioration of their central business district is a cause of their other problems, when in reality it is just one more symptom.

I've written a couple of articles about the subject of Downtown housing, one for the now-defunct Pulp and another, an op-ed, for the Trib. The problem with subsidizing Downtown housing is that you'd be competing with other upscale, and often subsidized, projects throughout the city.

It's also worth noting, as Pitt's Chris Briem pointed out to me for my Pulp story, that the closest thing Downtown Pittsburgh ever had to a residential neighborhood was the lower Hill District, which was of course bulldozed in the name of urban redevelopment. The irony would be laughable if it weren't so sad, and if our local leaders didn't seem incapable of learning from their failed past.

Jim Ferguson

Part of the explanation for this modern trend to try and pull residents into urban centers is a combination of Urban Planners and Land Use academics believing that they are (1) reinvigorating the cities, (2) reducing the population pressures on surrounding undeveloped land (less sprawl ... and thus explaining where these people are coming from!), and (3) that if we can turn all of us into city-dwelling, non-commuting or at least mass-transit riding employees who live within walking distance of most of our amenities, that we'll be a gentler, kinder, greener bunch of citizens .... and a hell of a lot easier to control and manipulate.

Jonathan Potts

Well, there are plenty of good reasons to encourage people to live in higher-density, walkable environments, whether in cities or in small towns. But this is no way to go about it. In fact, instead of more government programs, we need to eliminate those that have contributed to the decline of our cities and that have promoted sprawl. In fact, a range of government policies have encouraged the growth of auto-centric communities.

Sean McDaniel

Why shouldn't Downtown living be encouraged? After all, haven't Americans been staking their claims in the most unlikely of spots for, oh, the last 230 years or so?

Sure, historically, Downtown was never a heavily residential area once the industrial age hit full steam here (though there was a blighted little neighborhood near the Point that endured into the 20th century — with families even setting up living quarters in the blockhouse). But does that mean the situation can't change?

Actually, I'd love to see Dowtown become a rather ritzy neighborhood. Despite what many city politicos and urban planners believe, I don't think Downtown should include "affordable" living space. New York, San Francisco, Boston and other towns seem to do well with prices set my the market. Maybe instead of dinner at Max and Erma's, we could enjoy breakfast at Tiffany's.

Trust me, I could barely afford even the most "affordable" of the new housing under construction in the Golden Triangle. But then again, I don't have the cash to change my address to Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Frick Park and other tony enclaves within the city limits. You live where you can pay the mortgage or rent. (I know I got off the point there, sorry.)

Truth is, a lot of people do want to live Downtown because they work there or want to be close to the Strip or Cultural District or PNC Park or Heinz Field. Many are Baby Boomer hitting their mid to late 50s, empty nesters settling in downsized abodes. For whatever reasons, they believe in a brighter future.

As for draining people away from other neighborhoods, so what?A return to the city would be nice. A reverse migration of sorts. I have no problem with anyone from Cranberry or Monroeville or Upper St. Clair calling Downtown home. And if they can afford it, then anyone from Bloomfield, Allentown, Brookline and other locations can head towards the Point. When they do, that means more people might be able to find "affordable" housing within the city, in one of those more authentic spots.

And for the record...of course Pittsburgh was a real residential center when it started. The city grew outward from the Point. Over the years, it became a center of commerce, entertainment and business. The industrial age is over. And I'm not sure how an new industrial age will take root unless people are willing to do some very tough manual labor for Wal-Mart wages. Can you brief me on that?

One last thing that we all seem to agree on...keep out any type of government invovlement.

Sean McDaniel

Just curious...one of the posters mentioned something about auto-centric communities. How many of you get around town in any other way besides jumping in a car? Is it possible ride a bike to work...or to the corner store (if there is one near you)? How often do you walk to the barber shop or post office? And to be honest, how easy is it to move about in this area without a car, regardless of the neighborhood? It can be done. But the figurative and literal roads are tough to navigate. Despite my feelings about government involvement screwing up things more than it helps...some assistance from the politicians with setting up more and better bike paths would make a huge difference in lessening that reliance on gas guzzlers.

Aside from Bloomfield, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Southside and maybe a handful of the city's other 80-plus neighborhoods offer very few amenities within walking distance of most homes. Maybe that's just one more reason to hope that Downtown becomes a great place to live (other than under the Bridges near the Point).

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