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Sean McDaniel

Basically, we're on the same page here. I don't think that PNC Bank should get any funding to build a newsstand in front of its HQ on Fifth and Wood, let alone a high-touch high rise. As for the Shadyside developers losing out to subsidized projects, a few of them are involved Downtown as well and holding their own.

As for that bus ride of yours to Oakland...seems to me that you're riding on my dime. That $1.75 fare is artificially low thanks to government money (that's my taxes). What exactly might that ride cost if subsidies were pulled? I ride a bike, thousands and thousands of miles a year, mostly in and around the city and surrounding neighborhoods. Part of what government does is build roads (or bike paths) for its citizens. But it doesn't have to give them the wheels (or cheap rides) to travel on them.

Maybe that sounds harsh. But how much government funding do you take out of any project? I once worked with a guy who made $200,000 a year but didn't want to pay for Downtown parking. So he rode a bus. His route served a higher end North Hills neighborhood with a more convenient schedule (more runs, fewer stops) than my bus route, which was closer to the city. Plus, most of the people on my ride tended to be less fortunate finacially — and might have been able to pay for a car let alone ridiculous parking rates. The question is this, should I foot the bill for anyone — affluent or not — to ride the bus anywhere?

Back to the bike stuff. I mostly ride for pleasure (and to satisfy my inner Lance Armstrong). But I also ride to shop in the Strip, to see my dentist in Sewickley, to visit friends perched on the godforesaken hilltops above the South Side, to spend way too much money at Whole Foods in East Liberty, to work in the city and to take in a game at PNC or hunt for cheap tickets for events at Heinz Field, Mellon Arena and other venues. You can't imagine how many free beers I can get before a Steelers game.

An article in last Sunday's PG (my paper of choice) discussed the city's slowly (painfully so) growing network of bikeways. While the writer touted all the recreational benefits, he barely touched on the practical side. Until people understand that a bike can be something more than a toy or a way to "get outside" once a month on a river trail, two-wheeled transportation will be considered as nothing more than child's play. And by the way, I think every ride is recreational, regardless of the purpose or destination or weather.

I'm not sure that most people don't want to walk, pedal or bus it. I think they just don't even begin to consider it because of the inconvenience, for the most part. A week ago or so, some environmentalist type wrote an article in the PG about decreasing America's oil addiction by improving gas mileage efficiency and developing alternative fuel. But he never touched on lessening our dependency on cars. Even big oil people will tell you that we're running out of crude — fast. The cheap, easy to find stuff is gone. New reserves are more difficult to locate and operate. But no one talks about ways to use our cars less.


When my son was younger (maybe 4 or so) he overheard my wife and talking about making a paycheck stretch for a little longer than we anticipated. Of course, he wanted to be helpful and said, "Why don't you just get more money from the bank machine?" My son still doesn't understand the concept of limited bank funds (he's 19 now), just as many Americans (and billions of Chinese and Indians) don't believe that oil supplies will never stop flowing freely (and relatively cheaply).

Really, isn't time to get back to Downtown, the North Side (another story entirely), South Side, Bloomfield and other neighborhoods where more services, necessities and activities could be within walking distance — or at least a shorter drive?

Sam M

Sean,

That's a fair question regarding whether or not it is OK for a free-market type such as myself to take the heavily subsidized bus. It's the kind of question people like me struggle with all the time. And the best I can offer is that I can only take it on a case-by-case basis. For instance, I don't think I would take a job with a heavily subsidized economic development agency. But I took out subsidized student loans to go to college. I have gone without health insurance in the past, despite the fact that I probably would have qualified for assistance. But I take my kids to Frick park. Etc.

Hypocritical? You bet. But short of moving to some libertarian utopia (which doesn't seem to exist) I don't see another way. Let's say I decide to drive to work. I would be using the roads and very likelyt parking in a subsidized garage. Or I ride a bike on a government-built trail. No matter what I do, I seem to be sucking as the teat of socialism. Could I save up and buy my own 40 acres? I guess so. But wouldn't that 40-acres be defended by the same army that defends my less laissez-faire minded fellow citizens?

So like I said, I try to live my life with some ideals in mind. But I also try to live my life.

So back to the bus: I suppose I "pay" for it, after a fashion. I have a free pass because I study and work at Pitt. It's part of my pay. But of course Pitt gets some percentage of its funding from the state. (Despite the fact that the university is on the verge of finishing off a $1 billion fundraising campaign.) And of course, even if I was paying full freight, there are those PAT subsidies.

So what would the free market charge me for bus fair? I don't know. maybe it would cost the government more in roads and garages if I drove. maybe not. But I'll tell you what: If you support a proposal to readjust transit policies so as to make each person pay market rates, I'll be happy to pay it. And if I can't afford it, I'll readjust my life accordingly.

As it stands, things are so convoluted that no one knows what anything costs. For anything.

Like I said, that poses a real problem for anyone who favors market solutions. Our economy is less and less based on market forces. And to live your life, you have to "accept" some of the things government is "offering." And when you do, you open yourself to charges of hypocrisy. Different people approach the problem in different ways. And I doubt any of them are really satisfied with how they manage. I know I'm not. But then again, I don't run the Port Authority.

Sean McDaniel

Sam,

Don't even start to ask me about the conflicts of interest in my life. I understand the difficult choices we all face every day. No one these days can lead a pure life. I have a nephew who's a vegan because he believes that meat-eaters (that happily includes me) are helping to ruin the environment because of excessive cattle grazing. He feels the world would better off (and the environment too) if we all turned to veggie-only diets. Of course, he overlooks the issues of finding that tremendously large pool of cheap labor needed to grow and harvest all that green growth. But then again, he can do that from his lofty academic post at Purdue U (and a tidy bundle of money from his parents).

Me? Like I said, there are inconsistencies in my life. Some of my clients are the corporate giants everyone likes to blame for the ruination of this world. Then again, I do pay all my health care ($1,000-plus monthly), taxes, retirement funds and all the other things employers often take care of or help with.When I have a slow day, week or month, my income reflects it. I can't count on a stable paycheck every two weeks. But that's the choice I've made (with the help of my last employer who decided that I wasn't quite the right fit for his company). And overall it works out better than any real job I've ever had.

No, I'm not a conservative or even a libertarian. I'd still call myself a liberal. But I think it's time to start teaching personal responsibility at an early age. The government can't be surrogate parents starting at the age of 18 years. I would love to see people shop for medical insurance in the same way that they buy a car or a new flat screen TV or cell phone.

By the way, I'm starting to notice a trend here...a lot of you good steward bloggers work for local universities...which contribute very little to the tax base and rely on the government for a ton of money. As much as I love Panthers basketball (and I'm a big Jamie Dixon fan), I shudder when I see that the coach's salary is $600,000 — not to mention what Wannstedt makes along with all the bigwig admins.

I enjoy the conversation.

Jonathan Barnes

Sean,
Including Sam, I can think of at least four "good steward bloggers" in Pittsburgh who work for local universities. They are all good writers and excellent bloggers.
But I agree that it seems hypocritical that these folks who make a living from government-subsidized nonprofit businesses will complain about TIFs, since they also are the indirect recipients of government cash.

Sam M

Sean and Jonathan,

I agree that it does seem hypocritical. My problem is that I don't really know what to do about it other than become some kind of hermit. Look at a "private" school like Harvard or MIT or Carnegie Mellon. They get a a tremendous amount of money from the government in the form of grants, in both the sciences and the humanities. So say you want to teach or be an academic. Seems like you're out of luck unless you can get a spot at, say, Grove City or Hillsdale. (Those are the only two schools I can think of that are pretty hardcore about free-market stuff.) And if those schools don't offer a program in your field? Ouch.

So I guess one might forego academia. But in favor of what? Let's say I decide to become an uber-capitalist financier and take a job with, say PNC. I guess I would have had to quit that job, too, now that PNC is feeding at the public trough for its new skyscraper. Moreover, as a banker, would it be legitimate for me to, say, buy and sell government bonds for my clients? Invest in companies like Lockheed Martin? Invest in companies that sell to those companies? Etc.

So banking is out. Maybe I move out west and live off the land. Except the feds own most of it. So I guess I would have to buy some. But I would have to make money first. In a system that would force me to feed at the public trough in one way or another. And I would either have to pay taxes on that property or go to jail. So again, I would be forced to play in the market, by rules set by the government.

It is the kind of thing that free-market types have to get used to. The system, as it is, forces certain trade-offs. As another example, let's say I want to forego Social Security and provide for myself. Well, the government won't exactly let me opt out. So I have that much less to play with every month. And I do have kids to feed. So... When 2030 rolls around, will it be hypocritical of me to cash the check (assuming that one comes)? In a way, I guess so. On the other hand, the feds took it from me in the first place. And very likely earned less of a return on it than I would have. So...

All very difficult questions. In the meantime, I guess at least some portion of my pay comes from that trough. If anyone wants to talk about cutting off that line of funding, I'd support it. After all, Pitt just raised about $1 billion on its own. It's not exactly hurting.

Sean McDaniel

Just so you know...

I wasn't calling anyone hypocritical. These days, it's nearly impossible to get around some degree of government subsidy in your life. My point is, don't pontificate (too much) about big brother's largess to others if you are a little brother willing to take a handout because it suits your needs.

There are inconsistences in everyone's beliefs. My feeling is, at least admit them (no, you don't have to apologize). And make sure that there's not too much of a mixed message. For expample...

There's a guy in my neighborhood who has a bumer sticker that reads "My job is to piss off conservatives." As far as that stuff goes, it's not too clever or smart. Especially since it's on the back of his goddamned, big-asSUV. The sort of unintentional irony could draw a deep belly laugh from Dick Cheney.

People who live in glass houses really do need to draw the shades sometimes. Just to see the light.

zp

Whoa. I've been away awhile and things get really heavy. Some thoughts on why I've been away, when I find AntiRust so darn right so much of the time. I think I drifted off because sometimes the arguments finally rest on claims like this:

"But what of the fact that it seems clear that most people do not want to live that way? They might say they want to. But where do they move? When people build, where do they build? What do they build? I don't want to live that way. But a whole lot of people do. They love their McMansions. They love their SUVs. They love their space, their backyards instead of their front yards, their daycare, their insulated lives. THEY LOVE IT. Again, I don't. But this puts us in something of a conundrum."

The language is fuzzy, "it seems clear," and addresses that most fuzzy of all statistical problems, "what people want." Even reading statistics on what people do doesn't really tell us what people want. And finally, I think this argument sidesteps the possibility that ex-urban development IS, in various direct and indirect ways, financed by local and national goverment policies . . .

As Sean suggests here (and I've added my two cents),

"it's nearly impossible to get around some degree of government subsidy in your life. [clearly, ex-urbs are not exactly making a "choice" based on what the "want" but rather they are encouraged to or are] willing to take a handout because it suits [their] needs." And doesn't look or feel like a handout.

Anyhoo, I'm glad a debate confronts these issues is going on . . .

Sam M

ZP,

Welcome back. And well said. Although I wonder where to go after: "Even reading statistics on what people do doesn't really tell us what people want."

I suppose that's right, after a fashion. I suppose some people really do want to lead a life different than the one they lead, and in a lot of cases they are responding to nefarious forces beyond their control. But I am less cynical than that in the final analysis.

That is, I know a whole lot of people who live in the burbs with the SUV and the McMansion. And a few of them do lament the loss of "traditional communities" and claim to want a different life. But that's a distinct minority. The fact of the matter is, most of those people I know, while I admit that is a selective group, perhaps, have weighed the trade-offs. And they like where they live. They like the big house. Why? I don't really know. But they love it. And when they get a chance, they trade up to a bigger one. Not to impress me or anyone else. In most cases they do something with the space. They have bathrooms the size of my house. Game rooms. Home gyms. Offices. They have televisions that are 64-inches across. And would get bigger ones if they could afford them.

Why don't they live downtown? We might blame government short-sightedness that let the schools falter. Or crime. But this much I know: Most people my age would rather move to a foreign country than live in the rowhouses that were home to hundreds of thousands of large families in an older city like Baltimore.

Sure, a few people make the switch. They will refurb the places. For a few years. Then they buy two acres in the jingweeds, build a McMansion and birth their 2.1 children. Remember, these are people with the most choices. Not people with the least. This is what people want, I think, in a critically important way. Ever see an episode of MTV's Cribs? See a lot of character there? They could live downtown if they wanted to. They don't want to.

Go out to Cranberry and ask around. Do you really think those people want a tiny little two level like the one I live in in Swissvale? Clinging to the very top of a hill? Even though it is basically free compared to what they call home, and is only minutes from their job downtown?

I don't know how to answer that question other than to observe that they are free to make that change but don't.

Yes, they talk a lot about hating Walmart. Then they shop there. So are we to assume that they really hate Walmart? They are free to go to the mom and pop place. But what no one wants to talk about is that price is not the only thing Walmart has on mom and pop. They have selection. And they are open when people want to shop. So yes, they hate Walmart in theory. And they want mom and pop to stay open. Everyone knows how to keep mom and pop open. Shop there. But they don't. So mom and pop close.

So maybe you are right. Maybe people really don't like the way they live. But it seems quite clear that they are not willing to change their habits in ways to affect that change. Which strikes me as the same sort of thing. What they like is convenience. And size. And sterility. And that's what they demand. And that's what they get.

As a little anecdote, I might also talk a bit about restaurants. Yes, everyone claims to love the little hole in the wall. But they go to Applebees. How do we know? Applebees is growing. The holes in the wall are closing.

Which makes me wonder of people really like the holes in the wall. I thought it was universally accepted that people do. Until I met my wife, who is from outside DC. She has no interest whatsoever in holes in the wall. Give her a Ruby Tuesday. She knows what she'll get. And that's what she likes. No surprises. No local color. She wants to try what she sees on the commercials. So she does.

And she feels the same way about housing. If she could pick out any house in the city and live there free of charge and bring whatever school she could into the picture--she would live in Cranberry. She loves it. It's what she is used to.

I can bitch all I want about character, but what I fail to realize sometimes is that Crannberry has character. It's just not character I like.

But other people do.

Ever see one of those shows about "regular folks" who win the lottery? Ever see them buy a nice rowhouse downtown for their family? Me neither. Is there any reason to think they want one but don't buy it? I can't think of any.

Either way, Like you, I appreciate the discussion.

Update: A few graphs up I wrote"seems quite clear" again. Sorry. But it seems quite clear. Take a book like David Shi's "Simple Life," which discusses America's historic appreciation for, well, the Simple Life. Every generation has its particular move in that direction. And every generation leaves them in the dust. For instance, there are not a lot of people living in shacks on Walden Pond. But there are a lot of people talking about how much they would love to. And not doing it.

Sean McDaniel

Sure I'd love a cabin on Walden's Pond (or on Golden Pond), but I'd want to have wireless internet connection, digital cable so I can watch the Sopranos on demand (endlessly) and the usual luxuries such as gas,electric and water. I'm not much for that twice-warmed wood chopping theory. Sure, I'd bike as much as I could, just as I do now. And I'd certainly want enough space for my iPod, 4 bikes, cookware, books and those things that seem near and dear. Square footage? About 1500 feet would do. By the way, I have a brother in VA, near DC, who lives in a 3,300 square feet...or about 1,100 sq. ft. for each for him, his wife and 3-year-old ...because his old home (2,220 sq. ft) was too small. On the other hand, that's still cramped compared to my environmentally minded sister-in-law who finds shelter in her 2,500 sq. ft. home. At least my brother-in-law in NC doesn't seem to find any contradictions living in his 3,000 square foot golf retirement pad, just off the 7th green. I don't care where people live or how.

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