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sean mcdaniel

Piatt's remarks do seem contradictory. But maybe he's seen the light. Or maybe he realizes that Nordstrom's is out of the picture now, so why mention it anymore. Either way, business follows people, most times. So if the people do move to downtown, then business might come too.

Anyway, as far as developers ruining places with malls and schemes such as the E. Liberty pedestrian shopping section or Allegheny Center on the N. Side, let's agree that Fifth and Forbes are in pretty bad shape already, and probably in much worse condition than E. Lib and N.Side were 35-40 years ago. Something needs to be done. And even when Piatt and others make the right noises about development, you and other bloggers still sound off.

As for the Crate & Barrel next to the dry cleaners...I guess you don't travel to NYC much. Maybe the "exact" scenario doesn't happen there, but you can find plenty of instances of a high-end stores or restaurants standing next to a fruit stand, deli or dry cleaner. And that sort of thing is part of what makes New York fun to visit and a great place to live (and let's not debate that last point here).

So what if the Fifth Forbes is a high-end retail mecca for Crate and Barrel and whatever other stores scare the hell out of you? There are plenty of places outside of that district that aren't part of any national chain. Hell, once people are in the city, they might walk a few blocks in any direction to find some of those "charming" and "authentic" spots. You know, like the hot dog shop on smithfield which is next to the Villa Real pizza place, which is across the street from the Smithfield Street Cafe, which has been there since the 1930s. Sure, there's a Barnes and Noble on the same block, but have you visited S.W. Randall's toy store lately? It really is truly charming (even if the help tends to be a bit cranky.)

And if you really need the lowest common denominator of charm, you could always visit two of the remaining porn shops and Club E (which is on the same block as CAPA and Dowe's jazz club and around the corner from the Benedum). Do you need directions?

I pointed out in a previous post that I'd be more than willing to take you on a downtown tour of places that offer a certain kind of charm and diversity — and all of it local. But I guess that see the proof in person might not be good fodder for your rants.

Seriously, what do you want? Where's your plan or even a suggestion? As I said on that other post about this stuff, instead of bitching about what you don't want, why not band together with others (like me) to keep all the major players honest — and let them know what we all want for downtown — class, variety and success (unless that last item would be just too much for you to swallow.)

Sam M

Sean,

Crate and Barrel doesn't scare me. And I am not sure how you got that impression. Nordstrom does not scare me. The Waterfront does not scare me. South Side Works does not scare me.

What scares me is that a set of institutions that have been responsible for a series of urban planning debacles are still in charge of Pittsburgh's urban planning.

Again, I do not doubt that there is charm downtown. Or that you could show me some. But you seem to insist that "charm exists" means that "urban planners can build more charm." Remember, I'm not the one saying that they can. They are. And their version of success depends on their ability to do so.

And yes, the Forbes Fifth corridor is a terrible, terrible wreck. You seem to have faith that a broad coalition including city government, the URA, the Allegheny Conference and a few others can fix it.

Well, why does it need fixed? Maybe because that same exact coalition bought up all the properties and let them sit empty.

No? You say that it was a crap hole before that? Well, whose crap hole was it? The Allegheny Conference has been revitalizing that corridor since the 1940s.

You say I don't have a plan. But I do.

An auction. Sell the property off to the highest bidder. Then give it 60 years. Would the population of the city fall to 150,000 over that time period? If so, then the Renaissance I propose would have been exactly as successful as the first two. And mine would have cost zero in terms of studies, subsidies and political capital.

Maybe the auction can't happen. If not, then I propose a study of my own: An open and honest study of the effects of Pittsburgh's "leadership" in urban revitalization. Why? Here's why:

People constantly gripe about the fact that people here can't "let go" of the Big Steel era. But in my mind that has been replaced by a far more nefarious nostalgia for "Renaissance." Scroll back to my post about the new "Proud Pittsburgh" website. One of the first posts exulted that "Renaissance III is Here!" Or see for yourself here:

http://proudpittsburgh.com/blog/2006/04/pittsburgh-commercial-construction-up.html

God help us.

Every once in a while the Post-Gazette does it too. See here:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05356/626108-192.stm

I am not saying you can't be an optimist. But I do think a bit of realism is in order. Urban revitalization has not worked. We need to undo it. Not redo it.

And I am not at all sure why you think "success" would be tough for me to swallow. In fact, I'll swallow it if any one of the leaders will define what it would look like and promise to resign from whatever position he or she holds in ten years if that "success" has not been achieved.

Because I'll tell you what: Go back to 1945 with a crystal ball. Show people what downtown Pittsburgh looks like today. And see if they would have been willing to pay what they paid for that kind of Renaissance.

Air's cleaner. Sure. Great work. Although it might be time for someone to point out that that would have happened anyway. You know. When all the steel mills closed and everyone moved away.

So yes. I would love to keep the people honest. But what does that mean? They won't define what success means. They won't even say what Piatt is paying for the buildings.

Sorry, that doesn't inspire confidence in me.

sean mcdaniel

Actually an auction's not a bad idea. Might have worked, in fact. But it's beyond that point now. Anyway, Bob O'Connor is a different guy than Tom Murphy. If this plan falls through, I don't think we'll see Big Bob reduced to tears like Tiny Tom when the first baseball park initiative fell through. And if you look around, you will notice that the city is undoing some of the damage caused in the 1960s — hint, look at East Liberty. Before Whole Foods moved there, E. Lib was someplace I drove through (quickly) to get to the Gatto bike shop in Point Breeze. Now, I go (way out of my way) to Whole Foods and a couple of the restaurants there — and even events at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. No, I don't buy Africana items from the street vendors or hip hop mix CDs from the rap stores, but the diversity is there — if that's the type of variety you think is vital.

As for the Renaissance III revelers, I think their heads are just buried in a different place than yours. While they see what might be an unrealistically sunny future, you remain focused on the dark failures of the past. Maybe you both need to look at the here and now that isn't some sort of unreasonable, fixed vision.

You so right about urban revitalization failing in the past. And here's why it did...because the effort was centered on a group of people who didn't have the resources to fuel its economic engine. Housing projects have always been for the poor — whatever their color. In fact, the area's first projects were home to mostly white people. But as I said, they were people with barely enough money to get by, let alone help their local economy thrive.

That being said, the people who are and will be moving downtown do have money — and plenty of it. They won't helplessly watch their neighborhood deteriorate — or participate in its decline.In fact, if these new downtown dwellers are locked into 30 year mortgages, they'll have to stick with it. It's kind of hard to cut and ran on a $500,000 condo.And if they're in it for the long haul, businesses that open in the area will mainly cater to their needs and tastes, replacing the ones that now draw a clientele whose behavior keeps honest, decent people of all kinds off Fifth and Forbes.

I don't have a crystal ball to predict the future. But maybe Bob O'Connor has the balls to do something that will create a better Downtown for tomorrow.

Jonathan Potts

Why is it "beyond that point now?" I mean, I understand that it is beyond that point because that is not what the people in charge want. But why is it a bad idea?

sean mcdaniel

It's beyond that point now because it's just too damn late. and i think that corridor needs and deserves special attention and planning.

as i said before it's the difference between asking your friends over to bring a covered dish for a fourth of july cookout and hiring an event planner for big bash wedding. one can be potluck, but the other requires careful attention.

Sam M

Sean,

You seem to be adding two and two and getting five.

At one stage you say we are stuck with this planning process because "it's too late" for anything else. Which might be the case, for better or worse.

But then you seem to endorse that very process, not as an unfortunate inevitability, but as a necessity.

My question is, WHY is planning necessary? And why planning at that level? Doesn't simple zoning amount to "planning," albeit planning at a distance? Why in this case does the city need to own the property, sell it, and decide which buyer gets to build what?

Was Greenwich Village planned in that fashion? Bloomfield? South Philly? Maybe I am wrong, but I don't think that's how those charming little places happened. So why does it have to happen that way now? What is it about upscale retail that demands the guiding hand of bureaucrats?

Take a look at the history of Saks Fifth Avenue. It was originally just Saks. it was down on 34th Street in NYC. But then the Gimbels got some balls and said, "Know what, we're going somewhere else. Where the rich people are."

And so they went further uptown. And others came with them. Voila. Development. Of the upscale retail variety.

Now, I am sure there were some urban shenanigans involved. Some dealing between the Chamber of Commerce and the store owners. Who knows? But I am not aware that NYC appointed an upscale retail guru and gave that person exclusive development rights to a huge chunk of the city.

Sure, times change. But how have they changed in such a way as to demand the more bureaucratic approach?

Look, everyone agrees people want to live downtown. Great. If that's true, let people build apartments. Condos.

And everyone agrees that once that "neighborhood" is in place, retailers will clamor to serve them.

So let them.

Unless, of course, you don't really believe the premises.

sean mcdaniel

i think planning is necessary because the area is too far gone for a recovery on its own. one because the URA owns too much property. Two, even if the URA started auctioning or selling of the property, whose to say that the guy who already owns the three adjacent urban wear stores on wood street won't buy more and bring in more of the same? a proliferation of those places is a sure fire guarantee that the upscale housing developments will fail...and drive the final stake through the heart of that area.

i ask j. potts this question a few weeks ago, maybe you can answer it now...when was the last time you strolled along the avenue with your best girl?

Sam M

Sean,

You ask,

"Whose to say that the guy who already owns the three adjacent urban wear stores on wood street won't buy more and bring in more of the same?"

First answer: Lucas Piatt. He says he sees potential downtown. Potential to make money. Who wins a bidding war between Piatt and our urban-wear friend?

Second answer: I don't care. Let's say Piatt doesn't want to take the risk and the urban-wear guy gets his buildings. Then makes a go of it. Well, why isn't that a viable neighborhood? He's obviously serving somebody. Our leaders seem to think that there is only one use for downtown: Upscale retail and residential. Nevermind that this is about the fifth version of their exclusive vision over the past 60 years.

Besides, where do you think all these upscale people are going to come from? Are you submitting that they will all be new? That if 10,000 people move into the Forbes-Fifth Corridor, that the city's population will rise by that exact amount?

Or do you think they might move from somewhere else. Displace the urban-wear business and the people it serves. Who will of course move into neighborhoods made marginal by fancy lads moving downtown.

So what we are really doing is shifting people out of one zip code and into another.

Why?

As for strolling with the best girl, we don't stroll anymore. We sprint. New twins and all.

We went downtown to the Point once, by the way. Because I thought I might as well enjoy the Park, one of the few successful elements of the Renaissance.

Uh, turns out it wasn't all that successful. Parking was a mess. The place was falling apart. A great big hassle, all told. I'd much rather live in Regent Square.

But that's just me.

sean mcdaniel

actually, there will be some distribution of population. who knows, it might draw some people back from the burbs into squirrel hill or parts of oakland or wherever the rich bastards moving downtown are leaving behind. even better, i actually know of a few people from cranberry who are moving into the city...so there might not be a mass exodus from the east end. just think, after years of people moving to those sinister suburbs and their big box malls, the flow will be reversed. (by the way, you know that the region's metro population has remained relatively stable for years. we've just been shifting people around all that time. even 25 years ago, a lot of cranberry was rural and sparsely populated. whether we shuffled the deck to get people there are actually added more cards into the deal...the people —if not the truth — are out there)

second, as for the urban wear guy versus piatt ... i don't think piatt's customers will be gunning down each other in midday on wood street. sure elsie hillman and teresa heinz might haggle over come on, you know what i'm talking about. sure, the urban wear guy is serving a market...but so is the liberty avenue state store that caters to the thunderbird crowd. hey, you think they'll close that down when the african american museum opens across the street?

as for why i think all this might work...here's my answer...in your words...

Lucas Piatt. He says he sees potential downtown. Potential to make money.

man, where i come from, that's a good sign! but that's just me.

P.S. Point State Park sucks for any number of reasons whenever there's not an event there. And it's the most user-unfriendly park in the world.you'll get no argument from me on that one. hey, wanna have a beer sometime at the hot dog place in your neighborhood?

sean mcdaniel

one other thing...i don't think enough "fancy lads" could move from squirrel hill, mt. lebo, regent square, fox chapel, and on and on to downtown to cause such a drop in population and real estate that the urban wear crowd could move into the empty homes and storefronts. come on, man. be realistic. we're not talking about displacing thousands of people from the hill who moved to homes in n. side or east liberty that struggling blue collar whites sold off for their post-war cape cod brick houses in whitehall and shaler and kennedy township.

i was part of the n. side white flight. everyone on my block was white...until that one black family moved in. then we all fled and fast. for 40 years, i watched my n.side home — and those all around it, even beech street — deteriorate. but guess what, today, my old house is on the market for $175,000. and people in that neighborhood are white, black, and asian. and yeah, there's still a hell of a lot of grit there. ever eat at lindo's on western ave.? you can actually taste the grit in the food they serve...or here we go on tour again, you might join me for a beer at the shamrock cafe...or bump into the PG's brian o'neill at the olde allegheny sandwich shoppe...or take the twins to the snow cone guy at west park, whose been serving sweet cool treats there "since your dad was a lad."

The problem is, Sam, i don't think you venture too far afield from braddock avenue (I love the anti-santorum cookies at the bakery and breakfast at the circle in the square cafe) or the cathedral of learning. you ought to put that free bus pass to better use. You could learn a lot more about this town by actually seeing it firsthand than by what you're reading in the PG. seriously, how much do you really know about this town. I'm starting to wonder.

sean mcdaniel

once again, i apologize for numerous typos. that's the result of too much drinking and thinking.

Sam M

Sean,

You wrote:

"I don't think enough "fancy lads" could move from squirrel hill, mt. lebo, regent square, fox chapel, and on and on to downtown to cause such a drop in population and real estate that the urban wear crowd could move into the empty homes and storefronts. come on, man. be realistic."

OK. So where would they go? I just saw a feature on KDKA the other night detailing some of the new downtown condos. They go for something like $1.2 million a pop. I assume the people already living downtown are not going to transfer into those kinds of places.

So are we assuming that they are all just going to die? To shrivel up? Because those are the options: Move somewhere else, move into the new high-end places or die.

I am not saying that this is going to be an exact trade, that every empty McMansion in Cranberry is going to become home to a current city dweller. That's not how it works. Fact is, no one knows how it works. But it might go something like this: People who are currently right on the cusp of being able to afford that McMansion will find a few of them empty and within reach. So they will disperse "upwards." And a few people a notch below them will eventually move into the places they left. And so on an so on, until we get down to a neighborhood that is hanging on now, but barely. Maybe an old street with a lot of old ladies. Maybe those old ladies die. And instead of new families moving in they turn into rentals. And a generation hence it's a shit hole.

Society is a complex thing. And it is notoriously difficult to make predictions. But I am confident in making these ones:

1. The people currently living downtown will not be able to afford the fancy new digs.

2. They are going to go somewhere.

You seem to discount these. But I don't see how you can. All of this happens on the margins. But it happens. Someone is going to have to move into the house in Cranberry. Or else it is going to stay empty. And that new Cranberry resident is going to have to come from somewhere. And someone is going to have to fill that person's current house.

Unless Pittsburgh experiences a population explosion because so many people are panting and slobbering to shop at Crate and Barrel. It's a zero sum game like that. And, in fact, even worse. Pittsburgh has not even managed to maintain population, much less grow. Like you mention, even the larger metropolitan area has been basically steady.

So if you build new houses in one place... Well, you get the picture.

Want proof? What happened to old neighborhoods on the margins when all the people started moving to the burbs? Drive through Braddock once and see.

sean mcdaniel

"I assume the people already living downtown are not going to transfer into those kinds of places."

Sam,

Once again we're in agreement. A whole lot of the people already living downtown fall into two categories:

1. The elderly (like those living in the old Roosevelt Hotel. do you know where that is?)

2. The homeless

The people in category number one certainly will shrivel up and die. Most likely sooner than later.

And the folks in category two, well, they'll probably be carting away the cardboard boxes from the luxe appliances the new urbanites will purchasee for their deluxe apartments in the sky. You can't imagine how spacious those double wide refrig cartons are.

Sure, I sound heartless. But, honestly, your response is nearly shreiking. You need to do your history work here. The reason big Bobby O named downtown as the city's newest neighborhood is because it's never been one before. I know you're not from these parts. But full time residential living really hasn't been part of the Golden Triangle since about, oh, maybe 1840 (give or take an Industrial Age or two). So the Mo' Gear guy ain't serving the locals. His customers are busing in from the Hill or N.Side or Wilkinsburg or E. Liberty or wherever they actually call home.

Come on, Sam. Do you really ever venture out of the cushy East End? If you did, you'd know that aside from the groups I mentioned earlier, people who live Downtown tend to have more money than you or I...probably combined. Maybe all those condos and lofts will go empty...and a developer or two will lose his shirt. The Trimont on Mt. Washington languished for years...until it finally caught on. But it didn't take 60 years.

So let me ask you a question here...what's so bad if the Mo Gear guys move to that neighborhood on the brink that's full of old ladies? Do you have a problem with that? If the neighborhood can't make it on its own, well, isn't it your belief to let it die a natural death...no matter how painfully slow? Could the answer to the question that started this paragraph be that you live mighty close to the Wilkinsburg line?

Yes, I know you'll say...but what about the subsidized condos downtown...to which I'll reply what about the subsidized projects in McKees Rocks, St. Clair Village, Northview Heights and everywhere else poor whites and then poor blacks were ghetto-ized 50 years ago? We tried helping the needy with low cost housing...and look what it did for them. Why make that mistake again? If Braddock can't make it, build a new mall there. Maybe it will put the waterfront out of business. And kill Homestead for good.

By the way, did you ever notice what swank store is directly across from the SouthSide Works on 27th (i think)? A goddam Goodwill Store, which is pretty funny as a counterpoint. See,rich and poor can co-exist — even with a certain kind of charm.

I don't need to drive through Braddock. I lived in Ambridge as a kid. When everyone had a good job. Made great money. Got 12 weeks' vacation a year. No one cared that the steel companies were going down the tubes way before the 1980s. No one cared that the American steel industry worried only about tonnage produced instead of quality. No one cared about U.S.-made cars that started rusting as soon as they made contact with the air outside the factory. No one cared — not the companies, not the unions, not the workers — until it was too late. And now Ambridge, Aliquippa, Braddock and so many other towns are basically dead. It had nothing to do with fancy lads moving to downtown or Cranberry or Monroeville or Upper St. Clair. And you know it.

Now for this, what the hell is wrong with rentals, comrade? Other than Karl Marx (or was it Marty Engels?) most people really don't think that owning property is a crime against the proletariat, even if you own rentals. As grad student, can you really afford a house in Regent Square? If so, I'm proud of you, because I can't. Not that I'm braggin, but I'm pretty sure I make more than you do. Just so you know, the only property I own is the 40 by 120 chunk of dirt my home sits on. Which is still way more than that six feet of earth that Tolstoy claimed a man needed.

You like to talk about organic growth (even if that's not what you call it). But if you don't think that the buildings that bear the names of old time robber barons such as Henry Clay Frick didn't get some concessions in their day, then you really don't know OUR local history. It always make me laugh to see the compassionate liberal (rich) crowds at the Frick Museum for concerts in the park or art openings. After all, Frick was Carnegie's hit man. Who do you think called in the Pinkerton's to knock off striking workers? But I guess if you throw a new coat of paint on the bastard's homestead, all his sins disappear. Hell, if that's the case, I can't wait for Lucas Piatt Museum of Urban Art to open its doors. We can get together for the wine and cheese reception.

For the record, I am a registered democrat. for 30 years. never voted for a republican, ever. if the jackass candidate was even worse than the GOP putz, i exercised my right not to vote in that category. I support unions, even though too many unions support people who don't need so much help these days, like college professors, instead of working stiffs in the SEIU. I'm sure you know what that stands for and what those people do for a ridiculous $9 an hour — with a medical benefit plan that's so expensive for the wages they make that most SEIU members don't buy in. yeah, i like the little guy who will never live in a downtown pad. Maybe you want to give him your bus pass so he can clean your classroom at Pitt this weekend while you nosh on braddock avenue.

I mean it, Sam, put your free bus pass where you mouth is.

And,seriously, we need to have a beer or two together and a hot dog. or we can cross the street for some lattes and fancy pancakes across the street. i really can go both ways...can you?

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