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sean mcdaniel

the fox sports move could be one of necessity too. maybe they need to upgrade their facilities. i can't imagine allegheny center being state of the art or even offering the potential to bring the site up to par.

Jonathan Potts

It may be out of necessity, and it may allow them to expand, who knows. But it needs to be taken into account when local boosters talk about all the growth occurring on the North Shore.

Sam M

Wow. A lot more good stuff. Well done.

Of course I'd like to address a few points: First, JoeP wrote:

"I don't think that Downtown condos are pulling people out of other city neighborhoods. Possibly a few suburban ones, but I did read once (I don't recall where now) that most are newcomers to the city."

The data do appear to be sketchy, but I just don't think this can be the case in any broad sense. If the city population was holding steady, maybe. But remember, the population fell by 4,000. In one year! Can it really be true that thousands upon thousands of software engineers and architects and artists have moved here from Cleveland and NYC and San Francisco and Boston and filled these condos without us knowing it? If so where are they working? And, um, where are they? Didn't Richard Florida discover that the flow was actually in the toher direction? That these kinds of people get educated here and move elsewhere? My experience leads me to think that's probably closer to the truth. Which leads me to believe that the people lining up to live downtown must be moving around within the region.

More dire, I think, is the fact that there are A LOT of these high end condos going up (or have recently gone up) not only downtown but in Shadyside, Carson Street, the Strip etc. Has anyone figured out exactly how many people these places will hold? Just look at the Cork Factory in the Strip. That will hold a whole bunch of people. I would guess the growth in high-end living space will have to have provided thousands and thousands and thousands of fancy new abodes by, say, 2008.

Pitt and CMU and PNC are growing and drawing in people from afar, I suppose, but other places are shrinking. And a whole lot of the people who work for those places choose to live out in Mt. Lebanon, etc. (I don't care what the subsidy is. They would almost have to give downtown housing away to convince a professional couple with 2.47 school-age kids to live downtown.)

So that is a very longwinded way to say that I think the new high-end housing is probably cannibalizing existing high-end renters. Which goes back to my original point: If I were an unsubsidized landlord currently renting to those people, I'd be pissed.

Which brigs me to Jonathan's point:

"It's a reminder that retail cannot drive economic development. Unless population increases (or the same population has an increase of disposable income) than new shopping centers will only cannibalize one another."

I agree. And I think that also holds for retail. It just has to. If you have a steady population, all you are going to do when you build new housing is shift people around. If you build new low-end housing, you will shift the low-end people around. Build new high-end housing, and you shift the high-end people around. How can it be different? And how can it not be worse when the head count is actually shrinking? And coming full circle: If the head count is shrinking and the government has little or no money, why would it spend that money on roofs for more people?

I guess it's the old "if you build it they will come argument." But take a look at every other city. They are all building the same stuff. All of them. This will not draw people to Pittsburgh.

To get people to move here, you have to run the city in such a way that businesses move here and provide jobs. So people can afford to buy housing.

We know that's not happening now, at least in the aggregate. First, because the population is shrinking. Second, because even a real estate genius like Jack Piatt cannot find a way to make money in housing without heading to Harrisburg with hat in hand.

Look, I would probably still object if Piatt were asking for subsidies to build a factory or a software company. But that would make a lot more sense then building condos for people who are moving away.

Sam M

And to Sean's point about how retail goes in and out of style:

It's interesting to see that happen to residential, too. Look at old neighborhoods in other cities. In Baltimore, Canton used to be a hot spot for working-class families. Then it hit harder times when everyone moved out to the county to live in strange neighborhoods without sidewalks. Rowhouses were soooooo out of fashion. Now, well, you know what happened. Canton is once again a hot spot for people eager to live in a rowhouse. Because rowhouses are cool. Functional, to boot. (Although I don;t think nearly enough people note the fact that the same rowhouse that used to be home to a family of eight is now home to a bachelor or a young couple. Once the kids come... vamoos!)

An interesting question is whether outdated retail can get new legs like that. Some of it can, I think. People are expressing a lot of interest in old downtowns, etc. But can one of those 1970s malls ever make a comeback? I mean, they are really awful places in a lot of ways. And alot of them are falling to the wrecking ball. Are we ever going to lament their passing in the way we lament the Lower Hill?

We don't think so now. But is it so unreasonable to think they might be fashionable again? If formestone can make a comeback in Baltimore...

Jonathan Potts

A few years ago I read an article about successful efforts in the Philadelphia suburbs to convert abandoned strip malls to mixed-use retail and residential. But housing does tend to be a bit more timeless in its design; less prone to fads.

One of the problems with Allegheny Center--which did at least have something of a second wind for awhile as an office building--is that it represents poor urban design.

Sam M



My last question was aimed at deciding whether our notions of "bad design" can change over time. Quite some time ago Laurel Maryland put in a "walkable" shopping plaza called Laurel Lakes. It was OK for a while, but eventually flopped. The way it worked was, you had a few big anchor stores, but in the midst of them was a series of paths that were home to smaller shops. Who the hell wants smaller shops? Distaster! Idiots!

So they tore the small shops down and put in a Lowes. It is quite successful.

Thing is, I can't really see how the old Laurel lakes was all that different from The Waterfront and just about every other center we are building today. Like, say, White Marsh outside of Baltimore. There is the White Marsh Mall, but the hip place is "The Avenue," a little faux Main Street.

So I guess our priorities change. Maybe someday people will look back at 1980s mall culture with nostalgia. Is it that far fetched? People liked those places for a reason, I suppose. Maybe someday soon a young architecture student will watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High and have a revelation: "Why did we ever stop living that way?" If you include Phoebe Cates in the mix, I wonder that myself.

But does that kind of nostalgia stand a chance with regard to cookie-cutter houses built on cul-de-sacs with no sidewalks? Neighborhoods in which you have to get in your car and make 17 left-hand turns to buy a quart of milk? Maybe not. Except for the fact that millions of people--people my age, actually--grew up that way and consider it normal. And a lot of them like it. Those streets are quiet. No traffic. No chance for a nosey neighbor to catch a glimpse of your bar-b-q. And in my mind, they are actually becoming more viable as people find ways to work from home and skip the commute--at least a few days a week.

Maybe with some adjustments those places will be seen as glorious achievements. Keep in mind that the hip urban rowhouses being refurbed now require A LOT of adjustments. Not the least of which is the fact that they are cool for young couples instead of families of eight.

This is not a question anyone can answer. It's just that a lot of people, me included, have heaped a lot of derision on the "cookie cutter" neighborhoods built in the 80s and 90s. But I can't help but wonder if there really is something to recommend these places. Or if there was. Or if there can be.

Update: Whoa! Wikipedia ROCKS. Want to see what happened to the mall from Fast Times? Go here:


Yep. It's an "open air mall" now. Take a look:


Look familiar? Feeling nostalgic? I suspect some people might. For Phoebe Cates, at least.

Update II: Ha! Guess what that new mall has... That's right... Charm!


Well, I would like to know how many of those 4,000 are people who left the region, as opposed to many of the region's seniors who passed (or hell, moved to Florida). Given the demographics, Pittsburgh can even being doing better in job growth, attracting well paid professionals to the region, but the population loss will continue because the dispropionate amount of elderly here - who are dying or moving to Florida.

How many newcomers with high salaried jobs are buying old homes in Millvale, or Homestead? Or similarly crappy homes in city neighborhoods?

Some are - as with some TLC, they (some)can be great homes.

But (and I can't prove it, or verify that I am right) I would think, as with other cities, these well paid professionals will look for the nicer bigger homes in the city (Shadyside here, or the already mentioned trendy neighborhoods in other cities) or new contstruction, whether it be a nice condo, or, say, one of the (relatively) few newer homes available in the city.

As someone from NY it is pretty obvious why Pittsburgh continues to lose residents. It has never taken the needed steps to develop a true cosmopolitan city. What I mean is a city that is an end in itself. I think it's still unclear if the city even wants to be a urban in any true sense.

The number one thing that one notices in a place like NY or London is the extreme level of convenience. Most things are in a very close distance. That is why an assessment of the downtown Pittsburghs potential cannot be compared to Shadyside. Downtown Pittsburgh, the Strip and the near North shore are potential areas for Manhattan or Hong Kong Type growth. Blow out the parking lots and start building up block by block. The kind of high convenience and high energy city that will develop will be amazing.

Pittsburgh must realize that castrating itself to provide parking and amenities to people who live in it's suburbs is a suckers game. NY'rs treat the people of most of Jersey like the scum they are. They are fine to the extent that they come in on a train and act like New Yorkers but when they bring in their cars they are creating a problem NY doesn't need.

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