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John Morris


Are you bringing stuff like this up to turn this into a joke or something? This really is a small town and is not too relevant at all to the issue in major cities. I just don't know this town at all, but thousands of American towns have been hollowed out by similar proccesses of erosion to what has happened in a lot of the Bigger cities.

But, places like Pittsburgh are actual cities and potentially could compete well against thier suburbs.

Sam M


I only wish it were a joke.

But to be clear, my point is not that St. Marys and Pittsburgh are the same. To the contrary. They are emphatically not the same.

My point is a larger one that I guess goes back to that old saw: When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

And in my view, the government is almost always a "one tool" workman. It does what's popular. Which is why the plan for St. Marys looks so much like the one for Pittsburgh, which looks so much like the one for Baltimore, etc.

Do you know that Bedford has a convention center? I think they are planning one for Warren, PA, too. Or at least they were. Why? Because that's what planners were doing at the time.

That is not to say that there are no hammers and no nails. Maybe downtown residential plus transit is the answer for Pittsburgh. I am very open to that. But I think it is also important to point out that government probably didn't arrive at that after slow deliberation. It arrived at that answer because that's the answer that is popular at the moment. Talking about downtown plays well. So that's where the checks are going. In the same way that the checks went to parkways and bypasses in the 50s and 60s.

I guess the new answer is better. But for how long? I can only assume that some highway projects were good ideas. But that morphed into some kind of mania. Which was destructive.

And I fear that is going to happen with the new hammer. Right now, the government is footing the bill for hundreds and hundreds of downtown apartments, despite the fact that the market won't support them. Maybe that is just putting things on an even playing field with the suburbs. But don't you think thay are going to keep going? Hundreds and hundreds. More an more and more condos. Overkill. In a city that is losing population.

They always do that. Whether it's with hotel rooms or convention center seats or office space. They always pound it into the dirt. And we lose hundreds of millions into the abyss. And then we're left to sort out the mess. (Look at Baltimore, which is not just subsidizing a hotel for the convention center, but building it. For $305 million. Because no hotel company thinks it will make money.)


John Morris


Yes, I understand your point. There is a fad for this kind of thing and not a good reason for it in most of these little places. Sad to say but sprawl has likely damaged small town America in a way it is not likely to recover from.

But, for Pittsburgh, the situation is very different. This is a potential city and I think that it has to start enbracing that path. I have a post on my "unmedicated" blog about some of the regional data. Unless the facts have changed recently, Pittsburgh's problems are more closely related to housing distribution than jobs. I think during the 1990's the city actually gained jobs. The major problem has been the loss of residents which has been staggering. I am suprised at how many jobs remain considering that.

I hope you start doing some posts on the issues relating to taxes and services in the region. I am not an expert but, it seems like the city is providing a lot of jobs at a "loss" to people who don't much in taxes into the city. So many of the main employers are either government or non profit and some of the bigger private one have struck deals. Also, it seems pretty evident that the city would be losing it's retail to it's suburbs, which it has.

I do always bring up NY, because NY also was undermined by these trends and severely injured. But it fought back by becoming more of a city, more dense and more diverse and more urban. That's how it kept it's shopping and everything.

Eric E

Well, I have to agree with you that this city has an extraordinary amount of vacant housing, and therefore does not need to subsidize the kind of building the city is proposing. Developmentwise, the main thing Pittsburgh needs to do is go back to being itself - a livable regional city characterized by topography and neighborhoods, with a few powerhouse institutions. If the city simply focuses on being cheap and easy to live in, with its own distinct character, and with decent jobs available, it will gather transplants. Shoot, the quality and price of the existing city housing is in itself enough to make many people I know think twice.

You mention jobs, and the talk from the city leadership is about tech sector jobs - basically leverage the presence of UPMC, CMU, and the manufacturing infrastructure as the three pillars of a tech-centered economy. I work at a biotech startup, so my bias is towards funding startups. The region has an incredibly conservative view of investment, and is basically unwilling to take any real risks on getting companies out of the gate. Many startups will fail, and you have to deal with that. So if the question is trying to build our way to growth or trying (and often failing) to launch companies for growth, count me strongly in favor of the latter. That stuff is not popular, because economic development money quickly gets intensely political, and the government is indeed picking winners, but if the somebody doesn't make the business climate here more favorably, it'll be a long slog.

John Morris

Does anyone want to comment on or dispute my point about housing distribution? There is going to be a huge UPMC children's hospital near me in Lawrenceville. If the current pattern holds, I don't think that many of those people will be living in the city. This is a problem.

sean mcdaniel

JM sez:

"So many of the main employers are either government or non profit and some of the bigger private one have struck deals."

Watch out, Sam. He has you in his sights.

As for Ed's startup analysis...they're like crops on a farm. Only about half of what you plant will grow...but if you don't plant anything, nothing will grow. we need to start planting more crops more often.

And as for JM's concern about employees at the new Children's not living in the city, so what? I'll say it again and again and again...i don't frequent most of the big box stores around me and i shop at a locally owned grocery in bellevue...a big chunk (probably more than I want to know) of my discretionary income ends up in the city...and what's the problem with that? tonight when my family of four eats at tessaro's do you think the owner will care where i live? i've yet to see a sign that says...suburbanites keep out (though i haven't rolled past JM's gallery this week to see if he's checking proof of residency).

considering that JM claims he's not making much money, i'm guessing that he's not paying much city income tax...or spending much around lawrenceville to support his fellow merchants...and oh yeah, when you do spend some many, JM, make sure that each and every business is locally owned...you know, you really shouldn't buy at wendy's or CVS or any place an outside corporation has a piece of.

and since the county assessment web site doesn't list JM as the owner of his gallery, he's not paying property tax...so you best stay off those county roads when you travel...and you know better than to lay any rubber on all those suburban streets you didn't help pay for.

and let's take this silly argument (if you don't live here, you're not welcome) a step or two further to its ridiculous extreme...should JM be limited to Lawrenceville in whatever he does? Since he lives in lawrenceville, should he be permitted to shop/eat/buy in sq. hill or shadyside or bloomfield just because they're within the city limits but outside the borders of his neighborhood? after all, those are the communities that they've made and support. if that's the case, then pittsburgh is fair game for allegheny suburbanites, since the city is part of the county. and you can stretch that argument to cover the fact that pittsburgh is open to anyone in the state, country, continent, hemisphere, the world (and maybe beyond, because JM does seem to orbit on a different level than most)

come JM, this isn't the balkans. broaden your viewpoint beyond your amazingly narrow vision.

John Morris

I would like to have a conversation here about issues like taxes and revenues. It is obviously very relevant as to whether people are living here in terms of the cities tax base.

Also whether or not you are shopping in Big box stores and malls, someone clearly is. The fact that the city is always close to bankruptcy does indicate that a problem exists.

John Morris

I would like to have a conversation here about issues like taxes and revenues. It is obviously very relevant as to whether people are living here in terms of the cities tax base.

Also whether or not you are shopping in Big box stores and malls, someone clearly is. The fact that the city is always close to bankruptcy does indicate that a problem exists.

sean mcdaniel

of course, if i'm not shopping at best buy or sam's club or ikea or target or borders (sorry, it's a big box and therefore worthy of scorn) someone else is...and a lot of them are city residents of all income brackets who flock to the suburbs to spend their money at those places. you know, if you don't put these stores in the n. hills or monroeville or robinson twp., they'll plop them down in east liberty, right next to home depot, whole foods and walgreens. hell, one could even up in downtown (oh, that's right barnes and nobles and burlington are already there! the invasion has started)

as for the tax issue, since you don't pay a county property tax, should you be entitled to use county facilities, such as north and south parks? should you be able to ride a bus...after all, it is the Port Authority of Allegheny County that operates the transit system here. so those buses and trolleys that carry people out of the city are really serving everyone and taking them to and from destinations that never cross the city limits. The point is the transit system is here for all county residents, not just for pittsburghers.

You're pretty good at ducking issues...such the ethics of makikng money of corrupt real estate deal in india...just once try to answer question about how you figure out your stance on a subject without bringing up another issue to deflect the point.

sean mcdaniel

sorry about the missing words in the last rant...maybe it's too early for rolling rock...and don't worry, no drinking and driving here...but maybe drinking and thinking is every bit as dangerous.

John Morris


You are the one defending the current situation, which is a donut type city, with two centers of main employment, surrounded by huge empty gaps and the by a thin sprawl in which over 40% of workers with jobs in the city live out of town and as you said most city residents have to do a lot of thier shopping out of town.

It really is your job here to show how this can work. In this case, I mean numbers and facts. I know you think this might be fine on some regional level ( although since the region is losing residents I have doubts ) But, how do you think the city itself can go on like this.

Why do you think the city is in financial trouble?

sean mcdaniel

JM: pittsburgh, the city, has lost a tremendous amount of people over the last 45 years. the decline started even before the demise of big steel. unless we discover gold and diamonds in the allegheny river during the north shore connector construction, the population's never going to reach the 600,000 again. but overall, the metropolitan population hasn't dropped much during the same period.

so let's accept the fact that unless you force the suburbanites to move within the city limits, the situation is going to stay as it is...and really, even if the price of gas skyrockets to $6 a gallon, it's a situation that can work...as long people don't see this as an us against them battle.

as much as i joust with same, i never got the impression that he thinks the suburbs are malignant. sure, he doesn't seem to like the mcmansions. and i'm no fan of them either. (in fact, i'm obsessed with skinny house that don't seem any wider than 10 feet yet stretch seemingly without end to front and back)

so the issue is to figure how is the co-existence of city and suburbs.

sam and jon potts don't like subsidies. that's their point. but they don't view people as less worthy based on where they live. trust me, you can find plenty of people from shadyside and squirrel hill who think that people who live in lawrenceville are near the bottom of the barrel.

your attitude that suburbanites are scum is as distasteful as those people in cranberry who think that all city resident are sex crazed, crack addict welfare mothers or baby-stealing car jackers. neither view is true. even worse, you have no sense of humor about any of this.

i've asked before...what made you think that you would be an instant success here? and what made you think that you couldn't be an utter failure...no matter how hard you tried? i'm hoping you had a goal somewhere between those two extremes (and certainly closer to the success side). but did you have a plan for the long, hard fight to succeed?

for christ sake, can you name one mayor of any US city who thumbs his nose at the suburbs surrounding his city?

sean mcdaniel


you should have a radio talk show...you really start the conversation roiling.

by the way, if st. mary's has 14,000 resident and a 625 space garage...that's 22.4 spaces per person. and if pittsburgh has let's say, 200,000 we'd have a garage with 4,480,000. now let's do nyc's 8 million residents by 22.4 and you'd have more than one space per every licensed driver in the US. New York New York, the bronx is up and the parking's all around.

John Morris

To my knowledge all NY mayors have pretty much done that. It's always a huge issue when the NJ Giants win a Super Bowl whether there will be a parade. If there is a ceromony it's pretty half assed.

Could we get back to the subject of the cash relationship/ taxes/ shopping etc...

I think that the fact that the suburban folks seem to always advocate more parking or things like taxpayer funded stadiums and roads that seem to benefit them at the expense of the city is a rub. Can we bring up D.C. as a case study. It acts as the job hub for that whole region and the reason for all the growth around it and yet it doesn't seem to get much in return for doing that.

sean mcdaniel

the reason the NYC mayors slightly snub the giants is that they use NY in their name and to play in another state. new jersey isn't a suburb. it's one of the original 13 states of this nation. as for the mayoral snub, the same might happen here if the steelers moved to steubenville, ohio, and still called themselves the pittsburgh steelers. funny thing is, i've seen more than a few mayors in tourism ads for NYC. and they weren't telling me to go home. no one's ever had a problem with celebrating an Islanders' Stanley Cup though, even if they play outside the city limits.

DC is an entirely separate issue. it really doesn't/can't operate by the same rules as other cities. as for the non-benefits there...it seems that more and more formerly "bad" DC neighborhoods are getting pretty damn trendy...and expensive. you ever look at real estate prices there? have you been there recently? there's a lot going on in a lot of places. then again, too bad it's just a tourist town. you know, that lincoln memorial and reflecting pool really are a great waste of urban space. and how many condos could you put in the washington monument. seriously, all those museums and monuments, funded by tax dollars no less, festering of valuable city land.

sean mcdaniel

and i'll ask again...since you don't pay county property taxes, should you be permitted to ride the county transit system...or swim in a county pool...or see a concert at a county park...or drive, ride, walk on a county road? well?


"So many irrelevant things have been tried there, so ambitiously," she wrote in 1969. Instead of spending money on creating new businesses, she said, the city had devoted capital "to manipulating the people of Pittsburgh and to immensely expensive urban-renewal and highway programs that have not helped the economy at all."

Jane Jacobs, on Pittsburgh in 1969. Little has changed, unfortunately.

John Morris

Pittsburgh, gets mentioned on so many pages in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". It's the object lesson on how to wreck a town.

sean mcdaniel

guess i better read jane jacobs' book. along with atlas shruggged it seems to hold an esteemed spot in the library of wet dreams for big thinkers on urban issues.

sean mcdaniel

JM: please check this link to the NY Times. it's the reason you can't afford manhattan or the outer boroughs anymore.


and if pittsburgh developes the way you see fit, you'll be moving on to Iowa City soon. Yes, it is a city. Would they be allowed to but the actual word in the town's name if not? Wouldn't that be false advertising?

John Morris

I have read that article. To be honest, what happened in NY was a bit of cold justice. To a large extent the white middle class, fled NY for suburbia in the 1960's and 70's and now they for the most part can't afford to move back. The people who stuck it out and the people who came in and were smart enough to by something made a total killing.

I think the article shows an emerging trend which is that solid fuctional cities are highly desirable and increasingly are becoming enclaves of the super rich.

sean mcdaniel

well, i don't see you or me living in that new city...maybe one day you'll be happy to say that you laid the ground work for the stock broker you bought your landlord's building and booted you out. it's kind like being the first guys to land on omaha beach on d-day...most of them got gunned down right away...but they helped pave the way for the final outcome...if pittsburgh develops the way you think it should...you'll be a casualty.

and seriously stop with the scum routine. it's not that appealing. someday you may be forced to live in a suburb (you'll run out of cities to move to) when the rich push you out of the city.

what you fear the most might meet you halfway.

John Morris


The main reason for that trend is supply and demand. If many cities in the country became normal fuctional convenenient cities than this would not be a problem.

The problem has emerged because there are only a few cities in America that are even close to functioning as cities and now they are too popular.

Pittsburgh, could be a nice integrated and functional city but I guess it would rather be a parking lot. I think that having this conversation in America today shows is that the memory of what cities were and how they functioned has been lost. To my knowledge this is largely an American problem.

This is why, I think that the emerging centers for emerging American artist's will be in Europe. It's pretty common to hear about artists moving to Germany now. I think that Philly has a good shot at becoming a great city, but after that there just isn't much left.

John Morris


Yes, I will be a casualty. But I will have tried to do the right thing.

sean mcdaniel

and how am i doing the wrong thing? you never seem to explain that all too well.

do you like baseball? if so you know that derek jeter and jack wilson are both major league shortstops. but jeter is a superstar for the yankees. wilson is a standout with the pirates. jeter will land in the hall of fame...even if he quit today. wilson will enjoy his visits to cooperstown to see jeter's plaque.

all that being said, jack wilson is a cut above the rest of his who played in little league or even high school, college or the minor league (no, i never progress beyond little league, and actually didn't progress much there either. it took me four years to get my first hit.)

maybe you see what i'm getting at...new york is a superstar...and pittsburgh is good (at least i think so) but could be better. you can't hold NYC or SF as comparisons to our town.

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