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John Morris

Well, that's it. These are a canned and planned cookie cutter phoney thing. But this doesn't mean that organic cities don't work.

Also, a lot of this issue is about how expensive it is to retofit a suburb into something different.

Sam M

I wonder a lot about "New Urbanism." Does something like Summerset at Frick count? It has some of the elements. Sidewalks. Front porches with railings. A (fairly self conscious) "feel" of a little town.

But have you been there? I drove through it once and couldn't figure it out for the life of me. Is it not finished yet? Is there more to come? A gas station, at least? Or something? Maybe I didn't see the whole thing. But what I saw of it... I couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be. Not that I hated it. Or loved it. I just couldn't figure it out.

Sam M

Oh... and "retrofitting."

What about this whole idea of "infilling." Particularly the controversial way of doing it, where people buy a servicable home, tear it down and plop down a McMansion where it really doesn't fit.

Sure, bad for the neighborhood. But what if the neighborhood is already shot? Lots of places on the outskirts of Pittsburgh fit the bill. any particular reason to resist people turning such places into "Shady Meadows" or some other stupid name?

No, these are not really "walkable" communities. And perhaps we could do something better with them. But if 5,000 families want to live in 4,000 square-foot homes, isn't it better for resouce allocation and the environment if they do that five miles from the city instead of 40 miles? Especially if the place is currently disfunctional anyway?

Just thinking out loud.

Ed Heath

It's a little too late this evening for me to read the links, but I want to say a couple of things. Walk-able community is like some weird throwback to a past that never existed (Reagan-esque nostalga), and so smacks of racism to me. The code phrase is no doubt something about a place to let kids run around safely. You lose the critical mass of people, but there is the critical mass of money. Meanwhile, you abandon the cities and make sure legislative districts are written to keep power to shunt money to the ‘burbs. And of course write the voting laws to make sure that low educated people can’t vote (or just take control of the new computerized voting machines and get the candidates you want).

Man, I hate the suburbs…Friggin’ Melissa Hart …

Jonathan Potts

Wait a minute Ed. If people are going to live in the suburbs anyway--and you and I might not like it, but they are--isn't better that they live in a place where they don't have to leap into the SUV everytime they run short of milk? And what's wrong with giving kids a place where they can walk places rather than rely on their parents to drive them. Now, if this project is getting any kind of public assistance, then I'm going to sour on it, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

There's a word for very large, walkable communities--they are called cities. Yes, perhaps it is Mayberry and not Manhattan that the folks in Pine are trying to emulate, but I'd take Mayberry over Monroeville any day of the week.

John Morris

Everyone of these projects is different so pulling apart the "public assistance" stuff is tough. Basically this is the suburbs admitting that they suck.

sean mcdaniel

you know, JP, there might just be a bias here towards kids...if you have kids you might as well just look for that place in cranberry now...because city dwellers don't have children (honestly, it's the trend these days). so who really cares if the city schools suck (seriously, should we be proud that Pittsburgh schools graduate more seniors than most other urban schools systems around the country. I'm not gonna pound my chest over a 62% rate (how's this for a bumper sticker: My kid's a dropout from Oliver High School!). and if you do start to bring up that graduation rate of the lower class kids, they might not want to scrub the toilets at your offices, concert halls, baseball parks, museums and hip restaurants anymore. you know we don't have enough mexicans around here to fill that type of $7 an hour maintenance man void.

for the life of me, i don't see how sidewalks equal racism. i guess a front porch must be some harbinger of an impending holocaust or genocide. last time i checked, even ghettos have sidewalks.

Jonathan Potts

Regarding kids, that's one of Kotkin's main arguments--that cities have pretty much given up on trying to draw in families with children. At the very least, they are not making the effort to solve the problems that are keeping them out. And that discussion can't begin without talking about schools.

John Morris

The issue of schools and kids is a really important one. But again it would be good to look at other cities. NY is the one I know sort of well so I will have to come back to that.

One reason, I bring NY up so much is that it went through a lot of this stuff and has managed to have a thriving city. And, no NY is not losing all it's families with kids. I would agree that Manhattan has sort of had that problem but 1) It never was a primary area for families largely do to expense. 2) I am pretty sure that it is actually attracting more people with kids - rich people and also some middle class or upper middle class people who find the city so great for thier kids that they are making huge sacrifices to to be there.

The outer boroughs are sort of a different story. Hello! check the facts NY is undergoing a huge shortage of schools for all the kids there are. I think that about 70% are non white but a huge chunk are imigrants who are flocking into NY. Many of these are the children of highly skilled and successful imigrants. My old hood is filled with Asian families who are killing themselves to stay in NY. They love it and the schools are great there.

In fact what happened was that during NY's rough years in the 1970's and 1980's it lost a huge chunk of it's middle class families. So when the revival of NY came, schools were unprepared for the demand.

John Morris

This is a complex topic and I do want to make one point about NY. NY is at risk of losing middle class families. But, that is due to a drastic housing shortage. A lot of people are being priced out. There is a very high demand by people to live in NY now by all kinds of people. Lack of supply is the issue.

sean mcdaniel

JM: no matter how you look at it the outer boroughs are manhattans suburbs...because 50-70 years ago you could find families in manhattan...of all income levels...but as the city declined from the 1950s through 1970s, those families fled to the outer boroughs and beyond... the artists and musicians and actors moved into the places where families once lived because landlords had places to rent. as the city turned around...more affluent singles and childless couples moved in and real estate boomed from the early 1990s on (friend as a place on 16th street, near the west village. she tried to sell it 1989 and got an offer of $93,000...$12,000 less than she paid...today, she could sell the same space for $850,000.

so to solve the city suburb problem maybe pittsburgh should incorporate all of allegheny county and the choice parts of butler and washington counties. i mean you do know that brooklyn was a separate city at one time, right?

John Morris

That would likely help a bit in some ways, but the most likely result is to create a city like LA. Which is not really a city but sort of an endless sprawl with a few centers trying to pretend it's a city.

Now there is at least some hope of competition between the city and the sprawl. It's a competition that the city could do well in if it tried.

John Morris

Yes, the boroughs are bedroom comunities in a way. But they are not Suburbs except at the edges. The density levels are high with tons of apartment buildings strung along subway lines. Deep brooklyn and Queens away from the subways is a sprawl and interstingly enough these are the areas with some hard core slums. ( Ocean Hill, Brownsville, East New York, Flatlands, )

John Morris

If the place is near the West Village it's worth more than a million unless you can show me that it is collapsing. Well even then.

Jonathan Potts

Getting back to Sam's links, the Reason article in particular is a reminder that New Urbanism is not merely a generic term for a preference for higher density, walkable communities, but a specific set of design and architectural principles. The New York Times magazine ran an article several weeks ago about the New Urbanists' attempt to rebuild Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina. The proposed design codes went so far as to dictate the slopes of roofs. Aside from mind-numbing conformity, these rigid codes had the affect of driving up the projected costs of homes, so that none of the residents who had lived there previously would be able to afford them.

I sympathize with the aims of New Urbanists, but it strikes me as a form of utopianism, and as the Reason writer notes, it is utopanism that lead to the disaster urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s. (I would disagree with his belief that more highways relieve congestion. History has shown this to be false. More highways usually lead to more congestion.)

The bottom line is that you can't force people to live a certain way. The best we can hope for is that government does not endorse one lifestyle over another, nor ease the consequences of the choices people make. (For example, by paying to rebuild hurricane-damaged homes that were built too close to the shore.)

sean mcdaniel

nearly all the new $300,000-plus housing developments come with the stultifying codes and restrictions from the slope of the roof and type of mailbox in front of your home to what time you can't put trash out for next day pickup to how long you're allowed to keep your garage door open.

sure, i wish my neighbor didn't have the same 2 by 3 rugs hangias for highways relieving congestion even r. moses knew that as soon as any highway opened it would be clogged beyond expectations.

though i will say this...longtime north hills residents will attest to the massive traffic jams on the old east street and ohio river boulevard in the pre-279 driving era...as soon as that stretch of concrete heaven opened, rush hour drives of 40 minutes from downtown to sewickley and mcknight road were history. you can't name a part of this area easier to get to than the n. hills, even when major repair work or accidents restricts traffic on the ORB, 279, california ave. or brighton road. now once you get past the bellevue exit...279 clogs quickly and just about stops near the wexford exit...maybe they need another highway there.

Jonathan Potts

That's a good point about 279. Of course, a New Urbanist would respond that the construction of that highway is an example of a government action that delibertately or incidentally--it doesn't really matter--contributed to sprawl.

John Morris

Well is'n't that what it is? A government action that contributed to sprawl?

And as far as the highway's eleviating traffic-If it works, it will be a temporary thing. That's how LA became LA- each new highway led to more construction further out and a higher and higher car dependency.

Let's try to argue onsome level field. If the city transit system is is a government funded boondogle, then what are the government funded highways?
Capitalism left the country a long time ago.

John Morris


Try to get at least one fact right. NY's outer boroughs grew during the period after subway construction 1910--1960. White flight and middle class flight happened 1955-- 1990- and this was largey flight out of all of NY to the suburbs of Jesey and Long Island. Strong revival and inflow happened 1986--- till now. There are a lot of overlaps and the extreme demand and inflow of families into the city is recent.

John Morris


Getting back to the school subject. I think that one thing that people are discovering in NY is that high housing density enables one thing- school choice. A lot of wealthy NY's have sent thier kids to private schools and new ones are popping up.

Also, the development of NY's magnet schools created a level of competition between schools long ago ( at the high school level ) Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, Music and ART, Art & design, High School of The Performing Arts, Hunter ( which operates a high school ), Aviation, and Brooklyn Tech are a few. As far as I know these schools are only for city residents and they provide a powerfull reason that people live in NY. Great Catholic Schools include ST Regis in Manhattan; Dominican School in Manhattan; St Francis in Queens; Archbishop Molloy in Queens and Fordam Prep in the Bronx. Great private schools include the Dalton School in Manhattan; The Beekman School in Manhattan and Collegiate School in Manhattan.

The more recent trend towards educational choice and charter schools has worked very well in NY since one can have many schools within walking distance.


This is my first post here, but I've been following along.

John, I think you are missing the point that DOWNTOWN New York is a ghost town after dark where noone lives. Lower Manhattan is not unlike downtown Pittsburgh, except there is no great cultural district like we have in Pittsburgh. Try getting a bite to eat down there after 6pm. I've spent a lot of time there in the past 4 years, so I'm speaking from experience. Lower Manhattan to Midtown is what 4-5 miles? Midtown is farther from Downtown New York than Dormont is from Downtown Pittsburgh.

No doubt, it would be great to have a good subway system in Pittsburgh (the T obviously doesn't count unless you're going south)... However, I really don't get it - what is wrong with busses? I get from Oakland/Shadyside to downtown on the bus quicker than I got from Columbus Circle apartment to lower Manhattan via subway. Also, more people in Pittsburgh use Public Transportation than many other cities - you'd be surprised.
By the way, I probably use a cab in New York more often than I use my car in Pittsburgh.

I don't think any family earning <$1mil/yr can possibly live in Manhattan (unless they have owned their residence for a long time, and even then its tough), and I'd love for you to disprove me on that. John - if you came to Pittsburgh expecting it to be New York, you've come to the wrong place. A lot of people here like driving, big stores, and low prices. Those who don't live in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, etc.

BTW - I'm one of these 24 year old kids that our city is trying like hell to attract (they are trying, but in the wrong way). I graduated from CMU in 2002, and I can tell you that many of my friends would rather live in Pittsburgh than New York, and like me, several of them initially found jobs there but have been trying to find similar jobs here ever since they left. The way to attract people like me isn't to build a hard rock cafe... I could care less about that. What we care about is jobs, and with the business tax structure the way it is, that is hard to come by... Plus with Fast Eddie as Guv'na, I don't see that changing anytime soon, except for his buddies (and campaign contributors)

By the way, I just bought a house on 45th street as a rental property, <1 block from Digging Pitt... I paid <$50k for it. Try to find that in New York (or San Francisco, another place where my friends are moving from).

Check out all of this cool stuff happening in our fair city (I know, a lot of it is subsidized, but atleast it's happening)

sean mcdaniel


even people in lawrenceville, shadyside, etc. drive their cars ridiculously short distances (like from 38th street to 54th to eat at that filipino restaurant) or from walnut to liberty in bloomfield. and over the past 10 years or so, at least one developer has been converting parts of basements in shadysice homes to garages...so that those homeowners can have as least one off street parking space (even two if they park cars in the driveway). that being said, i still don't think most cars (not counting the majority of the really big SUVs - by the way, are jeep cherokees and pickups exempt from gas-guzzling bashing?) are inherently evil. the geography of this town makes driving a necessity.

hell in nyc $50,000 you can't even buy the pile of bricks from that collapsed upper east/west side building that blew up in the past week or so. and that's why JMorris is here. too many NYers think that others towns will be smaller versions of their city...and too many people from places like pittsburgh think that NY will be merely bigger versions of their hometowns. and it doesn't happen that way. geography, language, economics, history, weather and lots of other factors make a city what it is. cities are like snowflakes, they might look similar in some ways, but each is unique.

John Morris


Welcome to Pittsburgh. First of all, I said that NY was attracting rich people and very rich people. It does continue to generate great jobs so struggling couples who kill themslves sometimes hang on.

As far as the parallels with lower Manhattan- you could not be more right. That was what I thought, this is so much like lower Manhattan. Which has exactly the same problem Pittsburgh has with too many offices relative to residential. But lower Manhattan has made a lot of progress in this area. As dead as it is now, it used to be much more dead. No one used to live in Soho or Tribecca and there was no Battery Park City and absolutely none of the Wall Street residential.

The whole model of the government zoned " business district/ office park" has top be questioned. It's disfuctional at it's root. In NY it was largely taken apart by people who just moved in broke the law.

John Morris


How about you get out of our way and we will see what happens.

John Morris


Suppose, for a moment that you had lower Manhattan. And, then About 30 blocks of post industrial nothing north of it and then suppose that was the main buildible are in the city and then suppose some guy who lived in New Jersy was spending his day trying to make sure that no one could live there trying to put up as many barriers as he could to any development ( eccept for a government subsidised stadium. What whould you think of this guy?

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