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John Morris


As far as your comment on NY's downtown and the trend that has developed over the last 25 years to fill in residential into the non residential ares of NY. You are pretty off base here.

NY in the 1960-1985 period was in pretty bad shape and it was not doing well with these empty areas at all. The filling in and conversion to mixed use in the east villiage ( revival of old residential ) Soho ( conversion of old manufacturing and commercial into residential ) Tribecca ( conversion of warehouse and manufacturing into residential and the whole conversion of waterfront Brooklyn, is very corelated to the revival of NY.

The revival of NY is a fairly recent thing and is largely because of the mixing of residential into non residential areas. As this trend has picked up more and more of the city is more and more walkable and convenient.

The trend that happened on Wall Street relates very closely to downtown Pittsburgh in that residential conversions started to happen after there was a very high office vacancy rate.

John Morris


To see the kind of bad shape NY was in during the 1970's- 1980's go to the "downtown show" at the Warhol right now. Now it's hyped as romantic, but the city was messed up.

John Morris


I guess, I can't stop myself and i can't shut up. I think that looking at NY and several other cities points out that one of the core problems here is actually that there are likely far too few housing units in and around the downtown to create a revival.

One of the things that 's clear from NY is that the true revival of a historically non residential area would generally only happen after a lot of residential came in. that's why I actually think that is more likely to be the big problem. I think that a lot of the really bad attempts at downtown revivals don't work because few add anywhere near enough people to an area.

This gets to why people would choose this lifestyle and make these trade offs in large numbers. Most of these people are looking for a very high convenience/ low maintanance lifestyle-- a lot of stores nearby and tons of restauraunts/ 24 hour city or at least something close. This kind of thing generally requires a lot of people living close enough to support that level of convenience.

I think that one of the big implied problems going on is that I think that the city is expecting a huge revival of retail in and around the downtown with far to few people to support it.

Now to a certain extent the fact that some residents will be pretty rich will help, but I don't think that a lot of this is too thought out. From what i can see, there is likely a big money pitt that is going to develop related to subsidies to keep retail going.


The city has a considerable amount of old housing stock to begin with, many old timer Pittsburghers that die or move to Florida may not have a homes that a younger professional don't want (whether local to relocating to the region for a job).

I highly doubt that Shadyside or the Southside will suffer from the new condos planned downtown. people will continue to buy the older homes in those areas, but perhaps not in the Mon Valley or some other older areas.

While the region doesn't have a net population gain now, I do think that it's trickier to evaluate the population of this region given the higher proportion older residents. People are moving to the region, just not enough to outnumber the ones that die or move - and yes younger Pittsburghers are moving as well, but people are still moving here.

So far the real estate market seems to be very stable and healthy. In fact Yahoo even noted Pittsburgh recently...

"while New York City, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis had seen sales declines, cities such as Syracuse and Pittsburgh were experiencing rising sales."


sean mcdaniel

this is really all so funny...seriously, take a look at the real estate transactions...many of the people moving downtown and the strip are older. for instance, elsie hillman's daughter moved from an 11,000 sq. ft. home in the east end to a much more cozy 5,500 sq ft loft in the strip...after all, they're empty nesters these days. if you don't know who elsie hillman is...well, you need to catch on current pittsburgh politics and society, darlings. and by the way, that 11,000 sq ft got snatched pretty quickly by another prominent pittsburgh family with the last name of scaife...for about $1 million. so it seems as if the property values are safe.

again and again, i don't think I'll be leaving avalon or j. potts will saying goodbye to brookline for downtown (even if the housing wasn't subsidized). and not many people from allentown or troy hill will be making that move either.

believe it not, there's a sizeable portion of monied people in this town. and they'll keep shadyside posh for a long time.

and again and again...you can compare parts of pgh. to nyc all you want...but i think that shadyside bears a big resemblance to chestnut street in SF and southside's a lot like haight asbury and pacific heights is lot like oakland along fifth avenue...now let's see who can compare their favorite town to pgh. i love these online parlor games.

Sam M


I agree that NYC was a troubled city in the past. But I don't think it is fair to call it a "failed" city.

And even if it were a failed city in the era you mention, that was hardly a failure that can be attricuted to a failure of density. Here are some numbers on the city's population:


It actually didn't begin to plummet until the 1970s. But even then it fell by about 10 percent--hardly the sustained bleeding that has seen half of Pittsburgh's population head for greener pastures over the years. And even at it's worst, NYC still had more people in 1980 than it did in 1930.

Instead, I think you can attribute the city's "failures" to a host of problems. These include, but are not limited to, poor crime management, poor education management, poor hygiene, poor leadership, a terrible financial situation, etc.

And yes, you can add a host of government policies that made it easier for people to leave. And to get into the city from the 'burbs.

And despite all those problems, the city survived. Which I think is a tribute to all the things you love about cities. Especially NYC. As a matter of fact, i think that you have to call those amenities a huge success during the "Death Wish" era, as the kept the city's population as steady as they did.

So despite these problems, I would still call NYC a successful city. Even if the city did not have a lot of high-end condos on Wall Street.

And like I said, maybe they can make the city better. Shoot, they probably will. And I bet a lot of people are kincking themselves for not thinking of it earlier.

But i still think that there are other definitions of "city-ness." Ones that require density, sure, but different levels of density. And I am not sure that in every situation denser is better.

You talk a lot about convenience. Which is key. But isn't Squirrel Hill pretty convenient? I mean, there are coffee shops and a grocery store and bars and restaurants and local stores and chain stores and really great parks all within walking distance. And loads of jobs within, say, a mile. And while it is dense by Cranberry standards, it is not a neighborhood of high-rise apartment buildings, either.

So perhaps our definition of city living is different. but i think Squirrel Hill counts as a successful neighborhood within a city. If not a successful city unto itself, actually.

Now, this dos not mean that the city could not benefit from the kind of cityscape you are after. And I'll say it again, I am all for that cityscape. Really I am.

I just don't think that, absent that specific version of cityscape, Pittsburgh is necessarily a failed city.

Now, I hesitate to add that there might be other reasons to consider Pittsburgh a failed city. But its failure to look like Manhattan isn't one of them in my mind. Especially when you consider that Manhattan is a continually evolving place--going through localized and general shifts in "urbanity" as time moves on.

John Morris

I think that a lot of Sam's assumptions are just pretty flawed. First of all there are an increasing number of people who do bring thier jobs with them and at the right price range are pretty mobile. For example freelance artists/ consultants. For a lot of these people, once they have a steady enough number of clients and connections that are stable they can just move to a cheap place and work remotely. freelance artists/ designers are a big group like that. A lot of them are not that highly paid, so they are eager to live more cheaply if it's at all possible.

I do think that looking at the housing shortage in the major cities in the urban northeast is really important. I think that the urban shortage is around one million units short of demand. ( really just a total guess ) It's a big number, so if a small number of those people came to Pittsburgh it have a huge effect. That kind of a shortage isn't something it can fix fast and one of the main causes of it ( rent control ) is still in place.

Sam M


I understand your point. But I am not using my own prognostications. All I am doing is taking a look at what the Census Bureau adn Pittsburgh's own planners are saying: That they don't expect the city to grow all that much over the next 25 years.

So it doesn't really matter which people are here or which ones shift out or where they come from. The fact of the matter is that the government is subsidizing a arge number of residential projects in a city that does not seem to have a housing shortage. Maybe there are KINDS of houses that are in short supply. But if that were the case, wouldn't the genius developers see the need and build accordingly?

I think they would. And i think we would see some shifting.

All I am saying is that I am not comfortable having city hall pick the winners and losers. Which is exactly what is happening.

John Morris


You are pretty right about your history there. I think that one of the key things that happened ( which I have brought up before ) is that the people who commited the Cross Bronx expressway crime were stopped before they put in a lot more expressways and parking into the city.

Also NY, was almost the only city in America that had fully built up a high convenience infrastructure of inner city transit. Basically it just wasn't that easy to escape from NY for commuters and it was pretty convenient for it's residents and that really worked in NY's favor.
That's why I am sort of obsessed with the Parking thing. If NY had gutted itself like Pittsburgh had it would be Pittsburgh today.

John Morris


We have sort of been around a lot of these blocks many times.

1) As I said one has to compare some kind of similar housing types and lifestyles to get reasonable comparisons. some of the downtown stuff is likely to be creating a housing choice that the city just has not had before and it may apeal to a group of people who would never have considered urban property here before.

If they are done right there is a chance that a few of these loft and penthouse things will go to billionare types. Mark Cuban for example is unlikely to have found any previous property here up to his standards. Just looking at this from a pure view standpoint, I don't think that anything in the Shadyside, East Liberty would me even close. I guess the MT washington stuff is pretty great from that standpoint but does not have a decent level of convenience. Someone like that could buy a huge place just for a place to crash when he want's to go to a ball game.

Alain Belda, is also a very likely market for this kind of stuff as well as a lot of the major executive types who still work downtown. In this case it's likely that you have someone having an apartment in the city in addition to thier home in the suburbs. Belda is a very good example in that i think he is very much a true city lover/ penthouse type.

In this case the main things that compete with this kind of apartment would be Hotels. These likely are right now comming here and getting hotel rooms downtown. A lot of NY's most fancy apartment stuff sort of competes with hotel rooms for the super rich. One thing that I don't think that Pittsburgh realizes is that for relatively small town it is stacked with institutions that are pretty famous. For that reason it is a possible place for super rich crash pads.

Anyway, if it happened this stuff would not be competing against an existing housing type. It might free up one or two total mansions somewhere, but somehow I think they will find buyers.

Sean is right about the likely market for empty nester stuff and some of that will attract a few people from the outer burbs.

Sam M

I get the feeling that if Mark Cuban wanted a place to crash in Pittsburgh, he could make one happen. Without help from Lucas Piatt and Bob O'Connor.

But even if I am wrong, are there 5,000 Mark Cubans out there? Or enough to fill all the condos they are building, however many there are?

Moreover, how would someone who comes in once every few weeks or months add the density you say you need to support vibrant retail?

And last, do you think "O" is wrong? He says that the new housing is meant as replacement housing. Housing for Mark Cuban would be new housing, since he doesn't have housing here now. He would be an addition to the population. They are not planning for additions. Unless, again, O is wrong. Or he is right, but the planners are lying.

I can see the plan you just described working--if they were building , say, 100 condos for the super-rich. But they aren't. They are building several thousand relatively high-end apartments. Ones that I do not think are geared towards the Cuban crowd. Unless he buys 10 of them and combines them.

But even then you still have a few thousand to sell.

But as always, the caveat: I would love to hear that Mr. Cuban was grabbing a pad downtown. Such people are culture-makers. And quite interesting, to boot. Although i am not so sure about those guys who fly around in balloons.

John Morris


As far as using dated census data from the 2000 census and long range government studies to make projections-- that is just not too libertarian. Pittsburgh's local market has been pretty slow to change so they may have some value here. But on a national basis, i think that most of that data is pretty useless. NY has changed and continues to change so fast pushed by and is pushed by huge factors like ileagal imigration so data there from the 2000 census is really useless. That is one reason that I can't even hope to guess at how short NY is of housing. A lot of NY's housing
market is underground and kind of black market. I think that the Bay area is similar.

Given the pace of global change and technological change, making long range projections using government data is just not smart. Was there a lot of government data predicting a tech boom in India or what now seems to be the emergence of Leipzig in Germany as a major cultural center? A few very smart people made some guesses based on new trends and that was about it I think.

I do think that a huge mistake is being made by people if they are not taking seriously the chances for demand from places like NY or San Francisco or for that matter England.

Amos the Poker Cat

I wonder how many people actually read the BalSun article you quoted. By the way, the title was "Condo craze losing steam". Classic stuff about top in a housing bubble market. Condos are just the street sweeper at the end of the parade.

This is not a supply of condos driving down suburban prices, this is "rising interest rates, soaring energy costs and record home prices" slowing down a "red-hot" housing market. Condos being at the bottom of the housing food chain, will suffer the most, in the short term.

sean mcdaniel

Well, one think that's pretty common about trends and Pittsburgh, is that they come here towards the end of their lifespan. As much as anything, the point about the factors slowing the housing market probably will affect condo sales here more than any sort of glut of units — subsidized or not.

God, I love these capital letters.


I feel like a seagull coming in here, causing a ruckus, pooping all over everything, and flying away... but that's what I do.

Just to clarify my statement above about "housing replacement strategy": this is not just for downtown; it holds for every neighborhood in the City. Homewood, Garfield, Northside etc. are being replaced as well. (But this is a different discussion)

Also, the membrane of the City is not impermeable: migration patterns in and out of the City also affect the region and the surrounding municipalities. So, Shadyside may not have a net loss, but Wilkinsburg may.

Sam M


Poop away. We're accustomed to shoveling.

And completely understood about migration. I am completely willing to concede that a place like Shadyside will come out even. But if you put up new houses and no one new comes to town, those people moving in downtown have to come from somewhere.

And no one seems to want to talk about where.

Fact of the matter is, I think I woul dbe happier of the people shuffling in and/or aroiund the city tried shoring up some of the old neighborhoods before we tried offering them money to settle in a new one.

Downtown was never much aof a neighborhood. It might be nice if it did become one. But how about we fix up Wilkinsburg first?


I think I would be happier if the people shuffling in and/or aroiund the city tried shoring up some of the old neighborhoods before we tried offering them money to settle in a new one.

I corrected some of your typos there Sam, but here's my response:

They are. It's just not as sexy, however, for the P-G or the Trib to write about the millions in low interest loans and grants to people to fix up their homes. I think I read about this over at Fester's Place about a year ago, although I can't find the citation: a huge part of the URA budget actually goes to these low interest loans and grant programs to homeowners. That actually shocked me, and hopefully I can find the post somewhere. Anyway, Manchester, Central Northside, or Friendship wouldn't be the same without those types of programs, but no one actually talks about it because it's just not that interesting.

Point being, yes the neighborhoods are being addressed... 'cept for those blighters out in Wilkinsburg (who are under the auspices of the County, and can go fuck themselves).

Sam M


That's good to know. And it makes me a lot less uneasy about who's being incentivized to do what. I guess the Piatts could argue that their handouts are just "leveling the playing field."

Although I wonder. I am not all that familiar with the URA's incentives for the neighborhoods (I'll search Fester) but can they be as juicy as the ones going to PNC and the Piatts? (Yes, the Piatt's appear to be from the state. But we'll see.)

I mean, I might just go ahead and grab a fixer-upper if:

1. The city buys the property first.
2. The city, instead of opening it up to all buyers, says that I am the only person allowed to buy it.
3. The city lets me name my price, even if the city takes a bath on the offer.
4. The city agrees to forgive my property taxes until, say, 2036.
5. The city (or state) throws in about $100,000 so I can get the best sort of upgrades.
6. The city agrees to reroute public transit routes to my liking.

Because as far as I can tell, that's what redevelopment officials are promising the big-time developers. Isn't it? Is there anything even close to that for young families or singles willing to live on the frontier?

More important, I would be interested to see where the bulk of this assistance goes. Puts me in mind of farm subsidies, which are supposed to help the family farmer. But instead go almost exclusively to Big Agriculture. So in Pittsburgh's case, is it really going to the average homebuyer? Or does it funnel through Walnut Capital or those people throwing up $600,000 townhouses on the South Side Slopes?

I am not really sure what the difference would be. A refurb is a refurb, right? Still. I wonder where it's going. Again... Fester?

Last, the libertarian in me (that damn guy) has questions about all of this anyway. People already have an incentive to fix up Garfield, right? I mean, the market has sort of taken care of that. By making the price of a house in that area extremely low. So even without subsidies and low-interest loans, wouldn't the refurb money be going to those neighborhoods anyway? At least the artsy fartsy money would. Right? As it stands, we seem to be subsidizing all housing at all levels to anyone who comes asking. Again, why not look at the low prices in the area, declare victory and use the money to dig the city out of debt?

But to be honest, while I am suspicious of subsidies in all cases, some seem worse than others. And if I had a choice, I would rather use $1 million to seed 50 refurbs in Garfield than five luxury condos downtown.

But that's just a personal preference.

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