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Mark Stroup

Good point. The "Cultural District" has moved twice, from Downtown to Oakland and back again. Being from Friendship means that a lot of what I consider Pittsburgh happens to be in the East End. One of the best theater troupes in the city, Quantum Theatre, does not have a home and shows up where ever, mostly in vacant buildings and such like.

In the case of Pittsburgh's bohemia, I'm guessing it's fairly diffuse: Polish Hill, South Side, South Oakland, Bloomfield, and Lawrenceville.

Sam M


Well said.

And I think it is worth asking: Doesn't it seem that in many places today, people are conflating the ideas of "downtown" and "central business district"?

That is, there seems to be a push in Pittsburgh to make sure a whole bunch of creative types live in the Forbes-Fifth corridor. That might be worth doing. But it's something entirely new, isn't it? Not that new is always wrong. But there appears to be a problem if this is part of a larger effort to "reclaim" a particular golden age of urbanity. Because it didn't exist.

Moreover, it seems not to exist even in places that advocates for urban living point to as models. Places like New York. I refer you back to the article: "Starting in the 1960’s, what New Yorkers meant by 'downtown' shifted from Greenwich Village to SoHo to TriBeCa to the Lower East Side."

Note that this does not say "Wall Street." Yes, they are building some condos down there now. But it does not seeem all that clear to me that to be an "authentic city," every urban area needs to turn its central business district into a residential district. Maybe that makes sense in some places. But surely not in all places.

Maybe it seems to make sense that people ought to be able to walk to the theater district. But it is not obviously so. Look at the progression of places considered NYC's "downtown." Can you walk to Times Square and "Broadway" from any of them? Surely you can't from Williamsburg.

So if creative class urbanites in NYC can take a cab to see Les Miserables and still maintain their claim to urbanity, why can't creative class urbanites in Pittsburgh?

sean mcdaniel

bohemia is different than downtown. a real new yorker will never agree that downtown moved to brooklyn. the attitude might, but the actual space can't. as for pittsburgh, it never had a downtown attitude or a bohemian culture that you might find in new york or san francisco. i don't think many beatniks flock to greenwich village or north beach anymore.

John Morris

I don't mean to call you a moron Sam, but well i guess I just did. The defining desirable aspect of the kind of place we are talking about is High density, diversity, convenience and some level of afordability. No this type of a place does not have to be downtown, but, by nature it pretty much has to be an area that can support a lot of density. Downtowns which usually have a wide range of road access, transit hubs and big buildings are often where that happens or nearby.

I lived, in Williamsburgh and I can tell you that it's density level is much higher than any Pittsburgh neighborhood and it had decent access by subway to Manhattan (1 stop from Bedford Ave )I now live in Lawrenceville and to compare it is a joke. Lawrenceville can barely support a supermarket.

Honesstly Sam, when was the last time you were in NY. Willimsburgh happened after and becaues of the other scenes it desended from and is related to. The L line through Williamsburgh cuts into Manhattan at 14th ST, running through the east villiage and then Greenwich Villiage. If Manhattan had no residents or diversity the chances of Williamsburgh developing them would have been very remote.

The whole thing gets back to a lack of understanding of how cities work. Neighborhoods support and reinforce one another and that is why the develpement of a fuctional downtown will help make the whole city better. Whether you see it or not the downtown is the most public face of Pittsburgh to outsiders.

Last night I went to the openings at the Mattress Factory. Almost all the artists in the shows had flown in on short trips through town. Because most did not have thier cars with them they will spend a few days on the North Side and perhaps go through the downtown, because of the lack of a functioning downtown or a good transit system most of them will not be going anywhere else in Pittsburgh. I invited a few for a tour, but most declined.

sean mcdaniel

oh my god, i think that john morris is channeling me...i feel so violated.

by the way, try getting from the MF to downtown at 10 p.m. on a saturday. that says something about a transit system that can't get you downtown from less than 1.5 miles away.

John Morris

The North Side is such a frustrating area. You see the city, and have such a great bit of local beauty, but then it just stops. If Pittsburgh, were a girl she would be called a tease. You get downtown and find that she was just turning you on but won't put out.

Getting back to NY, what you are really seeing is the city finally trying to become one giant downtown. That's because the demand for lively neighborhoods is so great. San Franciso seems like that, in that the demand is insatiable. NY, by the way is also running into issues with a transit system that doesn,t fully support growth. Manhattan has an awsome grid, but the full system needed to create the mixed use "mega downtown type city through the outer boroughs is not there.

John Morris

Oh wow, I am one of you guys now. I put an h at the end of Williamsburg!!!
In my defence, I didn't live there for long. I am from Queens.

sean mcdaniel

actually, it's not any easier to get from 17th and Carson at 10 p.m. on a Saturday if public transit is your only ride.

sean mcdaniel

as for southside on a saturday night compared to northside...there's no reason to leave carson...there's too much going on. if there's no baseball game or concert or steelers game, the northside is dead at night. because nearly everyone is waiting for someone else to take the lead. a few people are. but not enough.

John Morris

Look at the Data. The southside has a decent level of housing density on either side of Carson. That's the core of what makes the area viable.

The North Side is an area that's fate is tied to and reinforces the downtown. If more people live downtown then some will come over to the North Side. The same would work the other way around. The whole attempt to revive the whole area, shows what a mistake the stadiums were. ( Heinz in partcular )They sit smack in the spot where the High density housing should have been. I mean, it looks like some people are going to pay a lot for the waterfront view from downtown of the North Side so wouldn't the view of the downtown be a bit more valuable?

the deal is the same for transit. without mass transit you can't have too much density and without density, you don't have enough riders to support transit.

sean mcdaniel

hey, john morris...

i lived on the north side when the federal street near the ball parks was a mix of typical businesses (banks, restaurants, theaters, drug stores. the streets off federal were a mix of trucking companies, meat packing plants and other industrial places. there were was never much residential space there (at least not since exposition park in the early 1900s.

most of the people on the north side lived north of where allegheny center is. but back then...we could all walk straight down federal street from north and stop at the library or the markethouse (it was like an indoor strip district) that use to be across the street from it...and that federal street business district that started just above north avenue (and spilled over onto north avenue and east ohio street and western avenue) made for a pretty lively, diverse and sustainable neighborhood...even without a high density population where PNC Park and Heinz Field (a scarp yard side for decades) Catch up on your pittsburgh history.

next on the lesson plan..the rape of manchester. surprise and show me that you know what i'm talking about...yeah, there used to be a decent sized business district west of the berlin wall that we call the ohio river boulevard just north of the west end bridge.

Johnny boy, do your homework.

John Morris

Sean, I am just telling you the basic facts one can do what one likes with them.

One very important one that aplies to almost all of Pittsburgh is that the old housing stock once supported a much larger population than it does now, because there was a crowding of a lot of people in each house.

Lawrenceville for example once had a population of over 22,000 and it is now around 12,000. The statistics for Bloomfield are similar.

And as far as allegheny center goes. As you say ther was population removed to put that thing in. By the way if you want me to say that Allegheny center should go, the answer is hell yes.

If you want to somehow prove my basic point wrong, you would have to show that the north side had all these lively business disticts at and a population that was lower than it is today or near the same.
The general statistics tell the logical story that the death of a lot of business districts relates to the loss in poulation and also the orientation of the city towards highways and sprawl

John Morris

Hi Sean,

I found this number in Trib review article which gives a peak population figure for the city of Allegheny in the early 1900's.

"Incorporated as a borough with about 1,000 residents in 1828, the population climbed to 10,000 by 1840, when Allegheny was designated a city, and shot to nearly 150,000 before it was annexed by Pittsburgh."

Somehow, I think that number has dropped a bit.

John Morris

Hi Sean,

Your homework assignment has been very interesting. But, from your standpoint, I am unsure what your goal was here. I guess you thought that I would discover facts that disproved my point. From what I could see it was just more supporting data.

From the Manchester research, and other North side research, I see that ther once was normal street grid where allegheny Center was, That there once was a trolley system and that later, most of the North Side was cut up by highways, and then was evacuated to the suburbs.

"Manchester was part of the preserve of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians until the late eighteenth century, when all Indian lands in Pennsylvania were ceded to the State. In 1787, the land was surveyed and laid out as a section of the Reserve Tract, which was conferred as partial compensation to Pennsylvania's Revolutionary War veterans. Development in Manchester was encouraged by its division into large parcels of land, which were sold in conjunction with smaller town lots located in the city of Allegheny. Situated on one of Pittsburgh's few riverside plains, the level nature of the land allowed the community to be laid out in a standard grid pattern in 1832. Manchester became a borough in 1843, and in 1867 it merged with the city of Allegheny. In 1908, Allegheny was annexed to the city of Pittsburgh. Manchester was largely built up between 1860 and 1900, and attracted residents from Pittsburgh and Allegheny who desired to escape the density of the city. The installation of a streetcar network in the late nineteenth century linked Manchester to both cities, and stimulated its development as a suburban neighborhood. The community grew into a middle-class suburb, populated largely by local businessmen and their families.

The name Manchester seems to have originated from the English immigrants who first settled in the area and named the community after its industrial English counterpart. Manchester was an important industrial center for the city of Allegheny. The neighborhood was originally supported by industrial and wharf activity situated on the shore of the Ohio River, and factories loosely woven into the community. The Pittsburgh Locomotive and Car Works was a notable Manchester industry which produced the first Allegheny-built locomotive. Manchester's historical boundaries extended beyond Chateau Street to the shores of the Ohio River, with a neighborhoof commercial district along Beaver Avenue. However, the western section of Manchester was severed in the 1950s when the elevated Route 65 Expressway was constructed. The expressway bisected the original neighborhood and created a separate commercial district called Chateau. Thus, today's Manchester is a remnant of a neighborhood that was once closely linked to the commercial and industrial sections closer to the river."

All of this just suggests that the revival of both the downtown and the North Side requires a massive boost in population, the revival of a normal walkable street grid and basic mass transit.

sean mcdaniel

J. Morris:
I couldn't agree more with you...partitioning and isolating parts of the n.side helped to kill it. again, there was no population center where allegheny center now stands...it was a business district.

as for the need for high density population, what are the numbers on bloomfield, shadyside, southside and squirrel hill as far as peak population and today? i imagine those neighborhoods sport lower totals, but have managed to remain vibrant, sometimes throught reinvention, in the case of shadyside and south side...and maybe walkability.

one of the biggest problems facing pittsburgh's vitality is the issue of the city's neighborhoods not being connected. Sometimes the lack of connection is real...you know, bridges and rivers and valleys and tunnels that cause physical separations. but really, those are few. the mon and the ohio aren't the mississippi or delaware rivers. they're both less than a quarter mile wide at the smithfield street bridge and the sixth, seventh and ninth street bridges.

however, the imgained connection between the strip and downtown is thin...the history museum...eide's comic book store...a couple of clubs ....and a few other places are really the other "attractions" between 10th street and 17th street. And the convention center is the first of a series of "gaps" between the strip and downtown.

shadyside and squirrel hills aren't that far apart...but even most pittsburghers probably think the distance between them is about 3-5 miles ...or seems like it.

got any ideas how to narrow those real and perceived gaps?

Sam M

John says:

"I don't mean to call you a moron Sam, but well i guess I just did. The defining desirable aspect of the kind of place we are talking about is High density, diversity, convenience and some level of afordability."

I have heard the moron charge to often and in too many contexts to dismiss it out of hand. But I am not at all sure it applies here. Let us consider why artists began moving to Williamsburgh in the early 1990s. (Data used here comes from http://www.answers.com/topic/williamsburg-brooklyn )


Did the artists move there because they thought, "Wow, that place is dense."? I doubt that. There are a lot of much denser neighborhoods in NYC. In fact, by the early 1990s Williamsburg, or many parts of it, were more industrial than residential. That is, the human density was relatively light:

"On May 11 2005 the New York City Council passed a large-scale rezoning of the North Side and Greenpoint waterfront. Now, most of the neighborhood will be zoned for high density residential uses and mixed use

... The neighborhoods were once characterized by active manufacturing and other light industry interspersed with smaller residential buildings, but are now dominated by over a hundred residentially converted loft buildings and new residential buildings."

Note that in both of these cases, the operative word is "now." That is, Williamsburg is becoming extremely dense. But relaitve to other neighborhoods, it was not so dense when the artists started moving there.

This makes sense. Density is at least in part a funtion of desirablity. That is, why pay a whole bunch of money and live on top of people in a crap hole. Sure, live in a crowded, expenive apartment in the neighborhood really rocks. But if it sucks, you might expect a break on what you are paying. Did this play any role in the decision many artists made to move there? It sis, according to this article:

"Low rents were a major reason why artists first started settling in the area, but that situation has drastically changed. "

This kind of thing can happen organically. Like it did in Williamsburg. It was poor. Then it got rich. Then it got dense. Then it got poor. Then it depopulated. Then industry moved back in. Then it got cheap. Then the artists moved in. Then it got rich. Etc. Here's how things stand now:

"Average rents in Williamsburg can now range from approximately $1200 for a studio apartment, $1,400-2,000 for a one-bedroom, and $2,000-3,000 for a two-bedroom. In many buildings, the rents have more than doubled in the past few years alone. The North Side (above Grand Street, which separates the North Side from the South Side, is somewhat more expensive, due to its proximity to the L and G train lines. More recent gentrification, however, has prompted an increase in rent prices below Grand Street as well. Higher rents - and now the imminent spectre of waterfront rezoning and high-rise construction - have driven many priced-out bohemians to find new creative communities further afield..."

It's not the most expensive neighborhood in NYC by a long shot. But it's not the rock-bottom artists enclave anymore, either. Which is fine. That's how things go.

My problem is that every urban designer in the world is intent on saving every city in the world by attracting these artists and the accoutrements they bring with them. They are the creative class! They drink good coffee! They are interesting!

And you know what? All of these things are true.

The only problem is that Pittsburgh WILl NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LET ANYTHING HAPPEN ORGANICALLY. That is, it is always part of some grand central plan. And the planners, to be charitable here, do not always get it right.

They are trying to turn downtown into the Williamsburg of tomorrow. That is, look at wht Williamsburg is becoming. All high-end condos and lofts, places the artists--and increasingly, middle class people--cannot afford.
Only in Pittsburgh, we won't let it go through the cycle. We confuse the trappings of vitality with vitality. "Let's build some lofts." Or, "Let's build some condos."

Well, you know why people are going in and building condos in Williamsburg? Because there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to live there. The move towards density makes sense.

Is there that kind of demand for housing in Pittsburgh? I am not aware of it. As a matter of fact, the planners who have devised these very plans are assuming that there will not be an influx of people to fill the houses. And despite all the protests people have been making, that means, necessarily, that these people are going to have to come from elsewhere in the city.

I've been over this a thousad times before. And maybe it is moronic. But to be clear: I am not saying that Lawrenceville 2006=Williamsburg 1990. Or that it should.

But I do get the sense that there are a whole lot of people saying Downtown Pittsburgh will be the same as Manhattan (or at least a little Manhattan) if we can somehow make the Forbes-Fifth corridor look like Williamsburg is beginning to look today.

And yes. I think that's pretty moronic.

And a final word on density, from the article:

"The opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 marked the real turning point in the area’s history. The community was then opened up to thousands of upwardly mobile immigrants and second-generation Americans fleeing the overcrowded slum tenements of Manhattan's Lower East Side."

Again, density is not an unmitigated good. And the nasty people who used highways to flee it in the 1950s were not the first people to do so. Fifty years earlier, a whole bunch of people used bridges to flee density in NYC. To go live in suburbs. Like Williamsburg. Which was already an established town, but quickly became an adjuct to NYC.

sean mcdaniel

actually, what's happening to williamsburg, greenpoint, etc. is exactly what's happened in shadyside (a little boho neighborhood 35 years ago) and southside (a really rundown blue-collar place 20 years ago). yeah, it really is great when artists move in and eager entrepreneurs open eclectic shops and restaurants. but then the young professionals move in and up the real estate prices...and then the old empty nesters follow and drive up the prices even more...and the artists move on to the next place...the growth is organic and mobile. follow the artists...and watch neighborhoods become hot and expensive. no matter where you go. hell, sometimes the artists are the ones who earn more and continue to transform their neighborhoods into enclaves for the affluent. i'm guessing lou reed doesn't still live in a walkup flat on in greenwich village. last i heard, bruce springsteen wasn't living in an abandoned factory anymore.

density is like subsidies...both have good and bad points.


I don't think that the intention of housing downtown is to turn it into SoHo. I think it's simply to have bodies that live there, to keep foot traffic there at night and help support retail etc. which in turn will make the place livelier inviting more to do and more non-downtowners to visit and play etc.

The best thing that could happen to the N Side would be to level Allegheny Ctr - all of it and if something smart were put in its place (not to be trendy, but mixed use certainy applies here) the N Side could blossom.

Between the divide of the interstate, the vast wasteland of Allegheny Ctr and rundown areas that surround it, the N Side doesn't have a reason to proper, nor is it inviting.

I will say that organic things have happened in Pittsburgh - the Southside was largely organic until the SSWorks. I suppose that I am suggesting that whatever would replace Allegheny Ctr wouldn't be, but there should be a plan for that key centraol area someday.

John Morris

No Sam,your argument is moronic. What you are assuming is that something like Williamsburg would have happened without Manhattan.

Density and energy developed in the Manhattan Neighborhoods across from Williamsburg and then people who missed out on that festival ended up in Williamsburg.One stop on the L line from Bedford puts one in Manhattan, and three stops you are in Union Square.

To put this in perspective, Manhattan has over 1.5 million residents and the subway lines that move them around.

You are right in saying that the demand, was generally for space, but it was space with a strong connection to the city and a sense of community.
Williamsburg, is still within reasonable distance from NY's big money areas and galleries to be a place where artist's can get studio visits.

Look, when you say that you want this to happen organically, I am totally with you. I obviously think that there is a huge organic demand out there for the kind of city i am imagining and I think that the real estate prices in NY, Boston etc... prove the point.

sean mcdaniel

okay, i'm going to borrow a page from sam's playbook...there are only so many people you can shuffle around town...especially since property taxes are a killer around here...if you want people on n.side...downtown...south side...lawrenceville...garfield...greefield...then you better start making city schools and housing prices and taxes far more attractive.

eventually, this market will run out of high end buyers ($300,000 and up). honestly, there are houses on the southside slopes listing at $600,000-plus. yes, they are only a few in number. but they weren' there 5 years ago. the question is...if you're grandma, aunt and uncle and parents all move off the slopes (even if they sell for around $100,000 or so, where will they move that they can afford? especially since they'll get hit with a big boost in property taxes.

can you believe what you're reading sam?

John Morris

Probably, the only good aspects of central planning, and collectivism in general is that from it one can often learn from failure. Thanks to Russia, China, North Korea, East Germany and Ethiopia, rational people can see failed ideas in action so that wise people see what not to do.

The same applies to urban planning and for that reason, logic would dictate that running in the opposite direction from the previous urban plans would be the smart move. I think that most people can see that destroying the street grid with Allegheny center was a mistake, but no one will propose the obvious answer.

John Morris

I think that one has to define density. Density, just means that a large number of people live in an area and it does not automatically mean that they are living ten to a room. One of the promising aspects of the downtown, is that it is a place one can have apartment buildings which put a lot of people into an area without overcrowding them.

A decent level of density, is pretty much a requirement of viable shopping areas that hope to becme more than malls surounded by parking and it is the thing that makes a 24 hour city.

John Morris

I think that one has to define density. Density, just means that a large number of people live in an area and it does not automatically mean that they are living ten to a room. One of the promising aspects of the downtown, is that it is a place one can have apartment buildings which put a lot of people into an area without overcrowding them.

A decent level of density, is pretty much a requirement of viable shopping areas that hope to becme more than malls surounded by parking and it is the thing that makes a 24 hour city.

John Morris

I think that one has to define density. Density, just means that a large number of people live in an area and it does not automatically mean that they are living ten to a room. One of the promising aspects of the downtown, is that it is a place one can have apartment buildings which put a lot of people into an area without overcrowding them.

A decent level of density, is pretty much a requirement of viable shopping areas that hope to becme more than malls surounded by parking and it is the thing that makes a 24 hour city.

John Morris

I think that one has to define density. Density, just means that a large number of people live in an area and it does not automatically mean that they are living ten to a room. One of the promising aspects of the downtown, is that it is a place one can have apartment buildings which put a lot of people into an area without overcrowding them.

A decent level of density, is pretty much a requirement of viable shopping areas that hope to becme more than malls surounded by parking and it is the thing that makes a 24 hour city.

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