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sean mcdaniel

I'm interested in seeing what they call affordable. I think the key phrase "lower-cost" housing.

John Morris

Anyway, I rest my case that, at least in the case of NY- living in the city is very popular- the main issue is cost.

Sam M

John,

Agreed. It is popular. I don't think anyone is arguing otherwise. At least I am not.

All I am saying is that "downtown" is not the only area that is popular. In NYC or in Pittsburgh or in any other city. People like Park Slope. They like Midtown. They like uptown. Different parts of the city are different. And denser does not always equal better. Some people are looking for something else.

This whole discussion started long time ago when I complained that Pittsburgh's big plan favored residential in one neighborhood over residential in another. Yes. There is a demand for housing downtown. Great. Let someone measure that demand and take a risk on it.

Instead, we get this:

http://www.postgazette.com/pg/06284/728937-53.stm

Or we get the city and state giving millions to PNC. Despite the fact that PNC can afford a $6 billion bank in Baltimore--a transaction that saw them promise at least $25 million in charity to that city.

So... Taxpayers here chip in millions... to be distributed in a city elsewhere... all in an effort to to gain goodwill for a multi-billion-dollar bank that can afford to buy another multi-billion-dollar bank...

And part of the reason we chip in the money here is to build condos for some of the richest people in the city.

Again, I have no problem with anyone building condos downtown. I just think this is a bizarre way to go about it. Especially since, as you note, the demand for the condos is already there.

Something stinks pretty bad.


By the way, here's the article detailing PNC's commitment to donate $25 million in Baltimore...

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.charity10oct10,0,3949709.story

I am not anti-city. I just think a lot of things qualify as "urban." I think Shadyside and Bloomfield and South Side are all urban in their own way.

And I think that cities can be "functional" without looking the same. That is, I don't think "more dense" necessarily equals "more functional." Geography, history, economics and culture will all play a role.

Maybe some city's have to have rail service to be functional. Maybe some don't. Maybe some need high residential density downtown. Maybe some don't. Maybe some should be built for people with cars. Maybe some shouldn't. Maybe some should have 60-story apartment buildings. Maybe some shouldn't.

I think, as a rule, you can probably say that "denser" equates with "more urban." But not always. Moreover, I don't think either necessarily equates with "better."

John Morris

Sam,

Looping around again to San Francisco. Given that the two cities are so similar in land area, colleges, geography etc... I think it is up to you guys to show me why San Francisco is not a reasonable model. Show me a small city in land area, with major geographic barriers like hills or water that succeeds by thinning itself out.

A lot of this comes down to tax dollars. If Pittsburgh were to incorporate a large number of it's suburbs, then, one might be able to make a somewhat twisted case that sprawl was at least not directly finacially harmfull to the city.

Sam M

John,

I am not sure what you mean by "model." When I point to something like Mercer Island or Point Slope or anywhere else, I am not doing so because I think Pittsburgh should be like that. Or try to be like that. I think that is where part of the disconnect is coming from.

Instead, I point to these places because I think they show a variety of people trying to live in a variety of ways. I am particularly interested in people of means because they have options. That is, I am interested in seeing how people live when they can choose how to live.

Some wealthy people choose to live in highly urbanized environments. They can walk to work and the theater, etc. Some wealthy people chose to live in rural areas. Raise horses or do whatever else it is rich people do in the country. And some wealthy people choose to mix things up a bit.

That is, I agree that it is difficult to generalize about what "people" want. I also happen to think that is true of cities.

I am right with you on the exurbs, which I, perhaps unfairly, characterize as the land of McMansions and Hummers. I don't want to live in that kind of place. But some people do.

And to be honest, I don't want to live like the Kramdens, either. Or any of my friends in NYC. And let me be clear: Even if I won the lottery or got rich in some other way, I still would not want to live there. And I would not want to live in Pittsburgh's cultural district, either.

My version of a perfect world includes a single-family home, some kind of yard, and sidewalks that can get me to a church, a school, a grocery store and some bars in pretty short order. If I could walk to work, all the better. And I am willing to walk some distance. I walked about 2 miles to work in DC. And I do the same now.

That is, for me, and a lot of other people, denser is not necesarily better.

I don't begrudge people their density. I think it would be great of Pittsburgh got some more energy downtown. I am just not sure that kind of energy is critical for Pittsburgh to be a "success."

Which brings me to another question: What do we mean by "successful city"? That's why I spend so much time trying to define "downtown" and other terms. Because they are important. I have said it again and again, but here goes again: If a strong residential component in a city's central business district has always been necessary for a city to be successful, Pittsburgh has never been successful. And I don't think that is the case.

And I don't think it is the case that Manhattan is a failure because there has not always been a lot of condos on Wall Street. I mentioned San Francisco in this context before: About two years ago I was there. Stayed down in the financial district. When it got dark, there might as well have been tumbleweeds blowing through the place. It was dead. Does that mean San Fran is a failed city? Of course not.

Or do we measure by population growth? If that's the case, one of the most successful cities in America over the past few years has been Las Vegas. But I don't think that's a place that fits your vision of success.

So I don't know what city to use as a "model" for "success." I do know that San Francisco is different than Pittsburgh in a lot of ways. The most important being that it has been at the geographic center of one of the most profoundly transformative economic booms in world history.

Pittsburgh was, too. In 1890.

So was San Fran at the center of that boom because it was dense? Or is it dense because it was at the center of that boom? To be honest, I suspect that they feed off each other. But I don't think it is linear enough to say that Silicon Valley is where it is because San Francisco has BART. Or because it has high-rise apartment buildings. (And I don't think you are making that linear case, either.)

What I mean is, part of the reason San Fran is "successful" is because there are jobs there. Some of that is due to good leadership. Some of it is due to good luck. Some of it is due to historical accident. Some of it is due to the presence of government-supplied infrastructure. Etc.

But fine. Let's say San Fran should be the model. What would that mean? That we should build a BART system? That CMU should be Stanford? That we should keep building tiny condos in hopes that they will someday cost $1.2 million apiece?

I think a lot of that is the cart before the horse. Maybe I am hopelessly old fashioned, but I think that people will move anywhere if there are jobs. And will move away from anywhere if there are not any. Remember the Seattle example. As beautiful as the lanscape there has always been, the city was in a death spiral after Boeing started bleeding jobs. A great transit system did not save the city. Jobs did.

Did having an attractive landscape and some decent amenities help attract some of those companies? I am sure they did. But that's not always the case. Look at Vegas. There are fewer places in the world less-well suited for human habitation. And there are few cities more offensive to "urban" sensibilities. And still it grows and grows and grows and grows.

And grows.

Because there is work there.

If you want another example, try industrial Pittsburgh. It wasn't exactly Shangri La. But people moved here in droves for work.

Just like they are moving to Charlotte today. Not because they love Charlotte or because they think its urban planners het it right. But because they got a job with a huge bank and the boss said, "Move to Charlotte."

So is Charlotte a success? By what measure? Or is it a failure? By what measure? Whatever answer you give, I think a reasonable person could disagree.

And I think that applies here in Pittsburgh. I think that it is possible to imagine a successful Pittsburgh with 20,000 people living downtown. But I also think it is possible to consider a suceesful Pittbsurgh in which those 20,000 people live in Lawrenceville and similar communities.

John Morris

Whatever. I guess, I am a glutton for punishment to keep doing this. Want to try and answer the tax question?

John Morris

Sam,

here we go again having to dump in facts. here's the data on San Francisco's population.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco%2C_California#Demographics

It shows that San Francisco had a large population before the "transformative boom".

Really, my question is in no way a romantic one-- this is all about cash. As I recall, Pittsburgh remains the large job engine in the region, but a high percentage of people choose to live out of town. This is a lot like D.C.; which we have gone into before. Given the current situation, in which such a high percentage of people work for non profit's and then go home to live outside of the city limits and shop there to; what would be your plan to have the city get some of this money.

Do you think this is a sustainable situation? Wouldn't serious attempts to recapture residents be a priority? Does the city have an economic interest in being a parking lot for commuters?


sean mcdaniel

i'll ask this question again...and then jump off this crazy tilt a whirl...

why does pittsburgh have to be like SF or NYC or Hong Kong...

Why can it be like Denver or Asheville...nice places but not great cities?

take a look at the two teams in the American League playoffs...Detroit and Oakland are big money teams...but they're both still good (and the As are perennial playoff contenders). And where are the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles? Those big spenders are watching on TV.

So anyone care to answer?

John Morris

Answer the tax question please. Pittsburgh has geographic realities and if you don't like them, take it up with god.

John Morris

Sean,

Once again you bring up cities with little in common with Pittsburgh. Lets start with Denver. It can't be like something it isn't.

Denver-- 154.9 sq miles
Pittsburgh 58 sq miles

heres a description of Denvers street grid

Most of Denver has a straightforward street grid oriented to the four cardinal directions. Blocks are usually identified in hundreds from the median streets, identified as "0", which are Broadway (the west-east median) and Ellsworth Avenue (the north-south median). Colfax Avenue, the major east-west artery through Denver, is 15 blocks (1500) north of the median. Avenues north of Ellsworth are numbered (with the exception of Colfax Avenue and a few others), while avenues south of Ellsworth are named.

There is also an older downtown grid system that was designed to be parallel to the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Most of the streets downtown and in LoDo run northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast. This system has an unplanned benefit for snow removal; if the streets were in a normal N-S/E-W grid, only the N-S streets would receive sunlight. With the grid oriented to the diagonal directions, the NW-SE streets receive sunlight to melt snow in the morning and the NE-SW streets receive it in the afternoon. The NW-SE streets are numbered, while the NE-SW streets are named. The named streets start at the intersection of Colfax Avenue and Broadway with the block-long Cheyenne Place. The numbered streets start underneath the Colfax and I-25 viaducts. There are 27 named and 44 numbered streets on this grid. There are also a few vestiges of the old grid system in the normal grid, such as Park Avenue, Morrison Road, and Speer Boulevard.

All roads in the downtown grid system are streets. (16th Street, Stout Street) Roads outside of that system that travel east/west are given the suffix "avenue" and those that head north and south are given the "street" suffix. (Example, Colfax Avenue, Lincoln Street,). Boulevards are higher capacity streets and will travel any direction. Smaller roads are sometimes referred to as places, drives or courts. Most streets outside of the area between Broadway and Colorado Boulevard are organized alphabetically from the city's center.


Speer and I-25; the Qwest Building often acts as a navigational tool.Confusion may arise where the two grid systems meet, especially given downtown Denver's one way streets. The system can be easily navigated with the help of directional signs. The mountains to the west also offer a great compass-point for those attempting to drive in the Mile High City.

[edit]
Highways

Sam M

OK. But what is the tax question? I have seen you mention taxes. How to tax people? Or how to make sure people are city residents so you can tax them?

If that is the question, I don't see how getting people to live in the Fifth-Forbes corridor is any better than getting them to live in Lawrenceville, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill or any of the city's 88 neighborhoods.

And I certainly don't see how it helps if you get them to live downtown by subsidizing housing through TIFs that allow developers to forego taxes.

I never said I was against people moving into the city. All I did was ask why the city would prefer one zip code to another. So I guess my solution to the tax issue is the same as yours. Only I don't really care where people live when they move into the city. And I guess I am a little more skeptical when I see the city make plans that are specifically designed to move people around within the city. (Remember: Boosters of the current plan are working under the assumption that it will not increase the population.)

Apart from that, the city does appear to be in a financing bind. It's bankrupt. Perhaps it spent too much revitalizing itself.

I think the $18 million it is pitching in for PNC's skyscraper is a case in point.

And as for geography... San Fran has an ocean problem. Or I guess it's not a problem if you want to keep people living in the city. What I mean is, Pittsburgh has some suburbs to the west. San Fran has Honolulu. To the east, it has the Bay. And across a bridge, Oakland, a city of 400,000. Across From Pittsburgh is Homestead.

North of San Fran is a sizable recreation area. And that land was not connected to the city by a bridge until 1937, by which time people were already beginning to fret about the future of Big Steel in Pittsburgh.

All of which says very little, except that people in San Fran never really had a Cranberry to move to. Sure, Pittsburgh has rivers and hills. But no oceans and bays. We have an Oakland, sure. But it's a different kind of Oakland.

As for other financing problems, anyone see Andy Sheehan's report about overtime at the county jail? Seems a lot like the union might be rigging the system to get a lot of overtime for its members. Something to the tune of a few million per year. (They call in sick on Thursday and Friday and somehow automatically get to work the weekend, for which they get paid OT.) Best part came when the head of the union insisted that he had faith in his guys. That they really are sick when they call in.

Sheehan pointed out that something like 165 guys called in sick on Super Bowl Sunday. Forcing the system to pay a boatload of OT. He asked if the union boss thought all 165 guys were sick.

He said "yes" without bashing an eyelash. Sheehan quipped, "It was a good game." The guy laughed.

Didn't seem funny to me.

That's a whole different problem. But one that needs to come up, eventually, when discussing the cost of doing business here.

John Morris

Sam,

It seems slightly obvious that the city could get more tax revenue per parcel of land from 10 or 20 story buildings than from 2-4 story ones. The downtown, strip, near northside are the easy places for things like that. Building a tax base on mostly lower middle class homeowners just doesn't cut it. ( as can be seen by the current situation )

The tax base of NY, is overwhelmingly balanced on the big high value properties in Manhattan and on the wealthy taxpayers and corporations that occupy them. On a comparitive basis, the individual homeowner has very low property taxes in NY.

As far as your other comments, well they don't hold too much water. All of Marin County was available for sprawl north of San Francisco as was the Napa Valley. The main reason that I can see, that this didn't happen was because, San francisco, rejected a lot of freeway construction and never offered up much parking in the city.

John Morris

Sam,

I think that this goes a long way in explaining why San Francisco has done so well. From the Wikepedia

San Francisco

Late 1940s San Francisco Planning Department Freeway PlanIn San Francisco, California, public opposition to freeways dates to 1955, when the San Francisco Chronicle published a map (see image) of proposed routes; construction of the elevated Embarcadero Freeway along the downtown waterfront also helped to organize the opposition, articulated by the Chronicle's architecture critic Allan Temko. The 1955 San Francisco Trafficways Plan included the following routes that were never completed:

A portion of the Mission Freeway was built and still exists as the near-freeway portion of San Jose Avenue from Interstate 280 to Randall Street. Northeast of that section, it would have run parallel to Mission Street to meet the Central Freeway above Duboce Avenue.
The Crosstown Freeway would have run parallel to Bosworth Street and O'Shaughnessy Boulevard from Interstate 280 to the Western Freeway near 7th Avenue. Most of the right of way for this freeway was cleared but it was never built.
The Western Freeway would have run north from Interstate 280 along the line of Junipero Serra Boulevard, then tunnelling to 7th Avenue to meet the Crosstown Freeway. It would have then continued north to the southern edge of Golden Gate Park and followed an unspecified route (in the 1951 version, a tunnel under the park and then a depressed routing through the Panhandle) northeast to the eastern end of the Panhandle, continuing east from there between Fell and Oak Streets to meet the Central Freeway.
A portion of the Park Presidio Freeway was built as and still exists as SR 1 (CA) through the Presidio from the Golden Gate Bridge. South of that section the freeway would have continued replacing what is now Park Presidio Boulevard and then tunneled under Golden Gate Park to meet the Western Freeway.
A portion of the Central Freeway was built and the original section west from the Bayshore Freeway to Mission Street still exists as US 101. The section northwest from Mission to Market Street was reconstructed in 2004. The section north of Market Street to Golden Gate Avenue was demolished and not rebuilt. The remaining distance to the Golden Gate Freeway was never built.
A portion of the Embarcadero Freeway was built from the Bay Bridge approach to Broadway as Interstate 480. The section north of Broadway to the Golden Gate Freeway was never built. The entire freeway was removed after the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
Most of the Southern Embarcadero Freeway was built and still exists as part of Interstate 280, but the section from Third Street to the Bay Bridge approach was never built. The section between Sixth and Third Streets was removed after the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
The Golden Gate Freeway along the northern edge of the city from the Embarcadero Freeway to the Golden Gate Bridge approach was never built.
The freeway approach from US 101 and Interstate 280 to the Southern Crossing bridge was never built because the bridge was not built.
The 1960 Trafficways Plan deleted several of these routes but added another:

The Hunters Point Freeway would have run from US 101 south of the city limits on landfill around Candlestick Point and across Hunters Point to meet Interstate 280 near what is now Cesar Chavez Street.
In 1959, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to cancel seven of ten planned freeways, including an extension of the Central Freeway. In 1964, protests against a freeway through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park led to its cancellation, and in 1966 the Board of Supervisors rejected an extension of the Embarcadero Freeway to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Opposition to the Embarcadero Freeway continued, and in 1985, the Board of Supervisors voted to demolish it. It was closed after 1989's Loma Prieta earthquake and torn down shortly thereafter. The entire portion of the Central Freeway north of Market Street was demolished over the next decade: the top deck in 1996, and the lower deck in 2003. Two other short freeway segments were demolished in the same time period: the Terminal Separator Structure near Rincon Hill and the Embarcadero Freeway, and the stub end of Interstate 280 near Mission Bay. San Francisco was the only major city in the country that lost freeway miles between 1990 and 2005, and one more elevated structure is proposed for demolition and replacement with a boulevard: the Doyle Drive freeway approach to the Golden Gate Bridge that runs through the city's historic Presidio National Park. In every case, the freeways were or will be replaced with surface-level landscaped boulevards, with the former freeway corridors enhanced with extensions of light rail transit.


Sam M

John,

I don't doubt that opposition to freeways played a role in how the city developed. I just don't think it was the only factor.

Marin County is not Westmorland County. And Napa Valley is not Moon Township. And as obstructive as the Allegheny and the Mon might be, they are not the Bay and the Pacific.

Until 1937, the only direction people from San Fran could sprawl was directly south. They could not go north. They could not go west. Not east.

That might explain why no one built any roads in that direction.

Theree were roads in those directions from Pittsburgh. Roads leading to an breathtaking amount of cheap farmland and forest. And along those roads were people in communities that grew. And those communities eventually grew large enough to be constituencies.

The fact of the matter is, Pittsburgh has always been more of an amalgam of towns than a completely integrated city. Take a look at that travelogue that described Pittsburgh as "hell with the lid taken off:"

"The wonder is, not that Pittsburgh is an assemblage of flourishing of towns of 230,000 inhabitants, but that, placed at such a commanding point, it is not the MOST flourishing and the MOST populous city in America."

It then goes on to explain that the geography prevents it from being the most populous. Whole thing here:

http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/pageviewer?frames=1&coll=moa&view=50&root=%2Fmoa%2Fatla%2Fatla0021%2F&tif=00023.TIF&cite=http%3A%2F%2Fcdl.library.cornell.edu%2Fcgi-bin%2Fmoa%2Fmoa-cgi%3Fnotisid%3DABK2934-0021-5

That is, Pittsburgh was an "assemblage of flourishing towns." Which it still is, in a lot of ways. Some of those towns are now part of the city. I think that Bloomfied and Shadyside and Allegheny City, etc., were all swallowed up later on. Further out you had McKeesport. Jeannette. Etc.

Downtown was basically warehouses and factories.
That is, there was no massive flight to the suburbs from the Fifth-Forbes corridor.

Again, that's not to say that there should not be people there. Fine. Build condos. I just don't think there is a lack of people down there because the city built highways. There was never a large group of people living down there. Ever.

And people elsewhewre in the city did not build 60-story apartment buildings to live in because, gebnerally speaking, people choose not to live 60-stories up in tiny apartments unless there is no place to go. And Pittsburgh people always had someplace else to go. Even before the highways.

And it is still true today. Say you build a 60-story apartment building. Or five of them. Is that going to convince the guy in Plum to move there? I don;t think so.

I suppose he try to pursuade him by taking away his parking lot. But I am not convinced that would turn Pittsburgh into San Fran.

First, the most immediate problem with the Fifth-Forbes corridor is not that it has too much parking. It's that it has a whole bunch of empty building owned by the city. Nobody lives in them. Nobody does business in them. And nobody parks in the,. They are EMPTY.

My solution, of course, is to sell them to people who have plans for them. And to be honest, I suspect that if someone were to buy them and make condos, those condos would come complete with... parking. Because people like to drive. And are willing to pay a lot to be able to do that. Remember that lady moving to Seattle? Her first priority was parking. There are lot of people like that. And to be honest, I do think that no matter how much planning you do, people in Pittsburgh will need a car more than people in NYC do. Pittsburgh is more isolated, and will never be as autonomous as a "Big City."

I just don't hink Pittsburgh is ever going to function like a NYC or San Fran. People are not going to live the same way. Yes, you can right some historic wrongs. You can get some more people living downtown. But remember, you would have to quintuple the residential density of the central business district--just to get it as dense as Park Slope.

Problem is, I don't think any amount of planning is going to quintuple that population. Moreover, I don't think that in your mind even that would be dense enough.

Last, I think it bears repeating that San Fran is a coastal city in a larger geographical area that has seen explosive for a long time. Over that same time, Pennsylvania has barely maintained population. The latter phenonenon has at least as much to do with the demise of American manufacturing as it does with highway construction.

sean mcdaniel

Sam,

Maybe it's the change of seasons. But we're starting to sound as though we're on the same page...at least in countering J. Morris's reasoning.

I've tried to point out to him that we're not SF and never have been. SF is a world-class city because of its stunningly spectacular geography. Pittsburgh it great looking, but not in the same class.

As I pointed out to JM before, compared to SF and NYC, pittsburgh's landlocked.

John Morris

Sam,

Even by trying to evade my point, you are making it. The point is about taxes and the reality of the city now. The region is made up of small towns and the city does not get substantial tax money from them. At one point, the city got a lot of money from the mills and now a lot of that land is a tax sink hole.

As far as your San Francisco argument, you don't have one. The time since 1937 was the high point of sprawl and there was more than enough time to destroy Marin county. San Francisco did not go down that road.

Please answer my tax question.This is not a question about Pittsburgh's history, it's a blunt question about it's financial future.
There are, from what I can see two realistic choices. 1) is to merge with it's surounding area or beg for some kind of revenue sharing plan ( which, doesn't seem likely -- since the current situation is fine with a lot of the suburbs ) 2) Is to systematically work towards creating a high density core city and try to fight for residents and tax dollars.


Sam M

I don't see how I am being evasive. Isaid my answer is the same as yours: Get more people to live in the city.

You seem to think that the only way to do that is to house them vertically in a very specific part of the city. I disagree. I think that can be one element of the strategy. But there is plenty of room elseewhere in the city for people who don't want to live on the 25th floor in a 1000-square-foot three-bedroom with their 2.4 kids.

I have history on my side. The city used to house 600,000 without a significant housing component downtown. I think that the way people live today precludes 600,000. But I think there is room for more.

Drive around Regent Square sometime and look at all the for sale signs. There is room for a lot of people there. And plenty of other places.

But as long as we are asking specific questions: Exaclty how much density does Pittsburgh need to be a success? How many people have to live downtown? How many people do you expect might move to the Forbes-Fifth corridor? Obviously, to make the kind of tax impact you are talking about, it would have to be a lot.

How many?

Because in the end, your solution is the same as mine. More people. You just think they have to all go to one place. I don't.

Seriously. How many people do you envision giving up their car and moving to downtown Pittsburgh?

Sam M

And as for the availability of land in the San Fran area... If you can't look at a map and see why it was easier for Pittsburghers to find cheap real estate, well, then I guess I don't have anything else to say on that matter. But it seems pretty obvious to me.

But I wll say that a lot of the far-flung communbities considered part of the "Pittsburgh area" were extant prior to the development of the parkways. And amny of them had larger populations than they do today.

John Morris

Sam,

A lot of assumtions are being made here and read into what I am saying. No doubt, because I brought up Hong Kong-an assumtion is being made that I think that everyone will be moving into "60 story" apartment buildings. Personally, I think given the views, some people might like that, but the far more realistic assumption is that a lot of people would like to live in 8- 20 story apartments.

Second, the assumption is being made that, since the core city, might not be ideal for a lot of families, that they are the only people in the world. Pittsburgh has a lot of young single, people, students, and empty nesters, it also has a small percentage of driven workaholic yupies, and also some super rich.

The reality of all business is that some customers are "profitable", while others, impose costs that make them less so. The kind of person, who might want to live downtown, is a profitable customer-- 1) they are iving in the center of town, and likely work nearby- cutting transport costs. 2) they are living in a core area, not bordering on a surounding suburban shopping mall and are more likely to shop in the city. 3) They are profitable in that they are potential "24" hour customers for stores, clubs, eateries, etc and not just a lunch crowd. ( see Jane Jacobs on time of day issues )4) they are making a life style choice that is least likely to be oriented around driving

The fundamental issue here is that both you and Sean, have built in assumtions, that the city cannot grow and cannot attract residents. Because of that, you have a zero sum mentality regarding all development.

John Morris

Sam,

Here's the data on Marin County-- the county right across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. There is plenty of land availble to destroy in Marin county. Population density is 476/mile and a lot of the land is still agricultural.

As of the census² of 2000, there were 247,289 people, 100,650 households, and 60,691 families residing in the county. The population density was 184/km² (476/mi²). There were 104,990 housing units at an average density of 78/km² (202/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 84.03% White, 2.89% Black or African American, 0.43% Native American, 4.53% Asian, 0.16% Pacific Islander, 4.50% from other races, and 3.47% from two or more races. 11.06% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 100,650 households out of which 27.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.40% were married couples living together, 8.50% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.70% were non-families. 29.80% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.34 and the average family size was 2.90.

In the county the population was spread out with 20.30% under the age of 18, 5.50% from 18 to 24, 31.00% from 25 to 44, 29.70% from 45 to 64, and 13.50% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 98.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.40 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $71,306, and the median income for a family was $88,934. Males had a median income of $61,282 versus $45,448 for females. The per capita income for the county was $44,962. About 3.70% of families and 6.60% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.90% of those under age 18 and 4.50% of those age 65 or over.

Marin County has the highest per capita income of any county in the United States. This is driven in particular by expensive enclaves in Belvedere, Kentfield, Larkspur, Ross, Tiburon, Mill Valley, Sausalito, San Anselmo and portions of San Rafael and Novato.

The traditionally middle class towns of Corte Madera, Fairfax, Novato and San Rafael (where per capita incomes typically paralleled the California state average as late as 1985) also have experienced especially sharp rises in real estate values, due in part to their proximity to the "prestige" address areas. The county's resistance to urban sprawl and its preservation of open space have also had an upward impact on housing prices by reducing the number of new subdivisions built in the area since 1970. As a result of these factors, many lower-income middle class families have moved, often to Sonoma County, California, for cheaper housing.

The trend of increased affluence has not held true for two neighborhoods in particular, populated almost exclusively by low-income persons of color: Marin City (which shares a zip code with Sausalito) and the Canal Neighborhood in San Rafael.

Marin City has a population of 2,500 and is ethnically diverse with large East Asian, Hispanic, and African American populations. Many families live in public housing apartment buildings that are now approaching 50 years old.
The population in The Canal is largely Hispanic, with many households residing in over-crowded apartment units.
San Rafael has asserted to the Federal Government that this population is significantly undercounted by the U.S. Census due to the high percentage of illegal immigrants, depriving the city of tax funds for improved social services. They assert that the 6.6% of the county-wide population listed as below the poverty line is both under-reported, and heavily concentrated in The Canal.

John Morris

Sam,

Here's why the real estate in the area cost's so much.

The county's resistance to urban sprawl and its preservation of open space have also had an upward impact on housing prices by reducing the number of new subdivisions built in the area since 1970. As a result of these factors, many lower-income middle class families have moved, often to Sonoma County, California, for cheaper housing.

Homer didn't live in Marin County.

Sam M

No. Homer does not live in Marin County. Nor does he live in San Francisco. He got his ass kicked all the way to Sonoma. Or Sacramento.

I don't know about you, but I think that is a terrible model for Pittsburgh. And for most other places.

But for the sake of argument, let's say Westmoreland County had enacted the same exact policies as Marin. Does that mean there would be no sprawl anywhere around Pittsburgh? No. Of course not. It just would have gone to any of the other county's surrounding Allegheny County. San Francisco did not have those surrounding counties. It had ocean, bay and Oakland. Not cheap farm land on all sides.

Quick: Take the cities out of the equation. Act like Pittbsurgh and San Francisco never existed. They are just pristine spots about to be developed. Which do you think would draw higher interest--and prices--today? Properties around where Monroeville is located? Or properties overlooking the ocean north of San Fran?

There is less land there. Always was. And it is more highly desirable. That is, it is more expensive. And therefore less likely to be purchased and occupied by middle class people. Yes, I am sure developemnt policies have had some impact--for better and for worse. But roads and infrastructure are not the only forces at work. By a long shot.

As for the zero-sum game: Not so. I think that Pittsburgh could attract some more people. But I don't think it is necessarily going to do so by building high-rises downtown.

I am not aware of anyplace that grew that way. Of a city that just started building density. Pittsburgh certainly didn't when it grew. People came here to work. And made it as dense as it was.

Same with Las Vegas today. Charlotte. Phoenix.

I might be wrong, but is that an accepted growth practice? Just build condos and they will come?

I would prefer a much more organic approach to growth. Try to engender a positive business climate. Or, more directly, try to make it a less hostile business environment. Basically by getting the hell out of the way. Get some people here. A range of people. Some of the people in that range will want to live in Regent Square. Some in Edgewood. Some in Bloomfield. And some will want to live in the Fifth-Forbes corridor.

If that's so, let some guy like Jack Piatt take advantage of the situation by building the housing they demand. Or, if he is convinced that if he builds it, they will come, let him take a shot. If he thinks those people don't want parking, he can opt not to build any and instead put up even more condos. If he thinks they want parking, he can build it.

I just don't see how my world-view amounts to zero-sum.

What it does amount to is a world-view that says different cities will probably end up with different densities. Erie will not--and should not--have the same density as Manhattan. Washington DC probably shouldn't look like Portland. Miami and Minneapolis have every reason to have different kinds of downtowns.

You readily admit that Pittsburgh probably shouldn't look like Hong Kong. And that apartment buildings might be 8-20 stories instead of 60.

Well, good. I am just not all that clear why it might not be 5-12. Or 7-15.

That is, I am not sure what the density should be across the city. I am not sure how many people it could/should support. And of those, I certainly don't know how many shoud live in a tiny sliver of downtown.

Which gets me back to my question: How many people need to be downtown for it to be a success?

See, this is a problem Pittsburgh has gone through time and time again. People come up with visions for cities but refuse to spell them out. Which is why everyone is so quick to call the Renaissance a raging success despite the fact that half the people left.

So again, how many people should live downtown?

John Morris

Sam,

Please, please, please, attempt to answer the tax question. Saying that you want your city to be like Las Vegas, doesn't make it so. Secondly, the record shows that the city of Pittsburgh today, already has enough jobs to support a larger population and a lot of them are near the downtown-- so you jobs point doesn't fly at all.

attempt to respond to my point.

"The reality of all business is that some customers are "profitable", while others, impose costs that make them less so. The kind of person, who might want to live downtown, is a profitable customer-- 1) they are iving in the center of town, and likely work nearby- cutting transport costs. 2) they are living in a core area, not bordering on a surounding suburban shopping mall and are more likely to shop in the city. 3) They are profitable in that they are potential "24" hour customers for stores, clubs, eateries, etc and not just a lunch crowd. ( see Jane Jacobs on time of day issues )4) they are making a life style choice that is least likely to be oriented around driving"

Pittsburgh whether it likes it or not is a municipality, with a small land area that faces a lot of definate contraints on where one can economically build.

I can't spend my day posting obvious facts, but here they are.

Las Vegas 131.2 square miles

Phoenix 474.9 square miles

L.A. 469.1 square miles

Pittsburgh 58.3 square miles

Forget the Hong Kong comparisons; Pittsburgh has only a few areas of the city in which there are even 5 or 6 story apartment buildings.


Sam M

John,

I did answer the tax question. I said I would pay for these things the same way you would: Adding people. I just don't think you have to add them all downtown. You might not like that answer. You might disagree with it. But you can;t say I am not answering.

The only person not answering is you. I keep asking: How many additional people would it take for you to consider the city a "successful city"? How many people would have to live downtown?

Is it 50,000?

Fine. OK.

But I would argue hat you could fit 50,000 more residents in the city without putting a single new condo downtown.

I think that because there were never condos downtown and the city used to have 600,000 people.

They used to live somewhere. And many of those houses are still standing.

Five hundred new residents in Regent Square would pay just as much in city taxes as 500 residents in the theater district. One thousand new residents in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville would pay just as much in taxes as 1,000 new residents in the new Piatt development.

I just can't understand why that's not an answer. It's the same exact one you are proposing. Only I am not dictiating which zip code people would live in.

And I never suggested that Pittsburgh ought to be like Vegas. I said that cities do not need to be models of urbanity to attract residents. And Vegas proves that point.

You can get people to move into any kind of shithole if you offer jobs.

And you can doll up a place all you want. If there are no jobs, people will move out. Even if their family is there. And they know it as home. And they love it.

Pittsburgh over the past 30 years proves that point.

So please, please please answer the density question: How dense does Pittbsurgh have to be for you to consider it a success? And if adding 50,000 people would solve the financial mess, why does it matter if they live in the old neighborhoods or a new one? What if 10,000 move downtown and 40,000 move into the neighborhoods? Still a failure? Why?

John Morris

Sam,

Here's the question again.

The reality of all business is that some customers are "profitable", while others, impose costs that make them less so. The kind of person, who might want to live downtown, is a profitable customer-- 1) they are living in the center of town, and likely work nearby- cutting transport costs. 2) they are living in a core area, not bordering on a surounding suburban shopping mall and are more likely to shop in the city. 3) They are profitable in that they are potential "24" hour customers for stores, clubs, eateries, etc and not just a lunch crowd. ( see Jane Jacobs on time of day issues )4) they are making a life style choice that is least likely to be oriented around driving"

I think it's reasonable to attempt to look at the profitability of your "customers". For example, which person is more likely to impose a lot of infrastucture, police and transit costs; which person is likely to shop in the city and pay sales taxes in the city. Which person's lifestyle sucks up more land ( which Pittsburgh doesn't have that much of )Which person is more likely to go to the theater more or eat in local places etc...

The closer, the people are to the cities edge and the more they rely on driving, the more likely they are to shop out of town or require parking and dead space everywhere they go to put thier car.

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