« Scranton vs. Pittsburgh: Act 47 and the Cost of Government | Main | The Onion, Featuring KDKA's Don Cannon (And His Anchorman Salary) »


sean mcdaniel

the preservationist police in the mexican war streets do a lot to stifle any sort of changes there...right down to paint colors sometimes.

as for the size of rowhomes, a couple years ago, i was in new york city with my sister-in-law, who shares a 2,500 sq ft home outside indianoplis with her husband (yeah, just the two of them, living in what used to be a cornfield). As we strolled along some residential streets in the village she looked at the homes and said, "i don't understand how people live in such small places. where do they keep all their stuff?"

and i asked her...how much stuff can two people fast closing in on 60 possibly have? and she didn't really seem to have an answer (their furniture is massive, though). by the way, this sister-in-law is a big complainer about how wasterful americans are and how maybe we deserve the scorn of the rest of the world...a point of irony she misses as she pays a monthly budget gas bill of more than $300 and drives her SUV more than 90 minutes a day to go to work.

i don't preach much. but i do get tired of the preaching of others who spout their beliefs in protecting the environment (but do really put them into practice) and people who claim to care about pittsburgh, but don't think that suburbanites should be permitted to be part of the city's well being.

yeah, i stray from my ideals too. but i don't try to shove them down other people's throats. though i don't mind getting in people's faces to state my point.

John Morris

This is a big issue for both Pittsburgh and Baltimore. In order to understand it, one has to get the difference between density and overcrowding.

Density just means a lot of people on each plot of land. They may be packed 9 to a room in a tiny house or they might be living in big apartments in a 20 story building. People seem to mix these two things together which likely because of history.

Walk down the lower east side of Manhattan and you can see areas with two schools or more on one block along with just as many old houses of worship.( Now almost all of them are no longer used as schools ) The experience is wierd because, the buildings in the area are usually not more than 5 floors. The area's history explains everything-- this was once one of the most crowded places on earth with 6-10 or more. people packed into every tiny tenement apartment. The figures in Pittsburgh were similar, with lot's of areas of overcrowding.

So, if you jump forward to today and want to replicate that level of density under anything close to human conditions- you would need to build blocks of 15- 20 story buildings.

It's very hard to have enough density to support walkable business districts and viable mass transit in areas of just attatched single family homes. ( overcrowding the home once made in possible but tht's not something anyone wants ) You can get sort of close if you cover every available space with housing and have no parks or anything. But mixing in a small number of 5-10 story multi unit buildings along the main streets improves the situation a lot.

John Morris

Or you could not allow the apartment buildings and put charming 5-10 level parking garages up instead every few blocks. Free parking !

Sam M

In Baltimore, they do appear to be moving towards some kind of understanding with the zoning. But these are still single homes. So I am not sure where it will end up.

And in this case, I am not aware that any preservationists are objecting. But I think it is fair to assume that if someone were to propose wiping out a whole section of historic rowhouses to put up a 20-story apartment building, someone would cry foul.

This is just another complicating factor I thought it might be interesting to discuss.

Last, I guess my questions is.. Why is it hard to have a walkable business district in the center of attached single family homes? Bloomfield has a relatively light population density of about 13,000 people per square mile. And it has a decent business district. From Wikipedia:

"The business district along Liberty Avenue puts most of life's necessities, and several luxuries, within an easy walk of Bloomfield residents: besides the two churches and West Penn Hospital, there are many bars and restaurants, one supermarket and two Italian markets, plus tanning and hair salons, gifts and card shops..." Etc.

I guess the answer might be that Bloomfield has access top Pittsburgh's downtown. That it relies on "the city" for jobs that pay for the mortgages and the pizzas and the hospitals, etc. Fair enough.

But that does not explain Ridgway. My hometown only has about 4,500 people in it. And the are spread out over a pretty big area. The population density is a paltry 664 people per square mile. Yet it has a walkable business district. And a decent one at that. There is a new coffee shop in town. A candy store. Even some artsy sorts of things. A real grocery store. law firms. Hardware stores. It's no Rodeo Drive. But it does the trick.

So why is it that these 4,500 people, almost all of whom live in detached single family homes, can manage to support a walkable business district?

I am not trying to be argumentative. I am wondering why this is the case. Because I suspect that if you string 25 Ridgways end to end, there would not be 25 downtowns for long. I assume some amount of consolidation would take place, particularly with regard to gorcery stores and other "big ticket" places. I also assume that if you built a new development for 4,500 people in a new community, it would not develop its own downtown. Something along the lines of Summerset at Frick, for instance. I have no idea how big that is. I assume it's smaller than 4,500. But even if it were that big, I bet it would not get a full service grocery. Maybe some convenience stuff. But not a whole downtown. Because those people could shop in Squirrel Hill.

But I digress... This only addresses the question of a walkable business district. JM said that it is difficult to get that AND viable mass transit in the midst of single family homes. And I can tell you one thing about small towns: There's not a lot of transit. They try. But it's a tough sell. Because it doesn't work.

John Morris


As a whole, this is an obvious issue of alteratives. If you have a relatively isolated small town in a metro area without a lot of people, then you are not too likely to have tons of mall and big box competition with the stores. It also sounds like Ridgway is a normal old small town with a walkable street grid.

John Morris


With regard to Baltimore, ( and I don't know it well )I am not suggesting that they tear down a lot of row houses and put up twenty story buildings but I am stating the problem. The lower the density gets, the lower the chance that you can support a shopping district.

In terms of Bloomfield, for Pittsburgh it has decent density level. It is also relatively flat and is next to and close to other areas with decent density levels- Oakland, Shadyside, Lawrenceville.

The normal logical thing that usually happens is apartment buildings along and within a few blocks of main streets and transit lines which then thin out as you get further from the main streets. That is the pattern you see pretty much everywhere. From what i can see, that is what you see in Shadyside, Squirrel hill, and Mount Lebanon as well as my old neigborhoods in Queens like Woodside and Forest Hills.

John Morris


Since you mentioned Rodeo Drive. I will tell you the main exception to the rule and that is areas of extreme wealth. As far as I know, Beverly Hills doesn't have huge density, but the number of rich is huge. People like that have lot's of disposable income, so they can spend a lot per person and support a lot of stuff. Some of these people also have a lot of time to travel and shop.

John Morris


It's just a guess, but I think some of the demand from people to build extra floors on row houses comes from couples who may be having kids so there is likely some density being added. If these requests are happening in places that are getting popular, on could also suspect a number of people creating a second unit to rent. New York, because of it's housing shortage has a giant black market rental market.

sean mcdaniel

sewickley does just fine as a walkable community all around...hell, a lot of the kids ride their bikes to the local elementary schools. and, no, not everyone is rich in sewickley. in most cased, the really wealthy don't live that close to the village. their servants drive there to shop.

John Morris


You, kind of make my point for me. Having servants, personal shoppers, designers and chiefs to do your shopping sort of lowers the convenience value average folks get from density. I think that if you look around one of the big common denominators that successfull low density areas have is s degree of wealth. Also, a folks in Sewickley rely on the higher density area of Pittsburgh for thier work even though they don't pay much in taxes to support the city.

I guess that you will argue that the low density level is what makes the area rich but that's a hard case to make.

sean mcdaniel

uh...john, you'd be amazed at how many sewickley folks are self-employed. seriously, i grew up there. also, a lot of them work in moon and cranberry township. things are a lot different than you think. don't jump to so many conclusions about your new home town (and the damn suburbs that surround it).

and if you really knew much about sewickley people you'd understand that if they do work in the city, they don't see many other reasons to venture downtown. they're quite provinical that way.


Could someone please explain Greenfield for me? In light of the body dragged through the street, or more generally.

sean mcdaniel

yeah, the hills in greenfield for body dragging of the gentler sort. it's much less harsh than draggin a guy along second avenue.

The comments to this entry are closed.