Comments on last week's sushi post ended sort of as I hoped they would, with some simple observations on what Pittsburgh really might do to attract new development. It's all about the infrastructure, wrote Bram: At the grand, dreamy level, a transit cluster among Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit would help. At the more pedestrian level, it would be a good idea rebuilding connections between Downtown and the Hill District and the Bluff/Uptown/Soho.

Those ideas were responses to my comment, which was:

Pittsburgh has deep-seated economic problems that can be cured -- if they can be cured, and that's a very big "if" -- only with sustained growth. It is doubtful that Pittsburgh's growth can come entirely or even largely from within -- from local material and knowledge resources, local investment, local labor. What will it take to bring those resources, investment, and labor from outside the region? "Sushi" is a semi-serious proposed answer to that question.

Commenters dissed sushi, though I did hear privately from one Silicon Valley entrepreneur who agreed with me: Sushi is da bomb. (How did he find the post?)

I'm happy to leave sushi on the "semi" side of the "serious" line here, but bullet trains and maglev aren't answers either. I don't want to host another debate about this (look through the archives, and do the same at Null Space), but I suspect that the maglev reference was, like sushi, semi-serious. And as much as rebuilding the fabric of Pittsburgh's central neighborhoods would be a good thing, I doubt very much that it's more than a very modest start.

Infrastructural improvements are, however, a good place to look. What are genuine hooks for attracting economic development and growth to Pittsburgh? (And, as Harold Miller points out, for nurturing the firms that are already here.)

-- Prime the Uptown corridor for development. It's too late in the day to suggest restoring (light) rail service along Fifth Avenue, but with UPMC taking over Mercy Hospital, there are players in town with good economic reasons to invest in the area.

-- Find outside investors willing to put money into local businesses, that is, to compete with local firms. Right now, I'm talking with a friend who invests in small manufacturing enterprises. He's not based in Pittsburgh, but he's intrigued by my general description of the strength of manufacturing here.

-- Build out Pittsburgh 2.0, a social infrastructure for the economic development community. Since putting my line in the water at the beginning of the year, twice I've been contacted by or on behalf of what are now called "C-level" folks who are interested in relocating to Pittsburgh and starting or running companies here. I've passed them on to local lawyers, C-levels, and ED folks who, feedback sez, have been extremely helpful at getting them plugged in. And I'm just a law professor; imagine the kind of impact that someone in the economic development community could have if they publicly adopt a "pay it forward" strategy for Pittsburgh. While I'm at it, note the upper left column of this blog. Feel free to send me your contact info, so that I can add your name.

Critique those, and add your own.


4 Responses to "Infrastructure"

Schultz said... 2/18/2008 1:21 PM

Forget connecting downtown Pittsburgh to the airport via rail, like many, including our County exec, suggest we put at top of our list of transit priorities. In order to grow - we need to complete the connectivity between downtown and each of the "quadrants" of Allegheny County. Since the beginning of this year I started taking the T into downtown each day for work - I now feel like I live and work in a real city! Seriously - I am tired of all of the construction, potholes, tunnels, and bridges. I love the T and I think we need to spread the T to other parts of the city and county. If Cleveland can do it, why can't we?

Maybe we need to stop worrying about the how the Steelers match up with the Browns and start worrying about how Cleveland is making a serious comeback and is kicking our tail in terms of mobility and sustainability.

New extensions of the T should run to the east, west, and north of downtown need to be made. It's going to take billions of dollars of new investment - so we need to be creative. I'm sure some will say that "it will never happen", but I would rather fight for it instead of being part of the naysayer crowd.

One thing is for sure - we need to stop the next boondoggle before it gets started. Onarato and a number of other officials want to build a rail link between downtown and the airport. While I think we do need rail heading out to the Western end of the city, and beyond, a link to the airport would be a waste. We already have the kickass 28x flyer bus, which one can take from Oakland, downtown, uptown to the airport for $2.25. With so few airport passengers originating from these areas - the rail to airport link would not be the wisest investment to make.

Bram Reichbaum said... 2/18/2008 7:49 PM

Actually, I was at least 90% serious about MagLev, except I don't truthfully know much more about it aside from how the steelworkers and their brethren have been presenting it. Still seems like a promising idea, though maybe I didn't search back far enough into your archives to find a good rant.

I can agree that MagLev for within-PGH transportation is a little bang, zoom, why are we doing this again? over the top.

However, pooling resources with the rest of the Great Lakes region in order to present a united, interactive front to the global economy might make it worthwhile. Or easier to visit the Steelers and Penguins on the road.

Chal said... 2/18/2008 10:30 PM

Of course a rail link to the airport is good idea-- in a city that has a demand for one. And considering how long it took and how much it cost for NYC to build a botched version of one THAT DOESN'T EVEN GO INTO MANHATTAN, I shudder to think of the decades of barriers that PA bureacrats could throw in its way.

I would sooner expect a direct rail link between nursing homes and the casino. Which has probably been considered.

Schultz said... 2/19/2008 4:11 PM


I agree that the Maglev links between rust belt cities is a great idea. A big reason why we are so far behind Europe and Asia in terms of rail usage was our focus on spending billions to build the interstate superhighways back in the 1950's. The big driver choosing to build superhighways instead rail lines was Ike's Secretary of Defense, who said we needed to build highways because it was a national security issue. The secretary was also a former executive at General Moters who owned millions of dollars in GM stock at the time he served in the cabinet. Go figure.

The good news is that there is now a push to invest more federal dollars into rail systems that do not go through tunnels under rivers.

Ohio has an ambitious plan on the table to link their big 4 cities - Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincy, together via high speed rail.

At a minimum, I would expect a link to Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philly to follow if Ohio is able to lead the way. Future links to DC and other cities such as Buffalo seem reasonable. I'm hoping this is completed before I die or have no reason to take trips on these trains.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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