The Six Percent Solution

The Post-Gazette and the Trib both picked up the recent news release from CityLab about the "Six Percent Place" "experiment":  With a seed grant from the Benedum Foundation, CityLab wants to see if the "Six Percent Solution" works.  According to the CityLab site:

Six percent is the number, the tipping point. If a neighborhood can get that many creative workers, it becomes an attraction in its own right, according to a study by CEOs for Cities.
And from the press release:

cityLAB’s experiment will directly address issues of population density in these neighborhoods through the creation of the Special Impact Zone. This Zone will draw from the scattered assets that have been built up over time and from the bold urban pioneers who currently reside there. It will market and draw people to settle in the blocks surrounding the Penn Avenue Arts Corridor so that it becomes more densely populated and a viable neighborhood. This in turn will build an economically stronger corridor providing fertile ground for expanded opportunities in the arts, retail and commercial development. At the end of this first phase, cityLAB will hand over an implementation strategy to their neighborhood partners which will consist of a toolbox of incentives. This toolbox will be a mix of physical and social incentives that when implemented will draw people to this neighborhood of great potential.

The target neighborhood is Garfield, a place that could certainly use an infusion of social and financial capital.  The impulse and energy to do something to support and revive some of Pittsburgh's struggling neighborhoods is an excellent one.

The "Six Percent Place" hypothesis raises all kinds of questions, though, and I hope that these are answered in time:

One -- Why six percent?  There's a reference to a study by CEOs for Cities, but the CEOs for Cities site doesn't have the study available, and I couldn't find it anywhere else online.  Six percent seems awfully arbitrary.  Five percent is too few?  Seven percent is a surplus?  And six (or whatever) percent of what?  This is the adequate hypothesis question.

Two -- This isn't really an experiment except in a very loose, rhetorical sense, the same sense that throwing spaghetti against a wall to see if it sticks is an "experiment" to see if the spaghetti is done.  There are no controls; there is no way to isolate cause and effect.  Suppose that six percent of some relevant population in Garfield is identified as "creative workers," and within some time frame after that, Garfield is deemed to have surpassed some measure of success (more on the measure in a moment).  For a variety of obvious reasons, the success can't be attributed to the presence of the "creative workers," and there's no way to know whether the success, like the spaghetti, will stick - or why.  This is the no-neighborhood-is-an-island question.

Three -- What's the desired outcome, and what's the intended outcome?  "Dense population," economic "viability," higher real estate values?  Some of these?  (They don't necesssarily go together.)  All of them?  I'm reminded of a light bulb joke:  How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one - but the bulb has to want to change.  What does Garfield want?  What does any neighborhood want?  An infusion of creative workers?  Or a lower crime rate and a place to buy groceries?  This is the "I'm skeptical of Rich Florida" question.

These are friendly questions; doing something is better than doing nothing, and in neighborhood development questions, Pittsburgh has too often been paralyzed by fear of change and the anchor of history.  It will be interesting to see if anything comes of Garfield and what lessons, if any, can really be borrowed for use elsewhere.


2 Responses to "The Six Percent Solution"

Eve Picker said... 1/17/2011 10:03 PM

Mike - I appreciate your encouraging comments. Who knows if it's 6%, 5% or 7%? We just know it is not 0.7% which is what Garfield has right now. (Friendship, by the way, is at 7%).

It's a shame that CEOs for Cities has taken their study down. I was not aware of that and will find a way to post it.

Don't shoot cityLAB down in flames yet. Have a little hope.

MH said... 1/18/2011 9:10 AM

It probably was 7%, but they didn't want people to make the Sherlock Holmes-cocaine connection.

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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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