The New Pittsburgh

Sharp-eyed readers of my last couple of posts have put some agenda items on my plate. Benjamin, in the Smart City post, challenged me to respond to my own (not so) rhetorical premise:
What I'd love to see, but doubt I will: A consultant on urban redevelopment who comes in and says: Look, you can't avoid the pain. This city [and you can pick your city; this isn't only about Pittsburgh] won't get off its back unless politicians and business and other community leaders start talking about and making some hard choices. Some people in town are going to lose out, and they're going to be very unhappy, and their unhappiness will simply be a cost of longer term progress. Leaders can avoid making those choices consciously and deliberately and they can avoid doing what they can to miitigate the damage. People will still be unhappy and people will still suffer, but the unhappiness and anger and suffering will seem random and unjust and eventual recovery will be delayed even further. So choose now, or choices will be forced on you later. And here are the options . . . .

An anonymous commenter yesterday wrote:
Pittsburgh needs a new institutional infrastructure to help the region become economically relevant. The weak performance of the ACCD was highlighted very clearly in the RERI report, and since that time there is even less competition in economic development ideas.

I couldn't agree more.

This will take many more than one post, but I'll take a shot: Who are the players of the New Pittsburgh? Who should stay, and who gets cut? Think of this as draft day, and we're going to identify our strengths and our needs, both short-term and long-term.

Who stays (and may get a bigger role):

One -- As I wrote yesterday, UPMC, Pitt, and Carnegie Mellon. These are franchise players for the region, and not just because they're big and they're already here. Duquesne is knocking on this door, but it doesn't have the resources or the international reputation as a research university to play consistently at CMU's and Pitt's level.

Two -- Pittsburgh's corporate R&D economy. This is not particularly visible, and it's not even particularly large as a percentage of the overall regional economy (though Chris Briem and Harold Miller will keep me on the straight path here). But corporate R&D can be an important complement to university research, and it can provide an important connection to money and people outside the region (see Google, Seagate) and outside the U.S. (see Siemens).

Three -- Arts and culture. The Cultural Trust isn't just about the traditional institutions of the Cultural District (which, by the way, is looking pretty nice these days). And the Cultural Trust doesn't exhaust the arts in Pittsburgh. For example, when I travel outside of Pittsburgh, one of the first names I often hear (in the context of "what a great place Pittsburgh must be!) is Bill Strickland.

Four -- the Airport (PIT, not the County). Development out there may finally be getting under way, and it desperately needs to accelerate. I know nothing about the Allegheny County Airport Authority (I can read the website, of course, but that doesn't tell me much). My ignorance itself tells me something. Would it make sense for the Airport Authority to play a bigger public role in regional development? And while we're at it, is there a compelling reason (political, perhaps) for the authority to operate both PIT and the Allegheny County airport? Is this the rare case where consolidation is a bad thing?

Five -- Innovation Works, the Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association (and its members), Blue Tree, and (maybe) the Life Sciences Greenhouse. Right now, and outside the university and KIZ environments, these seem to be the key players in tech-oriented, start-up oriented economic development in Pittsburgh. Some of these are short-term players. Ideally, the more successful IW becomes in boosting new companies, the less necessary IW is. But I don't see IW disappearing any time soon.

The football metaphor isn't perfect. In economic terms, Pittsburgh doesn't need a quarterback [not that it has one; rather, economies don't need quarterbacks]; and it doesn't need a playbook [same reason], and most important, there is no TV contract, no licensing revenues, and no revenue sharing among the big clubs. But there is a core of important institutional players, and there are players who can come in off the bench, and there are players whose best years are behind them and who should retire to a life of playing golf on the Senior Tour.

There are more of each of these than I've sketched above. This is just a start. What about local and regional government? The media? Manufacturing? Jobs in general?

Yet to come: Who goes, or becomes a role player.


4 Responses to "The New Pittsburgh"

Anonymous said... 11/17/2006 10:58 AM

The ACCD needs to go away or be broken up.

Mark Rauterkus said... 11/17/2006 9:25 PM

Not so fast on wanting to put the airport area into a starting role. Airport area development is really sprawl. The city and the region is still going downhill with its population.

If I'm the 'coach' -- I'd cut all airport development deals. Walkons are another matter, but no scholarships should go there.

To that end, I think that an overlooked star in the area is our industrial sites around the city and within that are small and modest in size, but scattered, and ready to flip into new uses.

Lawrenceville, Millvale, Glassport, and tons of other sites exist -- even on the South Side, just slightly off the main street.

Space isn't a problem. Urban space is a major asset.

Anonymous said... 11/21/2006 10:19 AM

Re: the consolidation of both Allegheny County Airport (AGC) and Greater Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) under the Airports Authority; is it a good or a bad thing?

This situation is probably both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, AGC plays a far bigger role in our regional air travel than most people realize. If AGC wasn't there, a good portion of it's air traffic would be forced into PIT. Moreover, without AGC there would be no opportunity for any kind of flight training in Allegheny County, since no flight school would be able to work out of PIT's busy Class B airspace.

The consolidation of the two airports under a common body helps protect AGC from being closed. The Airports Authority knows the valuable role that AGC plays in keeping PIT humming, and they can work to keep both parts of their unified system open.

On the other hand, there are some minuses here. The Airports Authority will always treat AGC as the poor, less-bright stepchild in this relationship, and understandably so. This can hurt AGC, obviously, but the burden of carrying this stepchild can also hurt the Airports Authority at the same time.

And I would have to agree with Mr. Rauterkus. Development out at PIT is basically sprawl. That whole part of the county is spreading out at an alarming rate. On the face of things, each "development" out that way looks like an positive investment in our region. But nobody whose been out to RIDC West of the Pointe shopping centers or the Mall at Robinson ever really enjoys the experience. I go there when I absolutely have to, and leave dreading the next experience.

Anonymous said... 11/21/2006 11:01 AM

I wonder if the football analogy really plays out? In many ways football strategy is like a zero sum game: When you redeploy players to strengthen one side you are vulnerable on the other. Guess right and you counter a similar shift of your opponent. Guess wrong and some folks on your team get creamed. Intentionally letting some get hit seems a little cruel, especially if they have no say in the matter.
It seems to me that Pittsburgh's economic development agenda has been way too controlled and insular. Hard decisions have and continue to be made. They just support the status quo. Innovation and economic reinvention are just not a priority for a lot of folks, and the economic decline may have actually made things better (less traffic, shorter lines at the movies, etc.)

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Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

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