My Turn, Again: Pittsburgh's Needs

'Tis a week of lists. This time, it's Pop City's New Girl endorsing a list of What Pittsburgh Needs, as contributed by her readers. There are some hits and some misses here, plus some missing elephants in the room.

The Pop City list, below:

Food carts. Food carts thrive where there is dense foot traffic. In Pittsburgh? It's not dense enough in most neighborhoods - except Oakland, where there are great carts (well, not always carts) on days when the weather is tolerable. Downtown is already teeming with places to eat.

Taxis. This is just a supply and demand problem. Is it hard to find a taxi in Pittsburgh if you aren't at the airport or at a downtown hotel? Sure. That's no surprise - demand elsewhere is intermittent - and more taxis wouldn't help. (You could add hundreds more taxis in New York City, and they would still cluster at the airports and Midtown.) Taxi drivers make little enough money as it is. *Sensible* reconfiguration of Pittsburgh's public transportation system would be a better all around.

"Mo betta jazz." Bring back Pittsburgh's jazz scene - that's a winner of an idea, for sure. But how about greater PR and support for the fantastic musicians that Pittsburgh currently has?

Awareness of our rivers. Another winner. I've been in Pittsburgh just long enough to recognize how far this community has already come on this score. You think that Pittsburgh doesn't do enough to treat the rivers as community resources? You should have been here 12 years ago! Always, more is better. But may the rivers remain working rivers, too.

PIT as a hub. Well, hmmm. It's a utopian fantasy. Problem one is the cost structure of the airport. Problem two is the economics of the airline business. Don't look for this to change any time soon. Plus, adding a Primanti's at the airport (suggested in the PC story) might actually drive traffic away. Here's a tip: Some Pittsburghers, and many expat Pittsburghers, love fries and slaw in the sandwich. Other people? Not so much.

Fewer municipalities. My inner urban planner says yes. Then I look at the prospects for, say, Mt. Lebanon merging with Castle Shannon, Greentree, and Dormont. Ha. (As if the latter three towns would want to have Mt. Lebo and its problems!)

Home energy independence. This is awesome. Seriously. Who'll pay for it?

My additions - mostly larger, "elephant"-size:

Build a back-end to the Pittsburgh Promise. All those kids with PP-supplied college tuition? When they're graduates, give them low-interest loans to start businesses in the region.

The business community and local government should stop preaching to the local business choir ("Isn't Downtown Such a Wonderful Place?") and make meaningful and public efforts to bring people to the region from outside Pittsburgh. Move here, please! Re-invest in Pittsburgh's sister cities program (here's the list, including what I believe is the newest: Danang). Promote a "sister city of the month" campaign in the region that features business, arts, culture, and citizens of our urban buddies. Study how other post-industrial cities have attracted immigrants in the last 40 years. Bring more fresh eyes and fresh voices to Pittsburgh -- the New Girl herself being Exhibit A of that sort of thing.

Stop! Stop patting ourselves on the back for our wonderful quality of life, our wonderful sports teams, our low cost of living, our "renaissance," our "livability," and so on. Sure, there are a lot of things to like and enjoy about Pittsburgh, but it's no Shangri-La. Out in Braddock today, there's a lot of anger and sadness. And Braddock is just today's example. Tomorrow, it's PNC Park.

Build a real estate tax system that creates incentives to clean up and redevelop all of the abandoned and vacant parcels in Allegheny County.

End the Democratic Party machine's stranglehold on local politics.

Add "sustainabile urban agriculture" to "energy independence" as part of the region's green strategy.

That's enough for now.


5 Responses to "My Turn, Again: Pittsburgh's Needs"

Evan said... 2/03/2010 12:37 PM

Any ideas about how to reduce the Democratic Party's grip on local politics? Election reform, such as instant runoff voting, proportional representation, and a binding "none of the above" option seem like a good place to start, and they wouldn't cost much money.

Public financing for election candidates would probably help.

Is there something else that is much more important that either of these two things?

BrianTH said... 2/04/2010 8:02 AM

Doesn't "Move here, please!" potentially conflict with "Stop!"? This is tricky to pull off, but I think we both need to have honest conversations about local problems and potential solutions AND we need to continuously sell the renaissance story to the world if we want to attract valuable new residents.

Mike Madison said... 2/04/2010 4:20 PM

I'm a friendly skeptic of the "renaissance story." See this series of earlier posts. So, I'm not worried about a potential conflict.

Jonathan Potts said... 2/04/2010 7:29 PM

The city of Pittsburgh, you may recall, previously had a two-tiered tax system in which land was taxed at a higher rate than buildings. Over time, because assessments were not updated, the difference in assessed values had become meaningless. Then, when the reassessments took place, there was so much sticker shock that then City Council President Bob O'Connor led the charge to get rid of the two-tiered system.

Mike Madison said... 2/04/2010 10:55 PM

True enough, JP. I wrote about the land tax system and its abolition in this earlier post.

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

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