Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ever-changing existential estimation

I think I went through this more than enough earlier in the week, but the actual municipal population estimates are out.  I do feel bad for the folks who try to report on such esoteric wonkery, mostly because the history keeps getting rewritten to the main points of past stories are obviated. Trying to explain all of that in a few words is a pain.

Thus on the topic most focus on in this data, is the city of Pittsburgh growing? I've compiled (below) how the recent population estimates for the city of Pittsburgh have been changing with each successive reporting cycle.  Where there was growth one year there can be decline the following.  Thus the tyranny of revisions.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Maps... just because

I'll refine these and add more here when I get time, but for the quick review of what happened yesterday here are the maps for city and county controller races yesterday.  Parsing to follow.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Is the city of Pittsburgh growing?

While the civically obsessed await the results from the off-year election going on, here is a question for later in the week. Is the city of Pittsburgh growing?

Scheduled to be released this week is the latest annual data point for population in the city of Pittsburgh as of July 2014.  Last December 2014 population estimates for the nation and individual states were released. In March the comparable 2014 data for individual counties and metropolitan areas came out. What will come out this week completes the data trifecata for the year with population estimates for individual municipalities to include the city of Pittsburgh.

Whether the city of Pittsburgh is growing is a matter of moderate public debate and I assure you everyone has some very strong ideas on whether the population trends in the city are positive or negative, and as often as not debate with references to regional, county and city population trends conflated to the point of confusion. But looking to the future this is an important thing with a mayoral goal I hear about of growing the city by 20,000 over a coming decade, though the starting point for that calculation seems to keep slipping. Population growth has also been at least implicitly part of the debate over what impact things like the Pittsburgh Promise can have on the city of Pittsburgh.

What do we think we know?  For sure the city of Pittsburgh has been declining in population since the 1930s.  Some say since the 40s or 50s, but population growth recorded between 1930 and 1940 is really the result of some annexations that expanded the geography of the city of Pittsburgh. Account for that and the actual population in the city of Pittsburgh proper was already pushing downward back then.  Yet a few years ago the buzz was about the first recorded population increase for the city of Pittsburgh in many many decades when estimates for 2011 showed population increase between 2010 and 2011.

To oversimplify a complicated subject, these annual population estimates become ever more problematic the smaller the scale of geography. So municipal level population estimates have issues that are not so bad at county, MSA or state levels. A case in point is the population increase first observed for the city of Pittsburgh between 2010 and 2011 per the news in the previous link.  You may read my contemporaneous moderation in talking about the growth estimated at +1,780 that year. It just did not seem right and I knew the numbers would not hold up.

Indeed in revisions the very next year, the population growth over that same period was re-estimated to be only +392, or 77% smaller than originally reported.  A much smaller, but still positive, change, and for the city of Pittsburgh even population stabilization is a pretty big story.  The revision I can explain in multiple ways having to do with data revisions to some college dormitories numbers in the city and also due to some temporary methodology changes the Census folks used that year, but soon abandoned.

For the city of Pittsburgh the data picture gets more conflicted actually.  The primary data input for population estimates for individual municipalities is the population change for the counties where they rest. The previous year's data on population change (between 2012 an 2013), Allegheny County was estimated to have increased by +2,579 , but the city of Pittsburgh was estimated to have returned to decline of 348  This year, we already know the estimated population change between 2013-2014 for Allegheny county is actually a decline of 1,698, so the estimated change for the city of Pittsburgh is going to be negative, the question is really just by how much. We can debate ad nauseam how close the estimated get to ground truth.

 There is a side story to all of this of note. As mentioned here in the past, the main input to the municipal level breakdown of population change within a county is the pattern of building permits issued by municipality. One odd thing discussed here in the past is that the data the city of Pittsburgh itself reports on the number of building permits has zero in any multiple unit structures between 2005 and 2013. Since it seems pretty obvious there were building permits issued for new multiple unit structures, you have to wonder if the population estimates that resulted were biased downward in some way. The census methodology is only as good as the data it uses, and the building permits data is self reported by municipalities so if true the city only has itself to blame in some way. It looks like that might have just changed with the latest building permits data for the city reporting a new 215-unit building permit issued in December 2014.  Then there is an even more complicated subject over whether housing unit conversions are property recorded in the data for the city.

I won't even begin to go into natural population trends impacting the city of Pittsburgh.

Yes, I could go on.. but enough yes?

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Changing demographics within Allegheny County

City Paper is venturing into new media, kind of, with what appears to be a Prezi turned video look at some of the changing demographics in Allegheny County. Story is here from last week, but this is the video on Youtube:

I think what they miss a bit is that the trends they highlight have been part of an ongoing trend within Allegheny County going back a long time, it really  isn't something from the last decade in itself.  I had a pseudo-video version of some maps showing this:

But if you want ever more stats on affordable housing issues in Pittsburgh, see this compendium: ESTIMATING THE SUPPLY AND DEMAND OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN ALLEGHENY COUNTY

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

100 months and counting

So I know the news makes all things sound so dire, but nonetheless the latest dump of labor force data puts Pittsburgh past 100 months since the local unemployment rate was above the national unemployment rate. There really has not been such an extended period that has ever happened in the past, at least as far back as labor force data was routinely reported at a regional level in the 1940s. Indeed the convergence between the two trends we need to watch, and I would not be surprised if the trend comes to and end, at least briefly, at some point this year... but in graphic below green is better than red....

Worth noting that the 2014 numbers are likely to be revised so we will see what this all looks like after those numbers get re-reported.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A tale of two school districts

It is hard to reconcile these two news stories.....

Last week there as this passing headline:  A $110 million upgrade at Mount Lebanon High School. Of note to Mount Lebanon taxpayers I suppose, but not much to notice elsewhere.

and then pick any recent headline being generated by the ongoing miasma of the Duquesne City School District where the state forced the high school to close and then forced neighboring school districts to take in  the refugee students against their wishes.  Think it was voluntary that the neighboring school districts took the kids in? See this recent headline: West Mifflin Area to sue for tuition reimbursement.

To be clearer, I guess the students are not refugees, since you typically need to cross an international border to be considered a refugee. So they are internally displaced students I suppose. Seriously, this does not happen elsewhere in the developed world writ large. Why is there not daily news/punditry on what is happening in Duquesne?  Not the feel good story is my only hypothesis.

Nothing against Mount Lebanon making whatever investment it thinks it needs, but it is just shocking that everyone treats the ongoing implosion of the Duquesne City School District as normal at this point.

For all the talk of New Pittsburgh, realize that in most any other part of the country the city of Duquesne would not exist as a separate municipality, but instead would have been absorbed long long ago into the center city... i.e. Pittsburgh. So it is a geographic (and political) fiction to think of it as a distinct place from the city of Pittsburgh proper and it is certainly part of Pittsburgh writ large.

Maybe some ratio analysis to put the scale of this in perspective.  Population under age 18 in Duquesne in 2010 =  1,513.   For comparison population under 18 in Braddock (which gets to attend Woodland Hills schools anyway) was 605.  So I guess we need 2.5 new restaurants to save Duquesne.

Nobody is talking of bringing a high school back to Duquesne.  Greater talk is of the entire school district shutting down. Maybe other school Pennsylvania school districts can just close up shop and send all their students to wherever the state decrees they must be taken in.  These other school districts typically fight against this, but have lost their legal actions to stop it from happening. Wilkinsburg is reported of late to be trying to send its students to neighborhing school districts, but have only been rebuffed outright.

Of course, Duquesne might be an extreme case, but not really far from the state of many Pennsylvania school districts, 500 in all.  Thus what may be percolating at least in the Governor's office, if not in the state legislature. See the Washington Post today which prompted this little diatribe:   Pa. schools are the nation’s most inequitable. The new governor wants to fix that.  

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

and again Pittsburgh immigration

Now well over a decade ago Pittsburgh made the front page of the New York Times for the unique and focused efforts here to attract immigrants to the city and region.  See: NYT (2001): To Fill Gaps, Cities Seek Wave of Immigrants. A couple years later the WSJ would run this type of story in 2003: Pittsbrugh Trying To Lure Latinos.Might be a good time to look back to see what has changed over the subsequent decade.

Lots of factors impact the flow of immigrants into a region. Lots of itinerant populations are here due to things like students on temporary visas (who for the most part can't stay) and professional workers who are also here only temporarily, such as those with H1B visas.  Many eventually convert to a more permanent visa status, but in the long run the question is who comes here to stay.  Thus a measure of whether immigrants are choosing to come to Pittsburgh and stay is arguably the number of permanent naturalizations that happen in Western Pennsylvania.

2001-2003 was bad timing for immigration-focused efforts anywhere as post-9/11 changes slowed dramatically the flow of new immigrants into the country for a time.  But that flow returned over the decade, as it did in Pittsburgh.  Still, the latest numbers recently out for 2013 show the current level of naturalizations in Pittsburgh just about where they were in 2003.  Seems to be a plateau between 1,300 and 1,500 a year here.  This low level is a Pittsburgh thing, and just for comparison Cleveland recorded 3,076 naturalizations in 2013. Even Cincinnati comes in around twice Pittsburgh's number with over 2,700. Proportional to the region's population the numbers don't get much lower.

While the overall number of naturalizations is much the same as a decade prior, the actual characteristics of new residents here appears to be changing. You can breakdown the chart above into place of birth of those being naturalized.  For Pittsburgh the number of naturalizations generated from folks born in Mexico and South America is pretty stable, but remarkably now below the number of naturalizations of folks born in Africa, which quadrupled in Pittsburgh from 2003 to 2013.  Nationally that ratio is about half has many from Africa as from Mexico and South America. This may relate to a Pew note out this week on how a rising share of the Black U.S. population is foreign born.

Sorry the 2nd chart starts in 2003.  Hard to get the comparable data for 2002, but will gladly update if anyone has it?

Still the focus here a decade ago as much geared toward attracting Hispanic immigrants.It looks to me that the increasing trends have been mostly in immigrants from Asia, which includes the subcontinent, but the smaller but increasing trends from Africa and elsewhere in North America. I may need to look into if/how much of the surge in Asian-born naturalizations here comes from the surge of Bhutanese into the greater Cleveburgh region.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

The city's pension solution that wasn't

Believe it or not, this is a post about the Pirates.  Opening day has come and the anticipation is abuzz with variations of a theme for the Pirates prospects this year. See for example Deadspin: The Pittsburgh Pirates should be America's Team this season.  I, of course, am more interested in the latest iteration of Forbes' valuation of the team which values the Pirates at a mere $900 million.  A playoff win this year might jump the team over an even $billion.

It all might not have been. Long forgotten is the not-terribly-distant history that could easily have put the Pirates anywhere else but Pittsburgh. In 1985, the Galbreath family, which had owned the Pirates since the 1940s announced their intention to sell the team. For a city in the depth of miasmic economic restructuring, there were multiple obvious choices for a new location for the team and the Galbreaths clearly left open the possibility the team would move as part of any sale.

So the city of Pittsburgh, out of its excessive budget surpluses of the 1980s, loaned a consortium of private and nonprofit sector owners $20 million dollars to purchase the team in 1986. That works out close to $50 million in cash today. The consortium of new owners was named the Pittsburgh Associates and is still the owner of the team and the MLB franchise here, though the original owners have long since sold their shares of the team.   The whole deal was described as a "Public Private" partnership and headline described the deal as: Pirates sold to mayor, steel city businesses.  So the city was clearly the glue of the whole financial alchemy.

While the city's contribution was technically structured as a loan, it really wasn't. It retained much of the risk of the formal equity partners. The city didn't actually have that kind of cash lying around and  needed to finance $20 million fronted to the team with a bond issued in 1986.  The interest rate charged (8%) to the team owners by the city was actually deferred almost every year, while the required bond payments (which could not be deferred) were eaten directly by city taxpayers.

As a thought exercise, imagine the city's $20 million was an equity investment in the team. Just for fun, let's ignore any potential legal problems with that counterfactual. The actual transaction price was $26 million, split nearly equally among the 13 private partners. Thinking of the collective capitalization, the city's contribution would have made the city over 40% owners of the team going forward.  Fun to think about, but it would place the city's share at a value of at least $360 million these days.  That much cash would not completely solve the city's pension problems, but redefine the problem entirely.

Of course, that is all daydreaming.  The city will not benefit from the equity gain in the pirates in recent decades I'm sure.  But where did the value come from?  If you look at Forbes complete list of MLB team valuations you see some interesting things.  A proxy for profit is "operating income" and the lowly Pirates show up as having the 5th highest operating income in all of MLB.  Calculating operating income as a proportion of total revenue looks to me that the Pirates come in a remarkable 3rd.  Winning record, losing record... the team has had a financial success all of its own for many years.

Looking back it is more remarkable that the city found it politically possible to front such a large amount to a set of private sector investors to buy a major professional sports team.  Hard to imagine anything that risky could be pushed forward today with a chunk of public money that size.

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

How many popes have ever visited Pittsburgh?

With Easter, the news is percolating on the previously announced visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia later this year.  No sign he will come to Pittsburgh, but begs the question how many pontiffs have ever come to Pittsburgh.  The answer is nonzero. At least two I count.  More?

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Move over Pierogies - Cupcakes to be named official food of (New) Pittsburgh

Really.  Say goodbye to the Pittsburgh Pierogi..   and the unofficial mascot - the Primanti French Fry. In the future, it will all be about the cupcake.

No, really.

Ok, ok... just in honor of April 1, it is worth going back and remembering our great cupcake obsession here in Pittsburgh.  Yes, there was once a time BG20 (Before the G-20) that Pittsburgh was so desperate for positive economic stories that the faintest smell of cupcakes in town drove everyone into a state of near-rapture. It was so weird because it ran in the face of just what Pittsburgh was, the place which once set records for Ho-Ho consumption (though I pointed out the number reported was just to sweet to believe and was later corrected) and where the mere rumor of free-pies would set off public panics.

Think I'm misremembering our cupcake obsession?  I refer you to Mike who summarizes it all so much better: The Truthiness of the Cupcake Class. Yes, Mike and I were once seriously 'quoted' in the paper from blog postings attesting to our belief in the economic impact of cupcakes here. Only after the fact was the online version rewritten to reflect the satire that was dripping.

If that is not enough to explain what a big deal this was around town. This all inspired the great cupcake trifecta in the Post-Gazette. Again Mike: What's behind the bite-sized baked good boom.  My own contribution: Cupcake Econometrics 101 Every number in that is quite real by the way since I refuse to put fake data into record, April 1 or not. And then from cupcake aficionado Rachel Kramer Bussel: Why Cupcakes are Hot! The original title must itself have been too hot, since it now reads The Allure of Upscale Cupcakes.

Mike also had the epilogue asking all this long before me. Is Pittsburgh a post-cupcake city? Apres the cupcake: Pittsburgh's Deluge.

Few post-mortems on what happened to the cupcake establishments in town have been written, certainly a small fraction of the ink when they started up.  Most of the former dedicated cupcakeries are gone, but the local French bakery quotient seems to be skyrocketing.  I do need to update my regional benchmarking of bakeries per capita.

Never fear,... just a joke.  In fact, not only have we gotten over the cupcake obsession but there is a newfound appreciation for our food heritage.  Especially in food, the New(tech) Pittsburgh has met old in ways unimagined of a decade ago. I talk about things such as the Fish Fry App (and the Fish Fry Google Map) widely used during lent, but now there is the ever more useful throughout the year: PieroGIS; the Pittsburgh Pierogi map. And with the news of the ever shrinking Heinz in town here, the real Heinz heritage (think Pickles) may live on in new Pittsburgh-themed gourmet Pickels.

For those still reading.. still one of the funnier economic development stories to read long after the fact.  For all the success of new development in East Liberty and the East End (no longer referred to as Eastside??) the original plan to build the Whole Foods market on Centre Ave. was to have it paired with a Krispy Creme donuterie (are you reading out there @DanFitzWSJ?).  Such a Pittsburgh idea, not that it came to pass.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pittsburgh's Pickle

There was an article out recently about how cities suffer a persistence of memory. (NextCity: How a City's Collective Memory May Predict Its Future) You have to wonder about that given the glaring example of the great Ketchup story this week past.

Of course the big business news of last week was the announcement that the food conglomerates Heinz and Kraft were merging. The news sent everyone in Pittsburgh into a tizzy, with both city and county struggling to respond to the publicity, though I wonder if any local politicians were consulted before any of this happened, or what local policies really have any impact on big business decisions like this.

Times change, dude!

The reaction to the news really is curious.  Given all the talk of new Pittsburgh and all the various catalysts talked about: eds and meds, high tech, Marcellus (and related) Shale... etc, etc, there rarely is ever any mention of food manufacturing.  Granted it was a big part of history here, but we are talking some ancient history at this point. Pittsburgh's Heinz roots date back long into the 19th century (talk about memory) and for a long time ketchup has been.. well, just ketchup.  In fact some say Ketchup has suffered from an innovation problem for years (New Yorker: The Ketchup Conundrum).

Even Big news jumped into the fray over what this all means for Pittsburgh.  No less than the WSJ asked: In Kraft Deal, Will Pittsburgh or Chicago lose more jobs? But how many jobs are here? WSJ mentioned a number that 800 Heinz jobs remain in Pittsburgh.  I wonder if the number is that high?  To start, the venerable producer of Ketchup has not actually produced any condiment, or any other product for that matter, locally in at least a dozen years. (as noted by the NYT years ago: Pittsburgh's Time of Transition) So really no manufacturing employment at all. Saving jobs at Heinz is mostly about whether the remaining headquarters staff will remain here in Pittsburgh. But again, has anyone asked what is remaining?

Seems like a recurring story in that just two years ago we went through this all when Warren Buffet and his Brazilian partners bought Heinz outright. Everyone wondered what would happen to what was left of Heinz back then. One of the stories that followed that transaction was some layoffs and focused buyout offers the new management apparently offered just to its Pittsburgh employees. Those past stories said that Pittsburgh based employment at Heinz was coming down pretty drastically from 1,200 to 800 workers here. That # I am guessing is the source of the 800 number recently quoted in the WSJ article this week. Is that # still valid given all the changes going on down there? Sure sounds like a lot of staff has been leaving from those news stories. I really have to believe the current employment numbers, at least in the city, are really more like half the lower number.

There are also some folks working at Heinz's Food Innovation Center in Warrendale, jobs that they have also been cutting back on in recent years according to the news. Though outside the city of Pittsburgh proper, I presume there still are test batches of ketchup made there, so yes, Heinz still does make Ketchup here. Kraft has it's own research programs as well, which they appear to have been focusing on improving in recent years, so there will be an impact there of this merger for sure. Hopefully this link is not a premonition of the division's future.

Whether the current employment count is 400, 800 or something in between, how big is that to Pittsburgh? Are all of those jobs at risk? Of course, every job matters to the person employed, but how much is at stake in any future reorganizations at the new Kraft/Heinz. The current numbers are that roughly 40,000 folks in Pittsburgh are employed in industry categorized as Management of Companies and Enterprises. That in itself is just over 3% of all jobs in the MSA. Then the entirety of Heinz's footprint here works out to maybe 1% -2%, at the very most, of that.

But whether the merger of the two firms brings more jobs to Pittsburgh, or further eviscerates what was once here, only time will tell.  To quote the great Carly Simon, and tomorrow we might not be together.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pittsburgh's Seven Year Demographic Itch

So this is worth noting.   Some will see the wonkish news stories trying to decompile the latest dump of population estimates from the friendly gnomes at the Census Bureau.  The summary is that I was kind of expecting the net migration trend to dip negative a small bit in the latest year of data (July 2013 to July 2014,) but Pittsburgh just squeaked by for a 7th straight year of positive net migration. But we will put a * on that positive number. More later.

The news stories will mostly look at the overall population change, which I guess they have to, but the recurring story here is that the Pittsburgh region stands out as a place experiencing natural population decline (more deaths than births).  Since natural population decline is really a demographic legacy of changes literally decades ago, you need to think about it differently from what is happening today in the regional economy.  A big topic I've been talking about for a long time.

Here is total net migration for the Pittsburgh MSA since 2000. The historical trends before this were pretty much all negative every year (with one possible exception around 1991) going back pretty much to the end of WWII.  So the break in trend in mid-decade, with net migration turning positive for the region, was a big deal IMHO.

That the positive trend has extended for seven years is pretty remarkable.  For a region that experienced net migration losses on the order of 50K per year in the early 1980s, just being net even is an accomplishment, but still, the recent trend appears to be contracting.   It likely reflects that in early 2013 you saw the closest convergence of regional and national unemployment rates in the last 8 years. If that convergence had continued I would have really expected this net migration trend to turn negative.  But that trend did not converge more, so we will see how it all plays out next year.

What's the * in the positive net migration story, even if small.  I've graphed total net migration, which is the sum of net domestic migration and net international migration.  In this data, net international is almost always (there are rare exceptions) a positive number by definition.   Domestic migration is the number of people who move within the US each year.  Domestic migration has turned negative for the Pittsburgh MSA (-2,806 for the 2013-2014 period), again probably reflecting the past contraction of regional and national labor force trends.  So the only reason there was an, albeit small, positive net migration (+411) was due to the net international immigration number (+3,217 for 2013-2014). That number is still pretty small relative to most any other metro region in the country, but still responsible for offsetting most of the natural population decline and keeping the population stable. There is the headline.  (if you waited for it).

Addendum.. here is the by county super summary of population change over the most recent year of data:

1-Jul-13 1-Jul-14 Change
Allegheny 1,232,953 1,231,255 -1,698
Armstrong 68,110 67,785 -325
Beaver 170,060 169,392 -668
Butler 185,369 185,943 574
Fayette 134,799 134,086 -713
Washington 208,194 208,187 -7
Westmoreland 361,080 359,320 -1,760
Pittsburgh MSA 2,360,565 2,355,968 -4,597

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Monday, March 23, 2015

There (could be) an app for that - Pittsburgh Parking

Wonky news buzz over talk that the Pittsburgh Parking Authority (PPA) will pursue an app to pay for Parking. PG: App could be used to pay for Pittsburgh Parking

People forget, but it is something the PPA said would be in limited operation last year actually, following the model of...  Latrobe, PA. See the last paragraph in (Feb 2014): New App Lets You Pay for Parking on your Phone.  But hey, progress is progress.  How about the bigger question and imagine what might be possible if the Parking Authority actually made a live feed of some of its parking utilization data. I'll just point back to this post: Free our (parking) data. 

But this all could enable the real innovation in parking economics here...  resident discounts!!! or in the great duality of all things economic: non-resident surcharges.   Ponder that for a second and when it comes to pass remember where you heard it first.

Addendum...  what was the final story on the great missing parking meter story?  Remember: Audit can't trace missing parking meters.  What's a few tons of scrap steel anyway.  

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Who needs (Braddock)?

To use a particular vernacular, here is the bottom line up front: A law journal article just out will be of interest to most (of the remaining) readers here. Stanford law professor Michelle Anderson authored this just published in the Widener Law Review: WHO NEEDS LOCAL GOVERNMENT ANYWAY? DISSOLUTION IN PENNSYLVANIA'S DISTRESSED CITIES.

What is the foil for the article? The geography known to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the borough of Braddock, PA. While you may not quite catch it in all the legal verbiage, it really is a provocative thesis all but arguing that Braddock should cease to exist.

Braddock Films
Never mentioned, but I couldn't help thinking about the recent Kevin Sousa meme when reading it and maybe not for the reasons you may think. Hard to see any mention of Braddock in the popular press these days without a de rigueur mention of Sousa and his latest project: Superior Motors.  The recent PG article (Kevin Sousa, a visionary chef with fiscal issues on his plate) has sparked a new look at the project. The blowback on the article includes commentary out there such as this blog post: Everything is (Not) Awesome or “Is This Good Enough For Pittsburgh?

IMHO, I think both angles, or virtually all angles I see debated on this, miss the far more important story. I take for granted that Sousa himself is a positive change agent, but what happens if the project is successful? Or even wildly successful? A wave of prosperity comes to Braddock and spills over into neighboring communities? Some believe that has already happened.  I really do get routine queries from the media or other interested parties from all over the country asking some question about the dramatic turnaround that has already happened in Braddock.I think local folks get the difference between the vision and reality, but folks from afar don't get that message. It is a premise that I've pointed out belies some stark statistics including some of the steepest vacancy and poverty rates across Pennsylvania that have yet to show any signs at all of improving to date. If you think a restaurant is the solution to the problem, you are probably underestimating the structural problems Braddock and nearby municipalities have to deal with. 

1994! - see Lucchino referenced below.
I really think that the obsession on how big or impactful the new restaurant project can be for Braddock has a side impact of distracting the powers that be from the harder questions about the future of the borough and environs.  The more talk of the restaurant, the less talk of what it will take to address harder problems.  The problem is that the restaurant is really just the latest iteration of a recurring story of how Braddock has turned the corner,. You can't recall so many previous versions, including the earlier restaurant project in Braddock, because they have all been for naught. The redevelopment of the Mon Valley has been the county's primary economic development focus for decades, with plenty of headlines to show for it along the way. As a result we have had decades of folks talking about how much positive change is taking place in Braddock. I once was yelled at by a long since deposed County Commissioner for merely questioning the premise.  

What are those harder questions being overlooked? Well, there we come back to the law article just out that looks at just how dysfunctional some local governments are in Pennsylvania. The very first sentence of the article: "Pennsylvania is home to an exceptionally high number of small, fiscally troubled local governments—each one a monument to the decline of American manufacturing and its middle class jobs."

I'll be the first to quibble with the economic history embedded in that.  Braddock's decline started long before the decline of the steel industry, but the cause is not as important as the reality of today. Braddock, by most metrics of distress, has only continued downward over the last decade. Why is that?

Let's talk beyond Braddock to desensitize this all. Braddock in a sense is not the worst off place for its residents. Children in Braddock actually get to attend a functioning school district in the form of Woodland Hills. That is a result of the General Braddock school district being one of the original districts that were combined to form Woodland Hills as the result of a Federal consent decree three decades ago. The children of the neighboring Duquesne School District have no such luxury and have seen their schools literally deconstructed, with students unwanted by any other school district in the county, only to forcibly assigned by state fiat into nearby school districts. If you think Duquesne is an anomaly then go read the recent research showing Pennsylvania having the most unequal school funding in the nation.

School Districts, and municipalities such as Duquesne, or Rankin, or Braddock, all are forced to exist despite having no fiscal capacity to maintain minimal public services. I remain perplexed that there is no greater hue and cry over what is an ongoing miasma in Duquesne. Hence again, the law article focused on the hyper sensitive topic of municipal disincorporation and the greater failings of the Act 47 process in Pennsylvania which may have a counterproductive goal of keeping low functioning governments extant. Maybe they shouldn't be strung along.

If you read the footnotes to the article, and law authors do like their footnotes, there is a reference (warning, pseudo vanity alert) to a report completed long ago by former County Controller Frank Lucchino. His report titled Reclaiming Hope - Voluntary Disincorporation in Allegheny Countybrought up the topic that is like political kryptonite in Pennsylvania. Just coming out with that report was an act of political courage since similar talk has brought political careers to an end before and since. The article actually concludes by pointing out that if they were looking for new legislation to address municipal distress  then "state legislators should go back to the drawing board—the one that Frank Lucchino drafted for them years ago." Easier to talk about menus.

The Luccino article, and other sundry ephemera on this whole topic of fragmentation in local government in Pennsylvania is on my web page on the topic (minimally updated in a decade at this point).  To end I'll just throw out this illustration I put together years ago showing just how much local government there is in Pennsylvania:

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

All things Larryville - long past inflection

I'm kind of fascinated by the media's newfound interest in the changes taking place in the City of Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville Neighborhood.   One is this on some micro-development in this story last week: How much should this building worth?.   But also the piece last week: When did Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville become Larryville.  You might thing there is a new story somewhere.  But are any of these new stories?  Not really.  Just to begin, here is the Financial Times of all papers from a few years ago (2009):  Diamond in the Rust.

But the answer to the Larryville question goes back much further if you don't want to be superficial about it.  If you have any doubt see the map of real estate assessment changes that had already taken place between 2002 and 2012. I'd argue that the property appreciation represented in this map is most concentrated across a wide areas throughout Lawrenceville and emanating into its environs. Parsing that is a long long post, so hold that thought.  But that map looks like this which probably only captures a fraction of the appreciation that has been accelerating in the neighborhood since the assessment (making future current affordability in the neighborhood another topic altogether):


But that is only the beginning of the answer.  The most dramatic change in Lawrenceville has been its demographics.  I will tell you that as late as 2000, folks who think about these things would find me to ask me what was up with the census tracts in Lawrenceville because they were so old.  Many, many local elders lived in Lawrenceville, and not elders institutionalized into  Nursing Homes or similar locations that might alter the demographics exogenously.   Lawrenceville has one of the highest concentrations of elders living in their homes compared to most anywhere in the entire nation, thus giving rise to the concept of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs).

How and when then the demographics of the census tracts in Lawrenceville changed:

So again, the answer is not recently, or really not recently.   The inflection point (i.e. when the 2nd derivative, not the first = zero) in the time series for each of those trend lines is not even in the last decade, but well into the 1990s I would argue.   So then who and what is responsible?  You might want to go back into the 1990s to see some of the very focused and grassroots efforts. Try this from the PG in 1993: Sprucing up the neighborhood. Those efforts are what folks ought to be writing more on now if you want to give credit where due.

Those efforts probably aided in large part, by the lack of a large empty hospital in the neighborhood. I think I myself once wrote on Lawrenceville that "the real estate speculation must have already begun" as far back as 2002 in Goodbye, St. Francis.  The current story of Lawrenceville may have as much to do with just how low real estate prices were until very recently.  That distorts all these stories (and that map for the record) in the percentage change in real estate values.

Sort of a Pittsburgh story writ large in that even solid price appreciation has not really raised a lot of local real estate to levels that might be considered normal elsewhere.  Thus the stories of late (long after the real estate price collapses elsewhere) that Pittsburgh is still one of the most affordable real estate markets anywhere.  Lawrenceville prices were going unsold even to the "We Buy Homes" folks not long ago. As unbelievable that may seem at the moment, it fostered a wave of rehab, some truly stunning in what was done, but also some truly depressing in how quickly folks flipped homes after doing only basic work, often destroying more than improving.  Look up the modern use of the term "remuddling" which really must have been a term re-coined to describe some of what has been happening here.

But all that only touches the surface of a big topic, but nobody should think for a second that the Lawrenceville story, whatever that story is, is a story of now. It has been a long time coming.  If you want a more recent qualitative look at the changes going on within Lawrenceville, which is not just one universal answer, see the report and survey:  Who moves to Lawrenceville and Why?

If you are still reading this post, or even the blog I probably owe you a beer.   The lack of daily posts appears to have dropped the number daily unique readers from something like 500 to under 50.  Probably better that way.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Uncle Martin asks.....

This is something a bit off-script.  The chair of the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission has some issues with the proposed headquarters for U.S. Steel, the first major development in the works for the rebuilding of the Lower Hill District. Trib: Pittsburgh Planning official pans U.S. Steel headquarters proposal.  PG: Pittsburgh Official Does not Like proposed design of new U.S. Steel headquarters.

It is not like U.S. Steel and local government have never been at odds with one another.  It was more Big Steel's anger at some new Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, Allegheny County... whatevs) regulations over some pesky new air regulations that prompted the corporation to run these full page advertisements in 1976. Different context, but the sentiment may be in play again.

If that comes to pass, the doomsaying over development in the Lower Hill has also been in play for some time.  Recall that everyone thought the plan for a Penguins-linked casino was thought to be a sure thing once before being pre-empted, surprisingly, by the late Don Barden. Why was that? In part because it was linked to development of the Lower Hill and keeping the Penguins in town.  When it didn't come to pass, there resulted lots of gnashing over whether the Penguins themselves would leave the city.  Yes, that unthinkable was on everyone's mind, see Washington Post: Penguins' Future in Pittsburgh in Doubt.  But if the will is there, there is always a Plan B.

But back to the here and now.  There actually is an expensively-developed (and completed just last fall) Preliminary Land
Original caption reads:This illustration indicates the scale and
density that can be achieved by following the regulating plans
described on subsequent pages
Development Plan for the Lower Hill District
. I will leave it to the land use planners and architects to debate the finer points of what the plan intended vice what USS wants to build.

What I wonder about more is that if the finances do not allow for something more grand, for lack of an adjective, for this one parcel, how is it that the plan for a not-cheap multi-level park/bridge will be feasible not far away. That is a big part of the plan right? See last fall: @brotheroneill: Building Park over I-579 could cap rebirth of the Hill.  That has actually been part of the 'plan,' as far back as the Isle of Capri's vision for the Lower Hill District (see Pittsburgh City Paper 12/2/20016: For Hill Residents, Requests from Casino Developers May Be Too Much, Too Late )  Goes back to the difference between things proposed vice things that actually happen around here. Why am I thinking of the promised Intermodal Grant Street Transportation Center? ("It's as close to an intermodal transportation center as we'll get,")   But save that for later.

And yes, I know this was also in the the most recent post, but again this one advertisement just reminds us just how wide a gap there is between vision and reality for the Lower Hill.  Uncle Martin might be asking this question anew.....

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Downtown Pittsburgh is Dead; Long Live Downtown Pittsburgh

Just a passing note that Downtown Pittsburgh has been ranked #1 for 'livability.' See Trib: Pittsburgh's Downtown tops ranking of small to midsized cities.  One of those stories I bet everyone covers, and I'll add links when more coverage comes online.

But a decade ago there was so much talk of how quickly Downtown Pittsburgh was dying that I was prompted to write:  Is Downtown Dead? Hardly.

What a difference a decade makes?  Of course there have been a lot of changes Downtown, but a decade ago the talk that all things Downtown were imploding was so pervasive, and so unsupported by data, that someone had to point out the incredibly persistent strength of the job concentration in the city's core.  For slightly more recent parsing of Downtown employment numbers: Nullspace August 12, 2012 .

Of course the new ranking is about the 'livability' of Downtown, and  the sheer number of people living Downtown is a story unto itself.   Downtown Pittsburgh, i.e. the Golden Triangle, was once a place almost devoid of a residential population outside of a small handful (or less) of large high rise residential buildings.  A Downtown 'neighborhood' would have been hard to describe the non-incarcerated population was so small. I actually think the true Downtown 'neighborhood' was that which was once called the "Lower Hill District" (for more see "The Downtowners" in the last issue
of Pulp Magazine from 2004) which was as many know was unceremoniously quite ceremoniously leveled in the 1950s.  But that is another story, though a story coming up more and more often of late.

Nonetheless, the current numbers living within the Golden Triangle, whether that be the Census 2010 count of 3,629, or higher numbers others have estimated, is an achievement.  Probably worth keeping in mind that the population jump Downtown was highly subsidized achievement with a lot of construction supported by various forms of public or public-private investment.  Expensive, but a determined strategy and in large part it worked.  Note it is a somewhat different causal story in Pittsburgh than some similar population growth in Center City Philadelphia which has (arguably) been driven by a comprehensive tax abatement program on residential construction there.  

But how did we get here from there, or there from here? It might be interesting to look at the Downtown Pittsburgh plan from the mid-Murphy years.  Yes, it does include the vision for the maligned and abandoned Fifth and Forbes retail development (I'll point out there is a big skyscraper going in where the hat shop everyone was trying to save used to be), but there is a bit more there and quite a range of participants in the process. Read closely and find the small illustration for the plan to reintroduce a street grid across the Strip District, which is still my preferred plan, if the least likely to be implemented comprehensively.

On one last note. Recall that in 2000, the hope for Downtown living was so hard to defend that folks jumped any anything, any sliver of data, even if completely misconstrued, to believe. Below was a page 1 headline and story about the big jump of downtown residential population that appeared to show up in the 2000 census.  What was completely overlooked was that the expansion of the county jail had generated new population that exactly matched the net population growth Downtown.  So a lot of new, mostly young, people were indeed living Downtown, but I am just not quite sure that is what anyone really meant.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Say again Pittsburgh

If you have not seen the early print edition of the Post-Gazette, which isn't online yet, this will just be a teaser.  I will follow a practice Jim R. uses and make a blog here a place for the more extensive footnotes that don't fit into other publications.  Newspapers really do need a place for footnotes.

For the oped in the Sunday paper here are some relevant notes with links, all far more interesting that whatever I had to say about them. But if you can't wait until Sunday to figure out what this is all about, do your bit to save the dead fish club and buy some parchment.


cascade of regional marketing and public relations efforts... For just one example, see this classic 1985 WTAE video.  Also the city of Pittsburgh went and invited David Savageau, who put together the Places Rated report, to visit in the wake of the national publicity that came from the report.  At one point, Mayor Caliguiri tried to give him a ceremonial 'Key to the City,' but he refused the honor thinking it might give the appearance he was less than objective.See Post-Gazette, Almanac Author refuses key to city.

A single month at 10.0%.....      Bureau of Labor Statistics.Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Seasonally Adjusted Unemployment Rate. Online at:

What next? A city known to outsiders…      Article by Wilhelm, Kathy, Associated Press. Variously syndicated including, “Pittsburgh - country’s ‘best-kept secret,’ Nashua Telegraph, February 28, 1985. p.4.

Say it Ain’t Pittsburgh…   See: Loftus, Geoffrey, R., “Say it ain’t Pittsburgh,” Psychology Today; June 1985, Vol. 19 Issue 6, p8.   Also an earlier post from Nullspace here a few years ago covered the topic: April 26, 2007: Say it ain't Pittsburgh again or this from June 9, 2009: Ever more livable?

long forgotten is the fish...  See the relevant Wikipedia entry.  Sorry, but I couldn't resist.

a passing affliction for cupcakes..  for this I must defer to Mike Madison on Pittsblog in 2006: Truthiness of the Cupcake Class, which more than anything else explains the apotheosis of the Pittsburgh psyche struggling for some reason to be boastful prior to the G-20 (IMHO).

227 thousand more people departed ……     For my own calculation of that number see: Briem, Christopher P., “How Many People Left Pittsburgh During the 1980s?“ Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly, University Center for Social and Urban Research, University of Pittsburgh, June 2014, pp 1,4-5.

An additional note.  One of the more interesting things about the whole Loftus criticism of Pittsburgh's high ranking in 1985 was that the author/publisher of the Places Rated Almanac, David Savageau, not only took the methodological criticism to heart, but brought Professor Loftus onto his team for some of the subsequent editions of the publication.  See this picture of the two.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gringo 45789

Just a map I've never seen before. Does anyone still refer to any part of the area between Ambridge and Moon Township as "Gringo"?

Historical telephone exchange map of the Pittsburgh region:


And for comic relief, this reminds me of the 2nd best episode from WKRP in Cincinatti which may be hard to understand in the era after the AT&T breakup.. but still:

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Railroading data

Yes, that 12 step program is failing me.

So the news, and some rather amazing photos, from West Virginia tell the tale of the recent train derailment not far from Pittsburgh. I think the photo highlighting a sign of "Boomer Branch Road" and a dateline of "Mount Carbon, WV" deserves a Pulitzer for its framing.

I've pointed out before the lack of publicly available rail data.  I really want to know how many other urban centers have as much oil moving by rail through them as Pittsburgh does these days. If someone has a data source to answer that, please let me know.

Why care?  Some may recall the impact rail accidents have had on Pittsburgh, including the evacuation of almost all of Bloomfield and environs in 1987.  More recently in Philadelphia, the final destination of much of the rail shipments passing through Pittsburgh, public officials fought to get the industry to release data for emergency planning.So still not public data, but a start.

I have no idea whether similar data access is an issue on this side of the state, but it sure is curious there have been no comparable media stories on rail data here as best I can tell.  It actually seemed pretty hard for our media friends to get officials to even admit there was any oil traveling by rail through the city at all. See this from  May 29, 2014:  "However, a state official said Bakken crude does come through Pittsburgh on the way to Philadelphia".  Talk about pulling teeth and stating the obvious.  

It turns out this all may be a passing phenomenon.  Some have speculated that a second order effect of the collapse of world oil prices may be to decrease the incentive to bring North Dakota oil to east coast refineries.  I think the argument is that it may now be more competitive to again import oil directly from overseas and shipped in via tankers.  We will see how that works out.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ben Chinitz Redux

Just to keep the digital squatters from laying claim to this corner of the Intertubes, here is a quick thought. (Yes, this is what I do when cocooning from the cold.)

It is hard to read any local news, or any national news about Pittsburgh these days, without someone touting just how big a transformation has been going on here.  There is the inevitable story about this new business, or that new business, and it is easy to believe that those stories can be aggregated and extrapolated, and that we are really a hotbed of new entrepreneurship.  The thing is.. this is a big region, and for sure there are stories of smart innovative folks doing neat things.  The question is whether the region as a whole is really doing well. Remember, the plural of anecdote is not data, so you have to move well beyond any one story.

Over 50 years ago, so literally more than half a century, the economist Ben Chinitz wrote on the hard to quantify, but generally accepted, observation that being an entrepreneur in Pittsburgh was hard, or at least rare. We basically were not generating new small businesses. See: Benjamin Chinitz: Contrasts in Agglomeration, American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 51, 1961, pp. 279-289

His theory was that the nature of the steel industry here actually inhibited the level of entrepreneurship that might normally take place. One sentence from his paper oversimilifies his thesis but gets to the rub of it: ".. you do not breed as many entrepreneurs per capita in families allied with steel..." (p. 284)

But now.. today, what is the state of entrepreneurship in Pittsburgh?  It is actually not much easier today to measure 'entrepreneurship' than it was a half century ago. But there is some data that is pretty current. So I took some data that the economic census has data on establishment births. This counts as at least a generic measure of new business creation. The data is from the Statistics on U.S. businesses, and specifically the Metropolitan Statistical Area totals for 2010-2011:

I basically filtered the data for, the 30 largest metropolitan areas (ranked by employment) and then quickly computed the ratio of new establishment births between 2011 and 2012 to the number of establishments in 2011. That gives a somewhat depressing benchmarking that looks like this.

So Pittsburgh is decidedly last, even now 50 years after Chinitz was one of the first to talk about this foreboding Pittsburghism so openly. Can we still look to the impact of industry structure and the nature of big steel writ large? Seems a stretch even if that legacy extends long past the contraction of the local steel industry.  Should we be looking for new explanations?  And what does it say about all the recent Pittsburgh buzz?

To be clear, this is just an elaborate factoid, one that clearly is not the whole picture.  But it certainly is worth keeping in mind when yet another 'What lessons does Pittsburgh have for us' type of headline.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Banking on the Future (of Downtown Pittsburgh)

History is written by the victors they say.  That is about the only explanation I can come up with for how much of Pittsburgh's economic development history is not just forgotten, but literally unwritten from the record for the most part. This all came to mind because of some developments scheduled for today down at the City's zoning board on some proposed redevelopment for a new Pittsburgh Playhouse Theater.  Just spurred my thinking on what was once Pittsburgh's central effort to invigorate Downtown.

The new playhouse site is across from what was once called the Bank Center, a series of building's once known as Pittsburgh's Wall Street. Redevelopment of the Bank Building into an indoor urban mall (a modern Jenkin's Arcade?) was in itself a $10 million development effort (in 1976 dollars!). The redeveloped building included a range of shopping and entertainment venues including a disco named the Library (actually a franchise of a chain of disco clubs), and even included a movie theater. Actually what liked best was the quote that the site had a coffee shop named 'Cappucino' described as "an idea borrowed from the streets of Europe."  Who knew the retail coffee biz was a going to be a big new thing?

Foreign journalists used to point to it as an example of urban rebirth here saying things like "...Pittsburgh has the Bank Center." Local reporters called the project "an early entry into Pittsburgh's Renaissance II.." or as Pittsburgh's "Beauty mark" (I can't make this up) or even "Pittsburgh's Grand Bazaar."  Think the goal of a 24 hour destination is something new?  Prose that seems to have been excised from the modern media once described the omniplex when extant thusly:
"The Bank. 
The terseness of the title belies all that it connotes: A city-within-a-city complex where strolling shoppers scuff white marble... where society blends in an amalgam of disco dancer, yogurt-fancier and notion-hunter.. where the dishwasher's apron brushes indiscriminately against milady's mink.. where bookworm, moviegoer and girl-watcher function in unison and singular purpose during a morning, noon or night on the town."
The original project eventually went bankrupt and was pretty much shuttered by 1986. It would be a decade of effort before the site was redeveloped again, with great fanfare, by a partnership between Point Park University and the Carnegie Library which made the site into the Downtown/Business branch of the library system.  That lasted for another decade when the library moved across town to its current location across from the Gimbels Building (obligatory anachronistic geographic reference) and Point Park eventually acquired the building. Then there was the unrealized plan otherwise known as Fifth and Forbes which I suspect would have had a minor impact on the site, if it had happened.

With everyone now looking to Pittsburgh for answers, I wonder if we are picking and choosing the stories to tell? Might be more to learn from what we want to forget than from whatever the latest PR has to say.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Cor-ten nevermore

I just don't have time to ponder how much Pittsburgh economic development history all weaves together in just one news item today: U.S. Steel to put headquarters on former Civic Arena Site. Banished forever is the Mellon Arena moniker of course. Moving on.....

Steel, the Penguins, the Hill District and the Civic Arena. So much Pittsburgh history all imploded together into a spatial singularity, it collectively is a bit sublime; and even more impactful on what it means for the neighborhood.  Keeping US Steel's headquarters in Pittsburgh has now, quite remarkably, become subsumed into all facets of the debate on Hill District re-redevelopment.

What I don't think has ever been written has been the omni-decade overview of how many redevelopment efforts there have been in the Hill District.  Many we know about, but many kind of get forgotten quickly.  Some efforts go way back (see photo below), but even much more recent efforts have been banished from memory..  I really don't think there has been one great effort to look comprehensively across the decades to explain how the Hill District has changed.

But back to today's announcement. This new project now pretty much swamps a dozen or so past efforts, or visions might be a better way to think about them, of the Hill District's future  I wonder how money and effort was spent in just working up this blueprint circa 1983:

But the location of US Steel's headquarters obviously still has an emotional tug for the 'Steel City.'   It is often overlooked that US Steel's headquarters through its first half decade of existence was actually in New York City befitting the corporation's genesis in the capital accumulation of JP Morgan. Only in the 1950s did Pittsburgh formally become the headquarters for the corporation.  Then, when US Steel morphed into USX in the 1980s, the headquarters of the holding company for a time was in Texas, only to return to Pittsburgh officially after Marathon Oil was divested. That history is forgotten probably because the  megalithic "Steel Building" seems to be a permanent presence defining Pittsburgh, or at least Downtown.  But in reality 600 Grant Street is a relatively modern building. The building itself only opened in the 1970s and before that the headquarters was located adjacent to Mellon Park.

Politics has long had a role in the location of the corporations HQ.  When air pollution battles were escalating in the 1970s, there was this full page ad blasted into the media. Begs a question of what would have happened if pollution control efforts had been derailed?

Old debates?


I forgot about this graphic from few years ago which is incredibly apropos to the topic This advertisement (circa 1961) presages just how intertwined the history of U.S. Steel and the Civic Arena have always been.  U.S. Steel asks us to "Look what the earthlings built!" but read the subtext as well.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Old is new is old again: Pittsburgh immigration

Just connecting some dots across the decades....

Last week PG had this story: Restaurant industry largest employer of immigrants in U.S., but not in Steel city, a story that has struck such a chord it is being republished all over. I guess we don't eat? The testable hypothesis it suggests is that Pittsburgh has fewer restaurants per capita than you might expect compared to other cities/region. As much as I'm tempted, I'll let someone else try and model that. Then the PG passes on, via our PT friends, the factoid that indeed Pittsburgh remains one of the least diverse places in the US.

Any 'new' news here? Is the recent data any different from the past is the question? Consider that it has been more than a few years since @danfitzwsj wrote: In Pittsburgh, welcome mat is out to immigrants.  Do any of those themes sound familiar with any of the stories/initiatives of today? But you should have seen the e-mail I got from that story with people insisting a flood of new and mostly undocumented immigrants were already coming to Pittsburgh.  Remember that was almost a decade ago. I am sure that with a minimal bit of effort I could find older references that say much the same thing a decade before that.

I always wonder why there are there so may stories always about the new immigrants coming to Pittsburgh and only very rarely does anyone focus on the hard question of what might be keeping our immigration numbers  so low. Maybe the extra efforts we go through here?  Remember this telling NYT piece: Altoona,with no immigrant problem, tries to solve it. Or a bit closer to home if you insist, there was this narrative from the South Side: The other side of the fence. More recent, as in today, here is a piece of a Pittsburgh-catalyzed immigration story in the HuffPo: I'm a Not-Quite-Legal Alien in the U.S., and it sucks.So no, attracting more immigrants to Pittsburgh is a lot more complicated than putting up 'Come to Pittsburgh' billboards at JFK (not that I've heard of anyone doing that... yet?)

But going back to the first link on immigrants in the local restaurant industry.  More than a decade ago I once had a call from a New York based journalist on this topic of immigration in Pittsburgh.  When I explained how off the chart low our recent immigration numbers were, their immediate, and to them obvious, question was "but who drives the taxis?"  An interesting question again today is it not? Maybe more so than what is going on in the restaurant industry. In a lot of regions recent immigrants make up most taxi drivers. Certainly an overlooked angle on the emerging paradigm of crowdsourcing taxi service. At least it is not a debate here, as it is elsewhere.

Every time this topic comes up, I get the comments that insist everything is different now. In some ways yes, but in a lot of fundamental ways no. If there is something different these days, at least in the decade-perspective; t reallys is true that the new immigrants to Pittsburgh are very different from the past. (or see WSJ: A fading vision of the old world)

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

World War II Vets in Allegheny County

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The race that wasn't

One of the things about this election cycle in Pennsylvania was just how sparse the races were.  Other than for governor, there was no major senate race, for example.  Most ballots voters saw were about as short as you ever get. Not even many referenda bouncing around to pad ballot choices to be made.  Since the gubernatorial race was itself so uncontested by all accounts heading in, not much there either.

Except there were all of these races for state house (the General Assembly) and state senate.  Lots of talk some make, but few take action to change the size of the legislature in Pennsylvania which has 204 house seats and 50 senators. But if you want one reason why so many sitting legislators look askance at any effort to change the size of the legislature, look at the effort they need to make to say in office.  Of the 203 General Assembly seats, 108 of them were uncontested on Tuesday. Literally only one candidate.  Here is a quick map of all the General Assembly districts which had only one registered candidate. For folks in all those 108 districts, the effective ballot they faced was even shorter than it appeared. My guess is the large number of districts results in smaller and and more homogeneous districts that have little incentive for both parties to compete in, so they don't. Creative redistricting cartography only reinforces that result.

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