Friday, August 31, 2007

Labor Day Quiz

Before you go googling the answers, give your best guess as to these questions.

2006 Private Sector Unionization in Pittsburgh is:
a) 21.4%
b) 14.9%
c) 9.5%
d) 6.7%

What region has the lowest overall unionization rate
a) Las Vegas
b) Seattle
c) Pittsburgh
d) New York City


But don't forget to go see the parade. You will need to consult the official parade guide.

Create a Link

 

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Steely gets around

Yes, there is plenty of more important fodder out there, but it's amazing how prolific Steely McBeam is these days. You now have:

http://www.steelymcbeam.com/

http://www.steelymcbeam.org/

(if someone could hack steelymcbeam.gov I would be impressed).. also

Steely McBeam's Wikipedia Page

now (via Mondesishouse) the Tall Tales of Steely McBeam

and even the City Paper chimes in this week with: Steely McBeam Will Die for Our Sins

You have to admit, I doubt the Steelers could have generated so much attention with almost any other choice for a mascot. Brilliant.

Create a Link

 

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

unemployment

The state released the latest unemployment rates for the region yesterday. Pittsburgh did tick up from 4.0 to 4.3%. You can read the entire release here.

It would have been a little shocking if the unemployment rate had continued its recent downward trend and dip below 4%. The state puts a positive spin on it saying 4.3% is the lowest July unemployment rate here going back to the early 1970s. We will see what the fall brings.

For those who trust that I have not written a virus, I wanted to see just how far my programming skills have atrophied. The answer is about 98%, but I have made up an interactive tool to look at the historical unemployment rate for Pittsburgh. You can call it up by clicking here. No laughing please.

Create a Link

 

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

immigration then and now

PG covers a story today that shows we have a ways to go before we become an immigrant gateway. It reminds me of a conversation I had recently with someone who was convinced that immigration had picked up so much in the region that the rate of Hispanic immigration now matched that of Eastern European populations here a century ago. well.... I wish it were true honestly, but....

Here are a few pages from the 1910 census. For the city of Pittsburgh, 26% of the population was foreign born at that time. But you can parse a bit to get some interesting numbers. Immigrants tended to be men. Among all white men age 20 and over, over 44% of the Pittsburgh population was foreign born. So compared to today, if you moved the decimal place over you would still be higher than today by a factor of 2. Now you make the evening news if you are from elsewhere and congregate in groups larger than 5.

Create a Link

 

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cleveburgh by rail

Random transit post: I came across this short piece on an inter-regional rail idea called The Ohio Regional Rail Plan that includes Pittsburgh. Granted it's based in Cleveland, but still it's interesting. It's a little less ambitious (and thus a bit more realistic) than the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative which also envisioned greater rail links to Pittsburgh.













There have been various proto-ideas floated for more intra-regional rail in Pennsylvania, but I am unclear where any of those plans stand at the moment.

Create a Link

 

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Big Blue Blanket

Given that the election is now rapidly approaching, I'll try and make this the last city-related political post until after the election. I have put the county version of this map up in the past... but below is a city map showing the percentage of voters last November that were straight Democratic party voters.

I know some people get a little testy when I point out the odds a non-Democrat has in the fall, but if you want to argue the point... don't argue with me, argue with this map. If you think this pattern is all of a sudden going to change, you have have a pretty good reason for it beyond projecting. If someone pulls that D or R button it means they are not even considering a single candidate from any other party in any other race on the ballot. Can someone other than the nominated Democrat win in the fall? Sure they can, it has happened in the past. In fact I was once a pretty lonely voice expecting there to be a real race in the fall. But you have to have a candidate who comes with some strong base of support in the bluer areas or else the math speaks for itself. There is a lot of wisdom in humor and a far better way of explaining all this comes from the (irreverent) wizards over at the Carbolic Smoke Ball.



With that, here is a last way to think about the election now just 9 weeks away... it is only ~16 months until the parties endorse candidates for the next election cycle and a full 4 year term as mayor. 16 months is really nothing when you think about it. If we didn't have a race this fall, we would already be handicapping that race while potential candidates would have already begun gladhanding and raising money. Thus the biggest (only?) result of this off off-year mayoral election cycle has been to significantly shorten the pre-campaign for the subsequent election coming up soon.

Create a Link

 

Saturday, August 25, 2007

How New York is Really Pittsburgh

Worth a read, a diasporan blogs from New York:

A Twisted Cable Fable – How New York is Really Pittsburgh

Also from New York: I don't see how the NYT thinks it can do justice to the topic in all of 3 short paragraphs, but they have a blurb today on touring from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh by bike.

and speaking of the TV column. For those with cable, this weekend you can watch Jeff Goldblum's mocumentary Pittsburgh. on Starz, Sunday at 10pm.

Create a Link

 

Friday, August 24, 2007

erudite and expansive bureaucrats....

... even if often inebriated*:

Governing points to a funny article in Florida where they look into what wikipedia entries state workers are editing. It's bad form I know, but it's too hard to resist seeing what you come up with here. I had read about this site which tracked corporate editing on Wikipedia, but now the NY Times has picked up the story. So what edits have been made from City of Pittsburgh computers? County employees have an even wider range of interests, from the obligatory edits on Big Ben's entry to the subtleties of the Basque Language.

* If you don't get the allusion, don't get bent out of shape ok.

Create a Link

 

saturation dunking

There has to be a joke in the news that Dunkin Donuts is planning 105 new outlets in Pittsburgh. It's a little odd that they specified 105 stores exactly. Not 100, not something vague like "over 100". The only justification in the story comes from a quote that the company "seeks to open a new location for every 10,000 residents in the region". Of course that would mean more like 230 new shops.... egads, might as well call us trans-fat-Burgh. Maybe we will soon be eating as many donuts as we do ho-hos.

I myself am still waiting for the Krispy Kreme that was oddly supposed to open right next to Whole Foods. But no sign of that anytime soon. I am surprised in that if there really is such an unfilled market for donuts in town, there would have been years of complaints, commissions, policy initiatives and/or analyses over how under-donuted were are. In fact, Dunkin Donuts franchises are typically categorized in the same industry as retail bakeries, so they would be included in the data I compiled on bakeries per capita. We do ok.

and to think we were all worried we were going to be overrun by cupcakeries. The lack of news on the two cupcake establishments in town makes me wonder if they are still open. Some primary research may be required.

Create a Link

 

Thursday, August 23, 2007

for newshounds

The iggle knows whether you prefer regular or double stuff, and the PG knows you really do read the TV column. See this news blurb from their contractor Omniture who monitors their web site. Maybe it's all of the spybots and data collection that is slowing down the new PG site?

People seem pretty critical of the PG makeover... I'm 50/50, but do think a lot of the fonts are too small. But here is a writeup on the top media flops on the web.

Create a Link

 

Unbearable confusion of two-sided matching... or Forbes Strikes Again

I honestly would ignore this... but I feel obliged. We have been through this before. Yes Forbes has again come out listing us near the bottom on its "best places for singles" list.

Some years ago I had a message from someone at Forbes magazine. If I understood it right they needed someone to confirm that Pittsburgh was an 'old' region. Either I was busy, didn't realize they were on deadline, or couldn't comprehend they needed someone to "check" that statistic and I didn't get back to them. The next week I think was when the first Forbes "Best Places for Singles" list and we were ranked 40 out of 40. One of the key causes was clearly the demographics. I doubt anything I would have said would have dissuaded them from their list at that point, but I should have called them back. Might have earned a half sentence of explanation... but no... the angst machine has its ration for the day.

I just am not going to take the time to parse the entire Forbes story.. But it clearly places some weight on a metric defined as the percentage of the population that has never been married. They even say they double weight that metric. What does that mean? Here is the perspective that gets lost. Yup, no denying it, lots of old folks around. and guess what, most of them have been married in the past. It must be just a horrible place to date as a result right?

Here are some quick numbers. For the population age 15 and over in 2000, 26.2% of Pittsburgh's has never been married, which is indeed lower than 27.1% for the US population. Even if you think it matters that's less than a percentage point. But there is a bigger point. The percentage here is clearly impacted by our larger elderly population. If you look within age cohorts you get a different picture. Among those age 20-24, 83.8% of the Pittsburgh population had never been married, compared to 74% for the US as a whole. For 25-29 year olds, 50.6% of the Pittsburgh population had never been married compared to 43.7% for the US. In fact for every individual age cohort including seniors, the percentage of population that has never been married is higher in Pittsburgh than the US. Hell, it's even a better place for seniors to find a date than elsewhere. It's only when you aggregate the different (young and old) groups that you get Pittsburgh ranking below the US...

Maybe you think: so what?... old is old and unmarried is unmarried. Depends on what the point is to begin with. If there is a point that is. If you throw a dart at a map of Pittsburgh, you are indeed less likely to have it land on someone who has never been married compared to elsewhere. Yet if you go bar-hopping on the South Side one evening, among the younger population likely to be out, the probability that the person on the barstool next to you is unmarried is actually much higher than the US as a whole. So unless you are scamming for a date in a senior center you are not impacted much by this notional lack of singles here...

Update: Amos points out that a table would be clearer, and possibly exlain some of the confusing numbers. Here is what I pull from the 2000 Census on the marital status of US and Pittsburgh populations by age. You will see that the "never married %" is higher for all Pittsburgh age cohorts even though the overall percentage is lower.. again, an artifact of just having more elderly here.

United States Pittsburgh
Never Never
Married Total Married Total
15-17 11,626,885 11,869,522 98.0% 89,107 90,368 98.6%
18 and 19 7,279,799 8,041,530 90.5% 54,737 59,095 92.6%
20-24 14,085,200 19,025,980 74.0% 110,380 131,751 83.8%
25-29 8,394,149 19,212,244 43.7% 66,988 132,440 50.6%
30-34 5,247,870 20,365,113 25.8% 43,058 152,340 28.3%
35-44 7,167,680 45,905,471 15.6% 65,323 376,930 17.3%
45-54 3,313,475 37,578,609 8.8% 34,770 339,529 10.2%
55-59 757,864 13,383,251 5.7% 8,320 120,468 6.9%
60-64 518,607 10,787,979 4.8% 6,142 103,598 5.9%
65-74 798,277 18,501,149 4.3% 12,152 208,472 5.8%
75-84 519,442 12,317,262 4.2% 9,981 160,625 6.2%
85+ 204,122 4,160,561 4.9% 3,165 48,712 6.5%

Sum 59,913,370 221,148,671 27.1% 504,123 1,924,328 26.2%

Create a Link

 

it takes a lot to leave me comment-less....

..... but what can I add to this. It is like a Pittsburgh version of Platform 9 3/4:

Create a Link

 

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

311 or 911

So where do you think this bumper sticker is from?

Sam brought this topic up a couple months ago. I had kind of forgotten it until a colleague brought back this bumper sticker and other material from a conference. In an extremely informal poll of people I know, it does seem there is some confusion about when to use City of Pittsburgh's new 311 system. When you are supposed to call 911, 311 or just bug your city councilperson for assistance? (or say you want your iPhone bill itemized... then you need to call 611 according to the New York Times) I am sure some people still try to call the defunct Mayor Service Center.

The sticker above and some additional material below is actually from New York City on their 311 system. It really caught my eye because the NYC promotional material is all black and gold. So I hope I don't confuse anyone: the images below are brochures relating to the NEW YORK CITY 311 program, not ours. Might be worth thinking about producing some similar material here, or if such material exists some more extensive distribution is needed since I don't think I have seen anything similar.


Create a Link

 

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

metablogging: down the river

Worth a read is this aricle from Wired.com on the nexus of media and blogging and the changes going on down at the Cincinatti Enquirer: To Save Themselves, US Newspapers Put Readers to Work.


Some curious economics in there.... if I understand it right, one of the forums sponsored by the paper brought in $386K in 6 months while the 'talent' gets paid $25/week. Is there a union for bloggers? But between the changes being foretold by the PG and elsewhere, I bet there will be a few more media/bloggers in town pretty soon.

Create a Link

 

Steely McPast, or McFuture, or who cares


Years ago before email viruses were ubiquitous, I remember there was an email that went around that said something like "Beware virus X, tell all your friends!!"... and of course everyone did. In true exponential fashion soon everyone was receiving this message again and again. Virus X (I can't recall the name) was a hoax actually, but the viral effect was real and everyone's email became clogged. The message was itself the virus.

With logic that probably only makes sense to me, there is an analogy to the simmering debate over the Steelers' new mascot, one Steely McBeam. The thought that the Steelers would choose yet another symbol of Pittsburgh's industrial past is decried as evidence of our inability to look toward the future. Really?

Don't get me wrong, Steely McBeam is pretty silly. I suspect the fundamental motivation was some desire to have a PR persona they can send around the community without tasking players all the time. But it's flaw is not that it is based on 'old' symbols. I bet Wisconsin thinks it has transformed itself away from an agrarian past, but do the Green Bay Cheeseheads ever get criticized for being Luddites? (I am sure they get called other things mind you). I'd point out that Steel isn't gone from the region, go check out Edgar Thomson if you doubt that, but that isn't the point. If there is a sign of our inability to fully embrace the future it's that we waste time on all this retrospective haranguing in the first place. I hate to tell everyone, but even if the Steelers were to rename the entire team to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Double Helices, neither the biotech industry nor regionalism in general would get any added boost.

ok.. enough rant for the day. You think you know Steelers trivia, try this:

The actual steel industry logo above was put on flikr just last week by Bear69Designs, a graphics designer who seems to have a thing for corporate logos. In the comments he suggests this dates from the 1930's, which would not be possible. Per US Steel it was created in 1958 by then Pittsburgher (and Princeton class of '44 I feel obliged to add) David M. Ross.

and if someone from the Steelers' front office is reading this, could someone tell me where I stand on the season ticket waiting list have been on for decades. Thanks.
PS.. I can't believe they didnt register every possible variation of steelymcbeam.com which now seems to be registered to Brian Barrett of Mt. Lebanon. Steelymcbeam.org is still available... anyone? Steely even has his own wikipedia entry already. A much more extensive entry than even the Pirate Parrot has.

Create a Link

 

Monday, August 20, 2007

optional reading

Seems like a theme this weekend. If you think the oped in the PG today by Dr. John Murray promoting city county consolidation is an important piece to read, it is.. but something that is a little more surprising was that the Trib ran a piece on Sunday looking the impact of fragmentation on school financing.

John Murray's piece is based on his role chairing the Committee to Prepare Allegheny County for the 21st Century (otherwise known as COMPAC 21) which I have here:

COMPAC21 - Preparing Allegheny County for the 21st Century. A Report to the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners by the Committee to Prepare Allegheny County for the 21st Century. January 1996

To understand COMPAC 21, here are just a few other documents that you have to read along with it to understand how it evolved in local politics:

The Vital Vote: Home Rule in Allegheny County. by Frank Lucchino. Allegheny County Controller. March 23, 1993.

Metropolitan Organization: The Allegheny County Case. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, February 1992

Aspects of Public Opinion About Cooperative Services Between the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County by James P. DeAngelis, July 1993.

Pittsburgh: A Regional City With a Local Tax Base. Executive Summary. Pennsylvania Economy League, 1982.

Strategy 21. Pittsburgh/Allegheny Economic Development Strategy to begin the 21st CENTURY. a proposal to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. June 1985

Strengthening Pennsylvania's Local Governments - Implications for the Mon Valley.Christine Altenburger, Kevin Kearns, B. Guy Peters, Prepared for the President's Conference on Mill Towns, May 5-6, 1988.

Create a Link

 

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Weekend OT: automation, workforce and history

another gem from Professor Mitchell at UCLA. This one a clip from the movie Desk Set with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn on the fears of the impact automation would have on the workforce. Really worth watching, with an added bonus near the end with a line of one person lamenting the deduction for Blue Cross in their paycheck. I bet it was like 50 cents.



Desk Set was from 1957, just a few years after Vonnegut's Player Piano was published in 1952. So this fear of automation was a real issue at the time. There is a Pittsburgh angle to all of this of course, that or I will make one up: In the mid 1950's the computer that was really being introduced into the world was the UNIVAC I which had been built by Remington-Rand of California. Why the computers were not built in a Philadelphia based company is another story. Most installations of the UNIVAC I were government agencies... but if you look just at private sector installations, the top regions were New York which had 4 UNIVACs in town by 1955, and Pittsburgh which had all of two UNIVAC's installed at Westinghouse and US Steel. Only a handful of other regions even had one at the time. May not seem like a lot but two put us ahead of nearly everybody else, not just in the US but the world. And if you think this is all ancient history, ask yourself why Herb Simon came upon the idea of creating a Computation Center at Carnegie Tech in 1956 and why there is a supercomputer center here to this day.


According to news reports, it was actually this week in 1954, August 25 to be precise, that news reports say the first UNIVAC in town was installed at US Steel's National Tube Division here. Seems like an important milestone for the region. Let's see if anyone notices.

Create a Link

 

Saturday, August 18, 2007

OT: corporate education

a top technology company, a Pennsylvania inner city school...... Worth a read: Microsoft's Class Action by Elizabeth Svoboda in Fastcompany Magazine, September 2007.

Create a Link

 

Friday, August 17, 2007

Expansion-Burgh

Expansion Management Magazine seems to like us. They just released their 2007 "Mayor's Challenge" rankings, a "best of the best" list based upon the results of seven research studies the magazine has published over the past year. Pittsburgh ranks #7 among the top 72 metropolitan markets for expanding or relocating businesses.

*******

and I posted earlier on CNN's list of top areas for foreclosures, and Pittsburgh's complete lack of presense on the list... here is RealtyTrac's list of foreclosure rates by MSA. It correlates pretty closely and shows Pittsburgh ranked all of 80 out of 100... so one of the lowest rates in the country. That sounds like just another esoteric metric, but foreclosure stats all have some very real stories behind them. In that sense, the actual numbers, and differences between Pittsburgh and elsewhere, are really striking. According to this list, Pittsburgh the region had 3,917 foreclosure filings in the first half of 2007 (Jan through June).. Detroit had 28,705.. Cleveland had 18,844.

Create a Link

 

Deconstructing Dowd Bodack

I think we are sufficiently past the election to deconstruct what happened in the District 7 race where Pat Dowd defeated Len Bodack in a close race. There isn't anyone else running in the fall election for the seat.... so barring something cataclysmic the race is over. There certainly has been a lot of talk about what that race meant, but also a lot of hypotheses out there about how it happened. Note I'd try to do this for District 3 where Kraus beat Koch, but there isn't as clear a story to tell The earlier race where Koch was first elected was one of those odd special elections with a slew of wanna-be councilpersons which makes a dissection like this a little problematic.

Here is what the Dowd-Bodack results looked like in the Spring. A few caveats: yes, the color is awful, but given that this was a primary I wanted to avoid the red/blue schema. Also I don't seem to have a shape for cemeteries so for those who know the area, the large Allegheny Cemetery gives a distorted picture of one of the Central Lawrenceville voting districts. and I picked Bodack percentages for the legend just because he is the common denominator in the two races I am comparing:


Why did Dowd win? You first have to go back and look at the results 4 years earlier. In 2003 there were 3 candidates. Len Bodack defeated Mitch Kates in a similarly close race with a third candidate, Nancy Noszka getting a sizable number of votes as well. Many thought the 2007 race was a race for the votes that had supported Nancy Noszka. To understand 2007 I think you first need to look at the 2003 results with the Noszka votes taken out. That gives you this map:


This map looks awfully similar to what happened 4 years later. If the Noszka votes had split one way or the other, the 2007 race would have been a blowout whichever way they leaned. To see if they did, I put together this map of the change in votes for Bodack between the two races (2003 vs. 2007), again with the Noszka results excluded. That gives you this map:


This map may be surprising and counterintuitive. It pretty much says that Bodack increased his result in Highland Park areas while Dowd improved upon what Kates did in a lot of Lawrenceville areas. Surprised? All that is showing is that the Noszka votes split pretty evenly between the two candidates in 2007. The extreme Kates districts were not as extreme for Dowd and the extreme Bodack districts were less so in 2007. I think there had been a belief that if Noszka had not been in the race, Kates would have beaten Bodack handily... this difference map would disputes that hypothesis pretty thoroughly. In other words, if Noszka had been in the race it clearly would still have been an amazingly close race and it isn't even clear if it would have benefited one candidate (Bodack or Kates) over the other.

So again, how did Dowd beat Bodack? It is pretty clear that the core Lawrenceville and Highland Park voters voted nearly identically in 2007 as they did in 2003 and the Noszka supporters split evenly. I have heard some people say it was a big bump up in turnout that produced the different results.... yet that just isn't in the data at all. Total votes cast in 2007 were all of 1.4% higher in 2007 compared to 4 years earlier (6,175 votes vs 6,085). That's it. More surprisingly is that the turnout was nearly identical ward by ward between the two elections. In all of the 11th ward (Highland Park for dist 7) there were a total of 24 more votes cast this time around. 24! No ward differed by more than a 100 votes, up or down between 03 and 07. If one side targeted voters better than the other, that could have made the difference, but there clearly was not any noticeable change in overall turnout whatsoever.

What seems clear is that over the course of 4 years, Bodack neither won any new supporters nor lost any old ones. So in the end I can't answer the question. Whichever side you are on, it really was democracy in action.... just a few votes really made the difference in both races. The lesson may be that Pittsburgh voting patterns are a lot more consistent than many think they are. The result for District 7 is considered a big change in Pittsburgh City Politics. I would agree, but it's not because of big changes in how people voted. 99% of the district voted just as could have been predicted years ago, but it was that last 1% that made the difference.

update: apologies in that I didnt realize I had hit the button that disallowed comments. I have corrected.

Create a Link

 

Thursday, August 16, 2007

wireless burgh

Via Governing.com is a link to this (free) article in the WSJ on the state of municipal wireless networks. Given the somewhat convoluted path getting Downtown's public wireless system off the ground, and perpetual talk of expanding it to other neighborhoods, it is good to keep track of how cities are faring trying to do this. See:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118722557149599153.html

Create a Link

 

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

prisoners and the census

I just caught the editorial in the Post-Gazette today on the simmering debate over how the census counts prisoners when it comes to apportionment. It is a topic I have mentioned here in the past, and written a little bit on as well. But if you want to learn more on the topic, in true long tail fashion there is even a web site: http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/

The editorial mentions some specific impacts for Philadelphia. I am not quite clear on how this could impact Pittsburgh which has two large jails within its borders. So if the enumeration scheme were changed, the city proper would lose some population (yes prisoners are counted in most all population counts you read about), yet it could gain as city residents incarcerated in state penitentiaries would be repatriated in the numbers. It could easily make some big differences in the political districts where both the county jail and Western Penitentiary are located.

Create a Link

 

news you may have missed

The USAToday had an article yesterday: Cities gamble on casinos for tax revenue which of course had to mention Pittsburgh. One of the most important questions about the future impact of our casino will be how many patrons come from outside the region to visit and spend money, and how many patrons are locals. There was an informative quote in the article from Kirk Saylor of Majestic Star on their marketing plan for their new Pittsburgh casino:

"Our customer base will be people who live there and who want gaming nearby,"
Hmm.

*****
Financial news everywhere is all about foreclosure rates popping everywhere. I mentioned this before, but if you look at CNN's list of the top 500 zip codes for foreclosures, you can't find any sign of a Pittsburgh region zip code. It's so odd that I would presume that there is something in the data... like they missed Pennsylvania or something. There are plenty of zips near the top from nearby Cleveland and Detroit, but just nothing for us. Curious, but I bet there is an explanation.
*****
"Greater" Pittsburgh notes. I wouldn't have noticed this except there was a mention of this play's opening in the Financial Times yesterday.. It seems that the off-Broadway show Idol, the musical, which was set in Steubenville of all places, was pulled from production after just one show. The show was billed as "a satirical musical comedy that focuses on the outrageous and delusional fan base of the hit television show. The musical takes place in Steubenville, Ohio where a group of misfit students are preparing for their high school graduation after which they are determined to drag themselves out of the dregs of the middle-of-nowhere. " I just can't imagine why it failed.
*******
I have to take this with a grain of salt, but the Monster Job Index is showing Pittsburgh with one of the largest year over year increases other than Houston or Dallas of all places. It describes itself as an index of "online recruting activity". I am not sure anyone has looked into this index correlates with actual job growth, but take it as a data point. See the press release, which if you take their data and rank regions by the percentage growth June to June: Houston is #1 at +18.9% Dallas is #2 at +15% June to June compared to +14.7% for Pittsburgh. It has not been often that there is a reason to talk about Dallas and Pittsburgh together, at least not since Terry Bradshaw was throwing to Lynn Swann. So who knows what it means. It is worth noting that all of the Pittsburgh increase is since January for the most part.

Create a Link

 

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

VJ Day

August 14th is VJ Day. A couple years ago I used that as a foil to talk about what World War II meant to Pittsburgh. I will just reprint that below.

*******
When Pittsburgh took on the world

The 60th anniversary of World War II's end is likely to pass quietly across the nation. Tomorrow's V-J Day marks an abrupt end to what had been years of total war. The U.S. homeland did not suffer the destruction that would befall Europe or Asia but it was a homeland at war nonetheless. Pittsburgh was collectively subsumed by the war, and as a result produced an unprecedented level of output that was the foundation of eventual victory.

Can the region work together? It once did.

With civilian production of almost all durable goods suspended for the duration of the war, the steel industry would convert totally to the war effort. The entire Pittsburgh economy became a war economy like almost nowhere else. As the Trenton Bridge proudly advertises "Trenton Makes, the World Takes," so it went in Pittsburgh. Probably at no other time in its history was so much of the output of Pittsburgh's industries destined for overseas customers or destined for U.S. forces deployed around the globe.

Steel was a vital cog in nearly every war-related product that was essential to U.S. and Allied forces. From steel tanks and steel-armored ships to steel rifles and helmets. The American steel industry as a whole produced almost 90 million tons of finished steel during the peak year of 1944, and 427 million tons from 1941 through 1945. That level of output would not have been possible without the concentration of infrastructure, talent and resources in southwestern Pennsylvania's industries.

If Pittsburgh had not existed as the United States entered World War II, Pittsburgh would had to have been invented in short order.

The industrial output produced here would not have been possible without an unprecedented level of cooperation everywhere in the region. Government and business would work together at all levels. Management and labor would coexist with minimal conflict for the duration of the war. Rationing and shortages would force cooperation in the allocation of resources between firms that would otherwise have been fierce competitors.

Innumerable other products were produced in Pittsburgh during the war. Entire industries would retool to meet war production requirements. A local ship-building industry would be created almost overnight and over 290 ships, in addition to structural components for 43 aircraft carriers and 81 cargo ships were built at local shipyards of the Dravo Corp. and the American Bridge Co. Over 200 of the ships built locally were LSTs -- Landing Ship Tanks -- the backbone of the D-Day invasion. The bulk of the Normandy invasion fleet would thus float down the Ohio long before crossing the English Channel in June of 1944.

Like all victories, World War II's would not come without a price. Many servicemen did not make it home. The region would not get a Purple Heart for the indelible environmental damage accelerated by the war. Industrial overcapacity wrought by the war's artificial demand would defer the normal evolution of industry here, magnifying the transition that would eventually have to happen. But there were no complaints, because there were no other options.

The lack of wartime exigencies would make cooperation after the war difficult to extend. As a result victory at home would in many ways be more difficult than victory overseas. The armed forces would remain segregated through World War II. Women and minorities who entered the work force en masse would be displaced as soon as veterans returned to their former jobs.
But many seeds were sown for the victories at home that would come. Rosie the Riveter would go back to homemaking at the end of the war but her daughters would enter the workforce like no generation before them. And it was the Pittsburgh Courier that launched "The Double V Campaign" promoting "Democracy: Victory at Home, Victory Abroad" promoting the rights of blacks in America. It would be a goal unmet in 1945, but it would plant an unheralded seed for the civil rights movement to come.

Is it possible to recreate the cooperation that existed here in World War II?
As war has changed so has its impact on the region. Even heavily armored equipment these days is as likely to be built with Kevlar or other advanced materials and not steel forged here. There are innumerable examples of defense-related production in the Pittsburgh region, but there just is no comparison to the war economy of the region in World War II. The daily reminders of conflicts overseas were everywhere 60 years ago. From food rationing to war bond advertising there was no escaping the fact that the nation was at war. Today it is difficult for conflicts overseas to not seem remote. Not just 24-hour news but multichannel, multimodal news coverage seems to inoculate as much as it informs.

Sixty years ago Pittsburgh was safely ensconced in what was the strategic rear, where enemy attack was inconceivable -- a notion long-since overcome by events. It was not the threat of daily bombing that made Pittsburghers come together for the common good, but the unity of purpose they had for the goals at hand. In the end it's hard to say whether Pittsburgh altered the war more than the war altered Pittsburgh.

The legacy worth remembering is that for a brief period nearly everyone worked together for Pittsburgh to accomplish what was asked of it.

Create a Link

 

Monday, August 13, 2007

They come, they go.....

This is just to give a place for people who want to vent about my piece in the PG's Sunday Next Page section on migration and Pittsburgh. It always amazes me just how emotional people get over the issue of migration here. Over the years I have received some very eloquent yet strident letters from people on the topic. The odd thing is that comments I get cut both ways. Some of the most positive letters, positive about the region that is, come from people who have moved here and settled in... some of the most negative letters are people who moved away because they said they were forced to by lack of opportunities here. Those who are from Pittsburgh and have stayed here? We're all just our normal morose selves.

So here is something that I put up in the past... it goes along with the piece in the paper, but that does not work with ink. The image below should animate with a year by year picture of migration out of Pittsburgh. It works for some, but not for others. Clicking on the image may get it started.
update (August 15): a reporter at the PG has a follow-up on the migration piece interviewing one Pittsburgher who has moved to DC. :-)

Destinations of Outmigrants from Pittsburgh 1995-200

Create a Link

 

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"thought she was cactus "??

Great. Now the Australians are going to hate us. Why does this story have to have a Pittsburgh angle? Not sure how this didn't make news here. Seems like an Australian national was removed from a plane in Pittsburgh for uttering the "epithet" of "fair dinkum". Looks like big news down under.

But honestly, I can barely understand the first sentence of the Australian version of this story in The Age. It starts:
"An Australian woman thought she was cactus when a hostie got her back up over some classic Aussie slang during a flight in the United States."

cactus? hostie? (ok, I get that, but imagine a US paper writing that). Where is Reg Henry when you need him? Someone has to speak Australian in this town.

update: A good further discussion of the language issues involved in this situation is here: Dink or Dum: When language matters.

update 2: This story gets weirder.

Create a Link

 

Friday, August 10, 2007

Greater Burghosphere to extend into Iraq.....(no mom not me*)

No... not me I should say up front... but in a true Pittsburgh moment, just the other day someone confused me for a doctor in town they knew. In sorting that out, it turns out the the person they thought I looked like was Victor S. who I now read will soon be blogging from Iraq. For the actual blog: click here.
______

and just the obligatory comment on the naming of the Steelers new mascot.... Don't you think there is an "r" missing in there. Joke.. just a joke.

______

* No, my mother does not read this blog. In fact, I will be convinced the world has changed the day my mother utters the word 'blog' in any context. Not about to happen believe me.

Create a Link

 

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Casino comments

The news that the new arena will not open until 2010 has probably alleviated a lot of the construction logjam I thought would happen soon if both the casino and arena construction tried to ramp up at the same time. I doubt we will ever know, but I wonder if the construction resources in the region played into that decision at all.

Illinois is now thinking about legalizing gaming in order to raise money. Kansas is planning new casinos as well, but with a twist. They may hire private management companies, but their slots will be owned by the state lottery. I wonder why nobody thought of that here? I could just see the ads with Gus now.

News is that steel is already arriving on the site for our casino. Others tell me that the construction really might be able to go as fast as Don Barden wants it to. So if they get started here in the next couple of months, is 2008 possible at the margin? On the other end of the state the story is a little different. News is that the casino going up in Bethlehem, PA is being delayed a year because, of all things, they discovered a foundation under brownfield site where this is all going to be built. I am not quite sure what they thought the steel plant was resting on.


and from the PG's Casino Journal I was lead to this KDKA story Separating Slot Fact from Fiction, that said it was debunking some casino myths. The first myth it 'busted' was that Casinos can loosen or tighten a machine with the flip of the switch? KDKA's answer via Michael Jankoviak, the Director of Slot Operations at the Meadows: “That's an absolute myth.” I wonder if someone should read this New York Times article from last year: From the Back Office, a Casino Can Change the Slot Machine in Seconds. So if they can't do that now, just how long in the future will it be before they can. It is just a coincidence that in the latest issue of the Journal of Gaming Issues is this article: Slot machine structural characteristics: Distorted player views of payback percentages. Think you know how those slots payouts work? Read that article and see if you were right.

Create a Link

 

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Short Sports Takes

The Albany Times Union has an article: A steely eye for the ponies, all about the artful handicaping of Steelers founder Art Rooney.


New York Times has an article devoted to Mike Tomlin. What we learn: he eats a lot.


Many have seen this by now, but a different take on the whole Bonds HR derby is this piece not discussing possible medical enhancments, but possible mechanical enhancements that could have helped his swing over the years. With that now are some interesting reader comments as well.

Create a Link

 

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Wanna buy an airline? USAirways hoax: August 7th, 2001

I think I mentioned this last year... but if The Deal can reuse it, so can I. What is important about August 7th? The real anniversary of the Internet? That ranks up there. The day the US invaded Guadalcanal? Also noteworthy. But also this is the anniversary of when the: Mystery buyer of USAirways was discovered as a hoax. One Emil Bernard was supposedly planning an $8bil offer to buy USAirways despite having no known assets other than a house in NJ. I think we would have called that a leveraged buy out.

Create a Link

 

What's our L(anguage) Quotient

Yeah, I did have to try and answer that question. Here is a factoid for today. Just playing with data in the Modern Language Association Language Map. Even with low immigration in recent decades, are there any foreign languages that we still have a disproportionate number of speakers here. Here is data on foreign language speakers in Allegheny County compared to the US ranked by the proportion all US speakers that are here. This is the top 20. Not that surprising overall, but interesting.

Language Allegheny US % of US Total
Slovak 2,000 41,300 4.84%
Croatian 955 58,390 1.64%
Serbian 515 45,375 1.13%
Italian 10,495 1,008,370 1.04%
Tamil 834 83,965 0.99%
Telugu 774 86,160 0.90%
Hungarian 1,020 117,975 0.86%
Greek 2,830 365,440 0.77%
Ukrainian 1,000 129,180 0.77%
Turkish 505 74,130 0.68%
Serbo-Croatian 830 130,100 0.64%
Polish 3,795 667,415 0.57%
Hindi 1,685 317,055 0.53%
Hebrew 909 195,375 0.47%
German 6,255 1,382,610 0.45%
Russian 2,805 706,240 0.40%
French 5,520 1,606,790 0.34%
Arabic 2,080 614,580 0.34%
Gujarathi 720 235,985 0.31%
Japanese 1,399 478,000 0.29%

Create a Link

 

Monday, August 06, 2007

Diverse Pittsburgh

Over on Pittsblog, Mike M. commented that Pittsburgh remains one of the few markets in the country that lacks a Univision (something which probably only needs to be explained in Pittsburgh: it is the preeminent Spanish language television network in the US) outlet here in town. In that thread a commenter asked me whether in fact Hindi may be a more commonly spoken language here in Pittsburgh. I suppose I could look that up, but even symbolically there is a point there. Pittsburgh (the region I should be clear.. not the City) has had one of the lowest percentages of non-English speakers compared to other metro regions for decades. As for Hindi being higher than Spanish, I suspect it could have been true a decade or so ago more than now quite honestly. The largest immigrant group in Pittsburgh in the 1990's was Asian, which was mostly the result of Indian immigration.. unlike almost anywhere else in America where Latino immigration was by far the largest group. Go back farther in time and I bet Pittsburgh had proportionally more Magyar or Yiddish spoken here than elsewhere.

but for those who really want an answer to that, I'd consult the Modern Language Associations Language Map of the US which is pretty cool. I pulled up Allegheny County and its not really close, 15K Spanish speakers compared to under 2K Hindi speakers fwiw.


More generally on diversity in Pittsburgh, I really do get at least a question a week from someone out there about low immigration to Pittsburgh. Years ago a journalist from New York City was incredulous and actually asked me seriously: "but then who drives the taxis?". Every other week someone will try and argue with me that Pittsburgh in just recent years has become a mecca of immigrants. It is something I don't actually dispute despite some misconceptions. Yes I know there are more immigrants here now than in the past, many more in fact. I used to say in the 1990's that Pittsburgh could double the flow of immigrants into the region and we still would rank last by most metrics on the subject. I would guess that is about what has happened, i.e. that the flow of immigrants has doubled from the last decade. Doubling any demographic flow certainly gives a strong appearance of things changing. There are immigrants arriving where there were just none in the past. Yet it is hard to dispute that we still rank last by any comparative metric in terms of immigrant flow by region. There is no inconsistency between an observation that there are many more immigrants here in the past and that we still are pretty much last compared to anywhere else. Put another way: if Pittsburgh was attracting even a fraction of the new immigrants that are much more in play elsewhere in the US (or even elsewhere in Pennsylvania), would local school districts see their enrollments dropping year over year.

Which all gets to the current buzz over what diversity actually means for a community. The International Herald Tribune has an article: The Downside of Diversity, about research by Harvards's Robert Putnam that shows civic participation decreases with the diversity level of a community. What it all means I will leave to others to try and figure out. Just a few commenters out there on this include SocialCapital, Matt Kahn, and even Brewed Fresh Daily.


Beyond those immediate comments, on diversity in Pittsburgh I have in the past recommended this paper Intercultural City, which looked at diversity issues in Pittsburgh compared to a few other regions. The author Gregg Zachary has a longer book from a few years ago: The Global Me: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge - Picking Globalism's Winners and Losers , that is worth a read if you are interested in this topic.

Create a Link

 

Sunday, August 05, 2007

and even again.......

I am sure nobody needs me to survey the news for them... but these are just few things buried in the paper you might have missed that follow up on the topic of local government reform. Take a look at the letter to the editor in the Post Gazette Sunday from Joan Riehm. It says she is the former Deputy Mayor of the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro and explains some of the complexities/misconceptions of the merger there that everyone talks about. It's mostly curious to me in that she felt a need to write it at all.

Also in the PG business section, Harold Miller discusses related issues surrounding local goverment organization in SW Pennsylvania. 900 governments is a real number. What do they all do? We think often about counties, municipalities and even school districts, but people don't often realize there are also so many special district governments in Pittsburgh. Harold also mentions the discussion of municipal disincorporation... something former County Controller, now Court of Common Pleas Court Judge, Frank Lucchino once proposed creating an option for.

****
and something just on labor markets in general. Here is an essay in the Boston Globe by a former Pittsburgh and unemployed bio-scientist on the difficulties of finding a job. As I like to say, unemployment isn't 4-5%, it's 0 or 100% depending on your personal situation.

Create a Link

 

Saturday, August 04, 2007

OT: for my inner historian

Professor Daniel J.B. Mitchell of UCLA's Anderson School of Management has an amazing trough of stuff on youtube that really captures some important points in US history. It was his upload of the rotary phone training video I mentioned recently. But that is just one of many things he has uploaded. Some are pretty amazing.

Take the video below, well actually an audio recording with a still picture . I know my American history.. Ronald Reagan was once an active labor leader and a Democrat. Yet just how much of a Democrat was he? I was pretty shocked listenening to this recording of Ronald Reagan campaigning for Truman. You have to listen to the whole thing, it gets ever more liberal as it goes. Even more ironic, he is actually introducing Hubert Humphrey who was running for senate from Minnesota at the time and who would become one of the most liberal senators of his time.

Create a Link

 

Friday, August 03, 2007

deconstructing Altmire-Hart

News is that former Congresswoman Melissa Hart is seeking a rematch of the 2006 race she lost to Jason Altmire. Might be interesting to look at a quick and dirty map of those results.
Of course, in a district like this that spans urban/suburban and rural areas a map like this can be misleading. The population density across those voting districts varies by a lot. When I get a chance I may generate a population density map of the district to compare to the election returns.

Create a Link

 

Thursday, August 02, 2007

transit metrics again and again

Last week the County Controller released yet another audit/study of the Port Authority. The Press Release is online, but not the audit itself. I have a hard copy scanned here (large file: >24mb) for those who are interested. I will add it to my very abbreviated transit bibliography.

The audit looks mostly like some benchmarking of the Port Authority with some other large transit agencies. The data is mostly stuff you can pull yourself from the National Transit Database (NTB). The NTB really is a wealth of information compiled in one place, really a model for how public data should be made available. Check out their page dedicated just to their databases. For studying the Port Authority, I suggest you want to look at their profiles of the top 50 transit agencies.

Here is my only comment on the audit itself. It points out that the the Port Authority could be operated at a much more efficient manner, efficiency being defined solely by cost it looks like... PAT compares poorly in some sense for things like riders per hour, or revenues per hour. What does not get mentioned is what I have tried to explain in the past, that Allegheny County ranks high in terms of how much use it gets in the county. At least it did before these last cuts.

The problem is, you just can't have it both ways. If we want to have a transit system that ranks high in terms of usage, you almost have to have a system that provides more service over lesser utilized routes. Those are the routes that are the most cost-inefficient. If we want PAT to be like other transit systems, you are really saying you also want the utilization of our public transit system to be like these other regions as well.. and for most other systems that means less service and much less use than in Allegheny County.

Let's take one example... the Controllers Audit benchmarks the Port Authority with 11 other systems, one of which is Dallas. In Dallas the cost per rider is indeed lower than here ($3.80 vs $3.96 which is a 4% savings) yet the public transit utilization among commuters in Dallas County is 66% lower than here (3.55% of commuters there use public transit there compared to our 10.5% ). That seems to say that the Port Authority is doing a pretty decent job of providing a lot more service with only a minimally higher cost. But since the benchmarking never looks at comparable utilization metrics, the reader never considers that logic.

In many ways public transit has been a success in the region, providing a service chosen by more riders day in and day out than most comparable regions. If you just want to benchmark costs alone.. guess what: you could make the Port Authority a whole lot more efficient by cutting back to a small fraction of the routes in the system. The top 10 routes might have a fighting chance of making a profit.... but is that the point? Is that what we are striving for? That is pretty much the argument this type of benchmarking is making implicitly.

Add it all up and what do you get. Public transit seems to be in a perpetual fight for its existence these days. This round, the opponents of public transit won almost before the battle began by shaping the debate as only about costs. Once reducing costs became the be all goal, there was only one endgame. In military speak, you always try to shape the battlespace before you fight. In this case, one side succeeded, the other didn't even try.

Benchmarking has a role, but lets benchmark the right metrics. Output and usage are as important as just benchmarking costs which is all anyone seems to want to do these days. There are other important factors here.. Funny how nobody has gone out of their way to connect the dots between the report recently put out on the regions racial disparities, and how transit cuts affect those populations. Maybe there is a benchmark we should come up with to see how well low-income populations are served in different regions and how the Port Authority compares. We talk about all these issues as if they were completely independent of each other when nothing could be further from the truth.

Create a Link

 

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

last day to file petitions..... or is it Mark Rauterkus Day

I do hope he takes this in good humor... but I do think Allegheny County should declare this Mark Rauterkus Day. This is the last day for non-major party candidates to file nomination petitions to get on the ballot in the fall elections. Last I heard Mark was going to be running in a bakers dozens of different races in the fall... ok that's hyperbole. It's more like a half dozen... well 5 if I understand his campaign site, but he seems to be focusing on the big ones this time: Allegheny County Chief Executive, Mayor, City Controller among others.

But we will see soon if there are any surprise candidates jumping into local races. Any rumors?

Create a Link

 

Zen and the politics of parking in Pittsburgh

Attitudes toward parking are like a community Rorschach test don't you think? The post-feline topic of the week downtown is not anything as monumental as the city debt, but something with several fewer zeros: how to close a gap in the budget for the city's permit parking program.

Part of me wonders why parking is such a controversial topic in town, but I have seen first hand how emotional people get over the whole permit-parking program. For those who have no idea what I am talking about, certain city neighborhoods have voluntarily made themselves permit parking zones. Once designated residents need to pay $20 they get a permit to park on the street, otherwise you get ticketed. It's all a means to beat back the horde of commuters into the city each day who otherwise try to take up all the parking spaces on the street. It is kind of a microcosm of the whole regionalism issue in itself when you think about it.

Seems like a minor city program right? I am pretty sure that if you were to do a poll of city residents, parking issues would rank right up there as one of the top policy issues they care about, no matter what else is in the news: debt, deficit, fires and violence.. it does not matter. Parking in front of your home is something close to an inalienable right for many. The fact that people feel they can drive in from (fill in suburb of choice, I don't want to get anyone mad) and take their spot drives many long-time residents into apoplexy. For others the fact that they have to pay $20 to secure the right to park in front of their house is equally vexing.

This isn't important at all, just some very idle musings. I have probably made it apparent that I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, but I lived in some other places. I actually lived in New York City for 3 years. Sometime around 20 years ago, one of the news shows on TV, 20/20 or Dateline or something like that had just a single segment on parking in New York City. Owning a car in Manhattan is pretty painful. I of course am (or at least was) sane and never dreamed of having a car while living in Manhattan, but one of my roommates actually had a car so I got to watch his machinations. Things like finding a parking space are very acquired skills in NYC that go beyond anything we need to deal with here. And if you pay for parking you are going to pay rates that make even tax-inflated Pittsburgh prices look like pocket change. If you had a car and live in Manhattan you had all sorts of unique problems. Take street cleaning. Every so often the scheduled sweeper would come down your street. What do we do here? Move our cars to the other side of the street. Not exactly an option in New York City where there are no spaces on the other side of the street. So what happens. People moved their cars.. and they do move them to the side of the street. You wind up with whole neighborhoods double parked all day long. So if you think you need your car the next day, you are either going to be boxed in, or you need to go and move your car so that it is double parked street-side to. Whole neighborhoods become semi-parking lots for most of a day. I am told they have been cracking down on the whole practice by ticketing where once they turned a blind eye. Nonetheless, I suspect most Pittsburghers would still find the parking situation in NYC as unfamiliar as living on Mars. I read that just a parking space in Manhattan can cost over $200,000. Just coming in for a day, a daily rate in midtown can easily top $50.. and forget any talk of congestion or the tolls just to take a bridge or tunnel into Manhattan.

But back to this TV show. The double parking issue was included in the segment about NYC, as with all other parking travails and parking costs. I swear that for years, and I do mean years, whenever I was home visiting... if I ran into someone I had not seen in some time and the topic of "where are you now" came up.... at the first mention of New York City everyone's questions revolved around whether all they saw on this one TV segment on parking was true. It was like everyone in Pittsburgh saw it and made it their single reference point for living in New York City. Forget any question about Broadway, restaurants, the statue of liberty or whatever... was parking really as bad as they say?

In the end it says more about us than about NYC of course. and the poor politicians who have any say on parking issues have a tough task. For those few out of town readers I have, this may be just a tad hard to comprehend: the cost is $1 for an annual visitors pass you can use for guests to park on your street. That is $1 for the whole year... really.(what does a candy bar cost these days?) The $20 fee that sparks such ire is for an annual sticker to put on your car. It is one of those Pittsburgh pathologies that we have a fee so low that it must more to collect than the fee itself brings in. The holographically encoded passes must cost more than a dollar each to print, let alone to put into the mail and frank. Yet pity the poor council person that proposes raising the fee to $2 (I am sure some local paper will have a headline about the 'doubling' of the fee/tax). Barring indictment, it's the simplest route to getting yourself unelected.

What does it all mean? Who knows, but suffice it to say that even to this day I would never dream of touching one of those street chairs, fewer and fewer they are every year.

Create a Link