Monday, August 31, 2009

Any problem can be solved by the proper application of algebra..

Fun with numbers..... 

So it's clearly a Pittsburgh scene to have the city and county fighting over G20 costs, both real, and potential. It's hard to tell from the reporting, but they seem to be fighting over whether the costs are being paid 50/50 between them.

Hmm.  Is 50/50 the goal?  If there is a per person equity then you have to start by realizing the county is 4 times as big as the city.  Should the ratio of cost sharing be 25:75??

Maybe not.  Someone living in the city is also part of the county and so paying their share of the county's bill as well.  So it's not that simple. What is the most equitable ratio of cost sharing if the goal is to equate the cost borne by city and non-city residents in Allegheny County.

Let R = the proportion of total costs borne by the city, (1-R)= the proportion of costs borne by the county.. 

Assume the ratio of county to city population is exactly 1 to 4 which is pretty close to current estimates.  Let's call the total cost of  G20 on somebody as T.   The population of the city as P, and the population of the county as 4P. 

What is R when the costs on a city resident equal the cost on a county resident not living in the city?  realize that a city resident is paying both city and county taxes. So

Cost to City Resident  = Cost to County Resident

or  RT/P + (1-R)T/4P = (1-R)T/4P

Wait..  If there is any cost at all (i.e. if T>0) then R can only = zero. Funny that.

Yeah, the algebra was unnecesssary, but there is an uber uber geeky pun in all of this.  Anyone?

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The Roots of Pittsburgh Renaissance

I just refer those who have not seen it to Mike's thoughts over on Pittsblog on the Story Behind Pittsburgh's Revitialization. I think he about covers it all... but promises a part II??

and I hate to say this.. but I just caught a recent article that points to much bigger problems with how actuaries play with the numbers for public pension plans, even more so than for private sector pension plans.  If applied locally would paint an even gloomier pension outlook for us (and everyone else for the record).  But see: The Liability and Risks of State Sponsored Pension Plans.

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City of Faust

On Sunday the PG picked up my comments on how I think one of the biggest impacts of a potential state takeover of the city's pension funds is that the state will hire their own actuary to evaluate the system.  The actuary's report is also what determines how much $$ must be put into the system each year. It could be very illuminating.

One of the core reasons the city is in the predicament it is is that over the years the actuary has consistently understimated how much the city should be putting into the system. Thus the city's funding ratio for the pension liability keeps going down.  It is supposed to be marching up toward being fully funded at some ever-pushed-out point in the future.  Think about that.  Even without the massive pension bonds of the 1990's. Even without the historic investment returns in the stock market of the 1990's, even without the 'extra' payments supposedly being made in the last few months into the pension funds, the funding ratio for the system was supposed to have been marching toward being fully funded.  Yet even with all that extra help along the way it has been falling behind more and more, faster and faster. I would love to have the city's actuary and the Act 47 team debate why that is. I honestly think our intrepid reporters should be calling the city's actuary to ask how we got in this predicament.  More than anyone else it has been his job to keep us solvent. Yet I only know of one time the poor fellow has ever been called out.  So he clearly is willing to talk on the record.  For anyone trying to figure out what happened in Pittsburgh, I'd track the man down. He is not entirely to blame, but he is the one with all the answers to how we got into this situation. .

So if the city liquidates its parking assets and puts it toward the pension system, will that solve the problem.  Not at all, and certainly not if the actuary reports continue to understimate the minimum municipal obligation in the future.  The city is hoping to net $200 million from the leasing of the parking authority assets.  Consider a few things first:

Nobody really knows how much the parking assets will get yet.  Certainly has not been an RFP put out to actually sell the system.  There was a RFP for someone to study the idea not to actually implement it.  No bids are out there to actually pay the city anything as yet. Not even close.

Then there is this little issue of whether cash liquidated by the parking authority can be just turned over to the city.  Is the parking authority not an independent organization.  Granted the governance is controlled by a city appointed board, but I am pretty sure that by law the parking authority is a creation of the commonwealth. Consider that very closely.  Would the state need to be sent the money collected via any liquidation of assets.  I have no idea, but I bet the lawyers have not thought about that much and the legal issues tied up in this may be complicated. It will certainly be unlike what happened in a lot of other places where this has been tried.  As many know so well, Pennsylvania law is not like elsewhere. The situations in Chicago or elsewhere may not apply. At the very least I bet the state would have to at least accede to parking authority cash being turned over to the city.  City-Commonwealth relations being what they are these days, I am not sure I would want to assume that would be a quick of painless process.  

Consider that in the 1990's the Murphy administration floated two large bonds toward the same goal as the proposed parking asset sale, i.e. to recapitialize the pension fund.  In fact the Murphy folks put in not $200 million, but almost $300 million dollars over a decade ago.  $300 million in 1998 is worth what?  Maybe $400 million in today's dollars.  Why anyone thinks putting far less than that into the system now, when the total pension liability is much bigger than it was calculated at back then*, is going to solve the core problem is beyond me. But there is a great irony that the core solution being proposed is essentially what Murphy tried in the 1990's with the sale of the water authority and floating of the pension bonds.  That all worked out so well

Honestly, as esoteric as it is, I really do think the problem with past actuary reports is one of the core motivations behind the state's plan to take over the city's pension system.  Trust me, they might want to consolidate a lot of the pension systems in the state, but there is nothing but trouble for them to absorb what may be the least well funded major pension system in the country.  That and the fact that the city was so publicly denying that there was any real problem just a few months ago is really what pushed the state into immediate action vice something more deliberative. Supposedly the city was claiming they were  "on track to fully fund the pension system".  Why does everyone else in the world disagree with that. It didn't give the state any faith much was going to change anytime soon if the city was left to its own devices. Thus they felt forced to do something as soon as possible. The state knows that it's probably too late to keep the system out of insolvency no matter who is running the system, they or the city.  Should they have done all of this decades ago? Probably.  Now the choices are all Faustian at best. 

* in 1995 the total pension liability for the city pension system was calculated to be $622 milion.  So the $300 million being put in by the Murphy folks itself amounted to almost half of the total calculated liability at the time.  If the city today nets $200 million (after parking authority debt is paid off) to put into the system it represents just 22% of the current $899 million pension liabillity calculation.  But as I have said I bet the real current liability is much higher than that, and thus the $200 million comes out to even less as a percentage of the total liability.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Greater Greater Pittsburgh watch and random things

Just news that is interesting to me... Starting with our friends in WV:  W.Va. Mountaineer casino-track lays off 35 workers. (up to 200 laid off this year)
But not all recent economic news is bad in WV: Morgantown MSA Continues to Show Strong Employment Numbers
 
From farther afield, but Pittsburgh loses a lot of folks who move to Florida.  A lot are folks moving as they retire, but note the NYT story running now:  After Century of Big Growth, Tide Turns in Florida.  Where are the folks who would normally be moving to Florida going to, or where are they not leaving?

also in NYT, the Fifth Down blog covers: Smart Football With Chris Brown: A Look at Steelers Strategy
 
and Cleveland.  For those who think there is a mayoral race going on here, I'm not quite sure about that, but there is a rumor going around to that effect.... check out this story on the mayoral race for the Mayor of Cleveland. If I understand the math in the article, the incumbent mayor there has 100 times more money on hand than both of his fall challengers combined. In fact I really wonder if Acklin and Harris are really fighing for the title of who will have spent the most money per vote yet still losing in the history of city politics.  

An update on the future of Lordstown.

A week ago is like an eternity in the whole pension issue here, but I didn't catch that the Philly Inquirer's Joe DiStefeno had some comments on the pension problems in PA, including ours in his column last Sunday.

Random thought for today on the pension situation... I just wonder if the folks at Fitch are at least  feeling silly after their January ratings review.  I just realized that story was not just positive on the city, but also was looking to upgrade ratings on some city water and sewer debt.  This was before the revelations of the variable rate debt fiasco with the PWSA debt.  What's up with that btw?  But the pension news is going to get on people's radar when it comes to things like bond ratings among other things.

It's the last day in August I do believe.  Is the state gaming board going to jump into the spat between the casino and the Sports and Exhibition Authority as reported last month?

and did anyone else notice that once again, the press release telling people about a public hearing on Port Authority changes went out to make Saturday's news.  Exactly as the public relations people tell you to do when you want to minimize coverage.  I thought the whole plan was to approve this at the Port Authority's September meeting, at least that is what I was told. Did things get moved up?
and finally... latest local unemployment rate numbers will be made publicly available tomorrow... keep an eye out.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Der G20 kommt, der G20 kommt!

I didn't catch this when it ran, but I am told WDUQ had a story last week highlighting yet another G20 themed web site. This one by a local firm who created a site in German aimed I presume at the German media and sundry visitors who will be here for the G20 festivities.  

The thing is of course that although Americans are woefully deficient at learning languages other than their own, I bet most Germans coming here for the G20 event know English pretty well.  Nonetheless I may pass it on to the German media folks, both print and radio journalists, who have been here before and will be here again I suspect.  As that one story is subtitled: "The old steel city of Pittsburgh was the Ruhr in the U.S.."

and the best thing about German copy editors....they never forget the 'h'.

You can always read Nullspace in German as well. 

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Delta Watch - Cincy negotiating to keep international flights

From down the river.  The powers that be in Cincinnati are negotiating with Delta to try and save some international flights from their that are slated to be eliminated. Sounds like they are backed into a corner to do what was done here which is to have some local organization guarantee a certain amount of revenues or seats sold in order for Delta to keep the flight.  Maybe Pittsburgh was on the cutting edge of a new paradigm in the airline industry.  What if every region winds up being asked to pony up to support local flights like that.  Just a thought experiment to think what the logical conclusion is there. 

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Casino Metrics Again and Again

Hey look, before I start.  Trib story has the city admiting that the city's total pension liability could easily be over a billion dollars.  Who said that?  You don't know what grief I got when I threw that out there. At the time the city denied it pretty vehemently all around as most of the folks covering the topic know well.  Again, just stating the obvious. Anyone want to parse the financial logic given in the article for why the liability could be higher than previously anticipated.


But on the casino.  I really meant that just keeping track of casino metrics could be a full time blog.  I had some comments last week on the comparative payout rates here versus other venues.  The Trib had their own piece on Tuesday looking at slots payout rates at the casino during its first weeks of operation.  In both the general point thus far is that the local payout rates are right on par with what is going on elsewhere in the state.

Then the PG had a little piece yesterday about the initial revenues at the casino compared to forecasts.  I didn't know that there was a proejction from the casino folks themselves expecting revenue of $427.8 million in the first year of operation.  If nothing else that is an awfully precise projection for a business without any history in a new market. The PG story comments that if you extrapolate out those initial numbers, you get a first year revenues of $242 million. Of course it may be too early to extrapolate much of anything, though my presumption was that the the initial numbers would more likely be higher than the steady state  for the year. I thought casinos have a bump from being new and after the initial buzz wears off you get something lower, but steadier.

But what is a good number?  The $427.8 million may be a a decent number in the end, I really don't know.  But before anyone knew who was going to get the casino license there were projections completed.  One from a consultant hired to come up with a forecast came up with a pretty thoroughly backed up projection of first year revenues at $317 million. That might be right, that might be wrong, but the logic and data that got to that conclusion is all right there to go through if you are interested.

I have no idea which projection will prove closer to reality.  The very earliest indication is that the projections completed long before the casino license was even awarded might be the best. Amazing that.   But we will keep track of how it goes in the future. 

It all ties together with every other story in town.  Pensions, Act 47, city budget and related miasmas around town....  Remember that current and future city budgets rely on a bunch of revenue from taxes on casino revenue.  So if the revenues at the casino falls short, all those other problems are that much worse, if that is even possible. Both the city and the county are slated to get 2% of the casino's revenues or $10mil, whichever is larger.  To get beyond the minimum, the casino would have to get over $500 million, or twice that of the initial PG extrapolation.  I sense a new argument for table games. 

and lest we forget, casino is also supposed to be making those payments to the Sports and Exhibition Authority to pay for the bonds that financed the new arena.  As Fester reminds us, there are state guarantees tied up in there somehow.. but there was also the story that popped up recently and is one of those things that just gets forgotten about.  The story was a tif of sorts between the SEA and the casino over when the payments were going to start.  They somehow disagreed by a couple years.  Their agreement as reported was that something needed to be worked out by August or else the state gaming board would get involved  Today is what?  The last work-day in August maybe?  Did I miss some news on this?

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Searching for Steelworkers

I know it's like Pension Day or something like that.  But on another topic you have to read the news in Chicago to get steelworker news any longer. See: Steelworker retirements could create hiring gap. Mentions an interesting site:  www.steelworkerforthefuture.com/

But on pensions.  I really can't believe the timing of this. Here is a great commentary in the NJ Star Ledger just from yesterday.  See: Rules By and For Insiders - Public Pension Plans

There is a great paragraph in there that sums up the machinations here perfectly.  This is what the reporter summarized as government's view toward pension liability problems:  
Don't change a thing. Our clients (politicians) don't want to pay any more than they have to while keeping benefits in place and accruing more as they manipulate their budgets. Allow us to keep believing that these plans can never go bankrupt and that future taxpayers will have a lot more money and inclination to fund these plans than current ones have.
I would laugh if it didn't make me cry.  As much as I like all of the intrepid reporters covering this beat here in town, I don't think anyone would quite put the story the same way.  Yet is it any different here.  The full piece is a must read for anyone following this these days.

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Ostrich Without Sand

Too much happening too fast to really talk about the machinations in Harrisburg that are about to impact the City of Pittsburgh for decades. That and the legislation isn't signed yet, so most anything could happen....  But there are a few key points relating to the news that Harrisburg may be about to pass legislation to have the state take over the city’s miasmic pension system.

If half of this plan comes to fruition as it looks like it will, it pretty much negates all of the Act 47 work over the years. Nowhere is there a plan for city finances to deal with this. No wonder the Act 47 coordinators publicly came out at the last minute against the plan being worked on by the state. It means there will be ever more city fiscal miasma and any ‘success’ to be claimed righting the ship is just going to be lost in the noise.

Lost in the minutia, but beyond the immediate financial impacts, the biggest repercussion of a state takeover of the pension system is that the state is going to hire the next actuary who will evaluate the systems total liability. At least that is my assumption. I’m willing to give odds that any state hired actuary is going to come up with a qualitatively different numbers than the city’s actuary has in recent cycles for how big the pension liability really is and how big the minimum pension payment needs to be each year. The city has been over-estimating future investment returns, underestimating future mortality of city retirees and playing with other assumptions over the years. It will not be pretty if redone with more standard assumptions. 

What is amazing is that this is all happening so fast. What could be described as the biggest financial news impacting the city’s finances in decades is barely noticed for a host of reasons. To put in a bit of perspective. One of the biggest things to happen to city finances in a long time was the monetization of the water authority assets for funds the city would expend in the mid 1990’s. That was a deal worth $96 million or so. The tax liens on city properties were a big disaster in the end. It was a deal worth $30 million or so. Even the floating of bonds to help fund the pension system in the late 1990’s was a deal for just under $300 million. Here the state is taking over from the city the responsibility what I am sure is at least a billion dollar liability currently. I am not exaggerating; we are talking about a billion dollar liability at least by now. How to deal with that liability affects nearly everything in the city and the county. The city’s ability to provide core services. The city’s future tax rates and its ability to be competitive for residents and business in the future. Finance is really the core of all City/County consolidation issues and I have not begun to talk about public infrastructure issues.

How bad is the the situation?  I've gone through the numbers.  The state is declaring the system bankrupt already.  Even thought the city was still denying there was a problem recently they announced late yesterday it is going to go ahead and try to sell the city's parking assets as fast as they can.  As best I can tell, even if the city sells the parking assets and nets out $200 million after debt is paid off, and if all of that goes directly into the pension fund, the pension system will still be well under 50% of the funding ratio that the state is using as a threshold that the new legislation will require.  So there is no need to rush any potential sale. It is no longer an immediate issue. It may be the city's biggest fungible asset, so we want to handle its sale correctly. And it really ought to be sold, not leased... but that is a topic of its own.

Just some small incidental questions I wonder about. Curious there have been no public comments from or via the ICA on any of this.  Are the provision of retiree health and other benefits captured by this state takeover in any way? I am thinking no, but worth looking at. Who is it that will really be running the pension system to include some of the routine but important decisions on things like disability determinations? Lots of implications that really have not been talked about to all all of this... probably have not even been thought about as yet. 

I really don't claim to be prescient at all. Most of what I say here is just documenting the obvious. Problem in town is lots of folks like to deny the obvious.  The path here has been awfully clear for some time. Anyone who has ever looked at the pension numbers knew this day was coming. It is NOT about the stock market decline at all last year.  That may have altered the timing a bit is all. What has been amazing is that it has so thoroughly been ignored for so long.  There has been lip service paid to the issue, but in general the policy has been more thoroughly ostrich-like for decades. The sand has blown away.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Old Twits - Young Pittsburgh

We need one of those false quizes.. Something like: how old do you think your average Twitter user is? The NYT today has an interesting piece today pointing out that Twitter growth is not a teenage thing at all, but being driven by older demographics.

And I now clearly admit I am an older demographic by all definitions other than compared to the average Pittsburgh voter. Judging from my relative age to that of the students that have taken over Oakland as they move in, I clearly must be eligible for Social Security.  Could the concentration of younger people here in the city proper be one of the highest such concentrations for a large city in the US.  Youth-Burgh? We actually could have one of the highest concentrations of old people and the highest concentrations of young people at the same time.  What the city is missing are the folks in between. 

But the Twitter article reminds me of Brian O'Neill's anti-Twitter column a few months ago which I once commented on over on Pittsblog. But I have to admit I really don't Twit much either, I will when I figure out what to put on Twitter vice here. The greater irony is that Brian is a twitterer, more so than I am.

But on news and twitter.  May just be my own interests, but the more useful local news twittering comes from Lauren L-H the editor of the Pittsburgh Biz Times who is an active twitterer. Maybe there could be a twitter competition among local publications. 

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

G20 and the fountain

Hey, I didn't know this.  Last I heard the fountain at the point was out of commission and it just wasn't going to be possible for the state to get it fixed in time for the G20.

But wait a sec. Alcoa has a press release today saying it has it's engineers working to get the point's fountain up and running by the time our foreign friends drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel.  I assume they would not go out of their way to advertise the fact if they didn't think they were likely to succeed.  Brilliant PR when you think about it if it works.  I've heard lots of people talk of being disappointed if the point's repairs could not be accelerated to make the fountain functional by the G20 dates.   So if Alcoa succeeds you will have everyone being appreciative of the work and impressed they could get something done the state couldn't.  Ok,  that may not be so impressive put that way.   But the 'earned media' will be pretty volumnious I bet. 

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assessment status?

Assessment status conference with the Judge should be ending right around as I type this. Will be interesting to see what is next. 

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How many police officers are there?

Not sure if the table below will work.   But I really wondered how many cops there were if you added up all the local forces nearby. The issue is just what potential support there is the G20 event.  The answer I get is that as of 2007 there were 2,505 total full time officers in Allegheny County local governments, and another 498 part-time police officers. That includes the City of Pittsburgh's force of around 850 full time officers.  I suspect those numbers would have come down a bit in the last 2 years, but that's it for a ballpart number.  So even the maximum potential pool of supplemental law enforcement to back up the city police force from elsewhere in the county does not really come close. Even if every single law police officer in the county supported G20, which would leave nobody minding the store back home anywhere, you don't get near the 4,000 goal. Nearby counties have other forces as well, but I doubt the numbers are going to really change the answer too much. 

But if as it seems, even the larger and better off forces don't have much to contribute, the smaller ones are even less able to provide from their minimal ranks.  Below is the list of the largest police forces in the county, ranked by total officers counting full time and part time equally.  It's pretty remarkable in how few forces have more than a handful of officers.  The full list I have put online here.

GovernmentFull TimePart TimeTotal
Pittsburgh8580858
Allegheny County3540354
Plum462571
Mckeesport491362
Monroeville48048
Penn Hills47047
Mount Lebanon42042
Ross42042
Wilkinsburg251439
Bethel Pak38038
Munhall211637
Source: 2007 Census of Governments

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Mallo-Catastrophe

What may be the single biggest news of the day is that a fire shut down production of Mallo Cups.  What I still can't quite explain is that the search term most likely to wind up here is nothing about Pittsburgh, but literally  "Mallo Cup Prize Catalog".  That and people keep posting comments on that post on Mallo Cups here from 3 years ago. 

But the fire seems pretty minor.  There will likely be no need for Mallo Cup rationing.

Somewhat seriously though.   I actually did bring up Mallo Cups in conversation recently and someone didn't believe they were being made any more.  For years I didn't notice them much at all, but there seems to be a renewed marketing effort of late. If cupcakes can be the 'it' pastry then I see no reason Mallo Cups can't make a comeback. 

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Hagiography Watch: The Next Pittsburgh

Mostly a summary of stuff already out there..... But the Next American City had a quick blurb on Pittsburgh's recent successes: How Pittsburgh Shot to the Top of a “Most Livable Cities” List

also NYT goes into the nitty gritty: Pittsburgh Seeks 4,000 Extra Police Officers to Help With the Group of 20 Meeting. Note how the story now says Pittsburgh is looking for help from "across the country".  Wasn't the idea originally that a lot of local police forces would be able to provide a lot of that help.  I've only noticed a few news blurbs on this, but they have generally mentioning that local governments have turned down those requests.  Many don't have the extra resources.  Some don't have police forces at all.  I'll have to look up how many police officers there are in total in Allegheny County. But the bigger story lurking in there is the regionalism story.

and whatever good PR Pittsburgh is getting, state is balancing out with bad these days.  CNN is succinct: Pennsylvania, the New California

and the state is at it again looking at Pittsburgh pension woes.  In a story today  the quote describing the current state of the Pittsburgh pension system is:
 "As for Pittsburgh's 28 percent ratio, McAneny said "there's just no way to describe that. It is bankruptcy, or the pension equivalent thereof."
I still don't get why this is noticed all of a sudden.  But what I really don't quite get is that they all know that the 28% number is now several years out of date.  When we see more current actuarial data reflecting the current state of the the city's pension system, it will be lower than that. Mark my words. And what really isn't talked about is that if the state takes over the city's pension system you will see the state hire the next actuary to do pension calculations.  Anyone want to place a bet that the numbers a state-hired auditor comes up with measure the pension funding level here will not look like what we think the numbers are now. As I mentioned recently, structurally things are getting worse locally and across the state in ways beyond what that article even touches on.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Media alternative universe

It's speculation to suggest it means anything, yet it must mean something. If nothing else it's just a bit curious that the Trib's associate editor Bill Steigerwald has the full page of the PG's Next Page section this week on the PG's Ray Sprigle and his 'undercover' trip to the south as an African American over 60 years ago.

Granted Bill was a PG guy not so long ago,and introduced Sprigle's work in a PG retrospective once so it may not the that strange. And he is writing a book on Sprigle so it makes sense. Still, I might have checked to see if someone sent me a gag paper if CM had something in the PG. Any other examples of cross-paper content out there? Any chance Dan Simpson or someone gets equal time with Trib ink? I'm thinking that whole North Korea, South Korea issue might not be such a big deal if there is rapprochement between the Trib's and the PG's respective leaderships.


update: well, scratch most of that. It didn't register with me that it says Bill is a former Associate Editor at the Trib. I think my brain registered the former for the PG part and I seem to have missed his last words there. Looks like he is keeping busy.

It's still one of those things that you would think would generate some discussion in the media world.. But the Voy forum on Pittsburgh media gossip seems pretty fringe at this point. Nothing much on this there yet. Is there any other meta-media forum in town?

and just noting another odd editorial moment. This happens every now and then. But both Trib and PG ran the same oped this week about the health care debate and Britain's.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

perspective

There are lots of things going on no doubt. All important in their own way I am sure. Yet maybe this is all that is worth mentioning for the moment: Field dedicated to slain police officer.

I really can't think of anything worth saying beyond what I said at the time.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Full circle

I may be the only person who thinks about it this way... but I was thinking about the news that UPMC wants to start a vaccine production facility in town. Such a facility would by very definition be a manufacturing facility. That could really confuse the issue of what defines Pittsburgh now and in the future.

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The Great Red Tide

No, this is not about G20 protesters or health care reform.....

Don't have much. This is a great dynamic illustration showing the changing job situation in the US over the last couple of years:

http://www.slate.com/id/2216238/?ad=ins

Oh, and another film clip via Gerontologo Americano of the great Pittsburgh strike of 1946. A preview of the paralysis the G20 congestion may be like in or near Downtown?

One last youtube gem.. Can you believe someone made a brief History of Winky's?

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is Steel Still News?

Does anyone report on the steel industry in town anymore: read this.

There was a time that something like that would be above the fold page one material. Now it's the tree in the woods. But it's still noteworthy news on the recession and I really meant the question about local beat coverage of the steel industry.

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Parking-Burgh

This looks familiar, but I can't remember if I have seen it before. But Joe (Gerontologo Americano) uploaded this film clip to youtube:


Now I remember. I mentioned the longer film in passing here, but Joe has clipped out the best parts relating to Pittsburgh. But man... I know my friends at the conference would at least be a little more subtle in their marketing these days, but check out this film from the 1950's:








There are a few things about this. While the history of cleaning up the air gets more attention in retrospect, I am pretty sure that if you seriously tried to assess what took up the conference's time in it's early years I bet it was more the issue of parking, in particular Downtown parking. , This thesis from1950 goes right along with that film clip. It's just an undergraduate student thesis, but has an interesting provenance. See: The Allegheny Conference for Community Development for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (warning, large file) by John David Weidlein. May 1950.



and non sequitur, but speaking of cars.. I wouldn't trust my thoughts on retail trends in just about any context, but I really suspect this car may be a big seller here. It's just enough bigger than a smartcar to be practical, and I am guessing it will have a price point well below a mini. Just a thought.

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casino metrics

Could probably just do casino metrics all the time from here on out.

All we know so far is some data being reported from the first week of wagering at the new casino. The headline is: $73.7M wagered in week at casino.

OK. that's not $73.7 million in profit. The story reports that there was $6.5 million in gross terminal revenue on those wagers. So 6.5/73.7 is a gross profit of 8.8%. Is that a lot? A little? It means that for every dollar wagered 91.2% was returned to the casino patrons. That is actually an awful lot better 'return' than what you get playing the Pennsylvania Lottery. Bet a dollar on a 3 digit straight daily number number and the comparable 'return' is 50%, making it a far more efficient way to donate your money to the government.

Actually when the daily number started the payout I am pretty sure was only 40%. I swear as a young child I tried convincing my mother she should play the lottery with me. I figured I would have to come out ahead. She didn't take me up on the offer. Alas.

But still, how does 91% compare? According to AmericanCasinoGuide the PA casinos that have been open: 92.48% at Mount Airy; 91.79% at Penn National; 91.58% at The Meadows; 91.45% at Philadelphia Park; 91.22% at Mohegan Sun; 91.11% at Presque Isle; and 90.71% at Harrah's Chester.. So it looks like the 91% would be pretty much par for the course here in Pennsylvania. Remarkably so.

What I wonder about a bit is that the state's required payout is 85%. The question is over what time period must they conform to that 85% minimum. Every day? Every week? Something I was told by one of the state gambling regulators some time ago is that the auditing of that 85% minimum must be met over a 5 year period. I can't say for sure that is correct, but makes you wonder if there will be times they will maximize revenue by setting a lower payout. Everything is electronic, but I am not sure how much leeway they have technically or legally to be changing the payout percentages on the machines. There should be no doubt however, the payout percentages in aggregate are not random, but a decision by someone.

Where would I want to play slots, check out the $1 slots in North Las Vegas with a payout of 96.69%... clearly the slowest way to donate your money to others. Of course if you play a game paying you back o.9669 or even 0.9999 each iteration you still wind up in the same place if you play long enough.

I do wonder... will the PA Lottery ever need to increase advertising to keep up with any competition from the casino here or casinos elsewhere? Just came to mind because AdWeek has this picture of innovation in marketing the lottery in Minnesota I think. Innovation everywhere.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pension developments

Without other comment for the moment... but this running right now is big news for the city pension system.

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Jobs to Jobless Metric

Sent in from one of the many well paid Null Space stringers. I have to admit I never saw this before, but a neat graphic comparing job postings to the number of unemployed by metro region. We are there in the middle, but DC and Detroit are the extremes.

http://www.indeed.com/jobtrends/unemployment

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Latest AP coverage of the Pittsburgh story. Foundations' money sparks Pittsburgh's recovery

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Trib has an interesting blurb on some local coal being exported to China. Coal may be the one energy source we actually export internationally. I have not updated this in at least a month, but it has been an interesting ride for coal in the region in the last year.

$/ton, Pittsburgh Seam Coal prices

and speaking of coal... Slate had a piece just yesterday updating the state of acid rain in the US.

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which then leads to the environment. Slate also just had a piece on a less than intuitive link between auto parking and biking with a mention of Pittsburgh. See: What Would Get Americans Biking to Work? Decent parking.

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and finally on the Wettick Watch: Wasting no time is he, direct from the docket - Ordered Status Conference will be held on 8/25/09 at 3:00 p.m. The phrase 'all deliberate speed' comes to mind.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

iCopyright

I can't resist a little fun.

Yesterday the city made a splash announcing its iPhone app. I gave my thoughts on some of the concept a little bit ago in this post: iBurgh.

But wait a second. The new app is also called iBurgh. I can prove I had that name first, go ask Mr. Google*. Do I get royalties? Me and the Eat n Park smiley cookie deserve our intellectual property rights protected. I'd ask Mike if I had a case, but I probably can't afford his rates. Especially since the only relief I could ask for is attribution.. see the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License there on the right. The city need not worry, the Null Space copyright department has no spare capacity to instigate any litigation over this.

However there is this little problem of the PA constitution. Isn't there an equal protection clause in there somewhere. Blackberry users unite and demand equal access to pothole picture taking.

I do like Apple blog lead on the new app: "Ask not what your city can do for you; ask what your iPhone can do for your city."

Seriously though, if the city is keeping its pothole complaints electronically, then it ought not to be a big issue to create maps as I showed from Cincinnati in this old post: Potholes 2.0

* Google had me listed over the actual app link on Apple for much of the day yesterday, but it has been moving down. So the ulterior motive of this post is just to generate a few links to push it back up. That's about as far as I hack google's ranking algorithms. And do I have any idea what this app was going to be called earlier?.. no. May have been iBurgh all along.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Pontificating on the Press

I mentioned in the previous post the PG's editorial on blogging that followed up on Netroots Nation. Here is a parsing of that editorial. I was going to leave it alone, but it just seems that my good friends at the PG are missing the point. If you want to skip all the words, just go to the bottom and call up the link I have to a youtube video labeled prosumers. Otherwise, here are a few sentences from their editorial over the weekend and some tough love comments.

1. “Ouch! As the older information delivery system of the two – “ (blogging and print media that is)

Stop already with that… You have to ask yourself. Is blogging an ‘information delivery system’? Of course not. Blogging is not another medium delivering the same news in an alternate vehicle. The Internet might be described as such a new medium, as a new ‘information delivery system’ that is. But blogging and the Internet are not synonyms in any sense. It's like saying editorialists define all of the printed word.

2. “we at the Post-Gazette are feeling slightly wistful as bloggers come into their own just as a handful of newspapers are closing around the country.”

I was going to quibble with the “just a few” characterization, but as yet I suppose it’s true enough. It is equally true that ‘just a few’ print media organizations are making money these days. Wait. Print media and blogging may have more in common than they know. Do newspapers really want to become blog-like? Then their only hope is declaring themselves nonprofits.

3. “ There was a time when newspapers occupied the center of the media universe.

Sure.. but it wasn’t in the year before the WWW was created. Walter Cronkite just passed away right? The ‘most trusted man in America’ and all of that. When did CBS first put him on the air? Network news has been burning a hole in print media longer than most current journalists have been working.

4. “The condescension that many print journalists once felt toward bloggers is long gone”

Well, that's honest. Granted it’s not the PG, but they seem to be trying to speak for their profession. This was from not too long ago:

Mourn not for end of pointless blogging

and the PG was firing off lawyers at those pesky internet people not too long ago as well:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07208/804879-153.stm

5. “replaced by a determination to wed Internet-based technologies to the centuries-old discipline of daily news-gathering.”


This is where I get confused. In fact, the PG does a pretty decent job at wedding “Internet-based technologies” to news gathering. Awfully good I would say. The metrics I have seen show the PG ranking far above what the local population ought to support. If that isn't working for them, then do newspapers need to think differently about how to deliver the news, or do they need to think differently about the news itself?

6. “ It is a survival mechanism, as well as an acknowledgment, that what we do as a newspaper must evolve if it is to remain relevant.


And when was this not true? When is it not true for every industry?

7. “Despite a certain amount of sibling rivalry, no one appreciates what newspapers do more than bloggers.”


Again, the whole sibling rivalry starts from a premise that blogging and journalism are the same thing…

8. “Many will admit that they rely on mainstream media for initial reporting of the facts, though that is changing as more reporters join the ranks of bloggers.”

Ha. So I guess it never happens that the mainstream media gets any reporting of facts from bloggers however defined. I really wonder, would Mark Felt have started an anonymous blog 36 years ago instead of passing notes to Woodward, then an unknown young local beat reporter that his editor was likely to ignore. The point is that it’s not just an alternative means of transmission. I have to admit I don’t get the intended meaning of the latter clause about reporters joining the ranks of bloggers.

9. “Through one platform or another, the Post-Gazette and other deeply rooted news organizations plan to be around and serving democracy for a long time.

I suppose we could argue over what a long time is.

I just sense a great deal of transference going on. The business model of print media is in trouble no doubt. I don’t think any of that is because of bloggers at all. It may be in trouble because of those disruptive intertubes, but that is another matter altogether. Can anyone find any study quantifying the number of folks who are so satisfied with the news delivery of blogs in particular that they canceled a single print media subscription? I would lay odds that if there are people canceling their PG subscription because of online content, it’s because of the online content of other print media organizations. So those who can read the NYT online really have no need to see the AP news filler in a local print paper everyday do they? It’s just easier to focus on the face of bloggers since getting mad at the NYT would be tilting at windmills. To meet its enemy print media needs to look in the mirror.

What I sense is that someone thinks newspapers are like railroads that didn’t get into the airline business because they did not view themselves holistically as transportation providers. If newspapers just don’t make the same mistake and think of themselves as more than ink, as omnimedia information providers, then they will not go the way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It’s a deceptively simple analogy that sounds good, but is meaningless. It’s not that the medium is changing, but how people are relating to the news that is changing. Print media once ruled because it was a captive and passive audience that had little other source for the news that mattered to them. Both the captive and the passive parts are history. The former more so than the latter, but give it a few months. Newspapers have to realize they will never again be that sole source of information. Their future will be finding a role in that new world where we are all ‘prosumers’.

Do I have an answer for the future of print media? Of course not. But it seems to me that most financially strapped newspapers are doing the opposite of what they need to. If the headline news will be blasting out of our phones, newspapers have to focus on the in depth, local reporting that only they can do. Yet most ‘reorganizations’ have moved away from that admittedly expensive model of reporting. I don't quite know where it all ends. I will bet that that more than any incremental steps, everything must change. Otherwise, just go read Reflections of a Newosaur.

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news roundup

NPR over the weekend on G20 coming to Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, An International Background For G-20 Summit.

This is interesting. PFM is using Pittsburgh as it's prime example in pitching its services to Gary, Indiana. It's a very curious article in lots of ways.

I think just the other day someone was telling me bloggers were all just hotheads bloviating. I just smiled. Now there is a curious editorial in the Post-Gazette from Saturday on the nexus of blog-dom and the news: Blogger Nation. It's kind of curious as well. You could dissect each paragraph there for insights into how the media and blog-world are really interacting to date. Pretty clear they are not on the same page yet. I guess that would be a virtual page.

I have to admit I didn't get to NN at all, but I will throw this out there. It may be a detail too small for the historians to dig up for us someday, but I really wonder.... is the G20 coming here because NN chose Pittsburgh first? Not inconceivable. Of course, it will probably be a mainstream journalist who would be able to figure it out. Is anyone asking how the G20 selection really came about? I suppose we can just continue to believe it was all in the pancakes.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Duisburg Redux

This is a bit embarrassing at this point. PG's Cutting Edge this week catches a few stray comments here today. Last week, both PG and Trib were reading here as well.

But there is more interesting stuff you should be reading in the paper today. Stuff I actually should have written was on the PG's Next Page. Read Tracy Certo's account of a trip to Europe and our Post-Industrial peers. She starts by talking about the remade coal mine Zollverein. One of the major sites there, that readers here know I like to talk about is Duisburg, Germany's Landscape Park. You can read those previous posts on the impact of Emscher Park, which I really think may count as one of the greatest environmental reclamations ever attempted. The scale of which Tracy only hints at. Zolverin she quotes as costing several hundred million dollars. The entire Emscher Park IBA exhibit was probably over a billion in current dollars over a decade ago.

In fact, I did actually did once write up my thoughts on Duisburg, which really is Pittsburgh's alter ego: one of the largest inland ports in Europe, once the center of the Ruhr Valley steel industry and experiencing a revitalization based a lot on it's local university. I had thought for years it was surely one of Pittsburgh's 'sister cities', but have learned it is on no such list as far as I can tell. It really should be; you will find few places in the world with such similar a story as Pittsburgh's.

Years ago one of the few things the PG never printed of mine was a travelogue of one of my visits to Duisburg and Landscape Park. But I had pitched it as a travel story which I learn is a lot harder to do well compared to my usual typing here. While I may have dreams of being Paul Theroux, I may have to stick to various points in the continuum between opining and bloviating.

Nonetheless, if any of the above or Tracy's piece interests you, here are a few links. If ever want to see what Homestead Steel Works here looked like before it was demolished, you just need to visit Duisburg's Landscape Park: http://www.landschaftspark.de/en/home/index.php. Landscape park being just one of innumerable post-industrial sites part of Germany's vast Route IndustrieKultur .

I once had some of my pictures from my last visit to Duisburg online here, but it's a funny technology story. I can be a technology Luddite, but not always. I had started putting pictures online long ago. Did I use Flikr? No. I am not even sure flikr was around when I started. I found some site called Photosite. For years I put photos from various places online there. Of course Flikr came to rule that space and photosite eventually faded into oblivion. The domain does not even have a legacy connection to it's past. Looks like you could buy it even.

Leads me to think that it is about time to have another conference on post-steel regions. Seems like every 10 years there is a post-steel redevelopment conference that compares Pittsburgh to places like the Ruhr Valley and similar places that saw such massive declines in manufacturing employment. One of the bigger such conferences was in the late 1980's (here is one paper from then which is worth reading for it's perspective from the time), then about 10 years later it was repeated. It would be an interesting time to do it again as the first round was focused on how to deal with the manufacturing recession of the 80's almost as it was ongoing, the next was more a retrospective after 10 years and now we see recession again hammering manufacturing industries especially steel around the world. For many the current recession seems quite new, but are there lessons to be learned or unlearned from the very real recessions of not so long ago?

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pittsburgh Population: day versus night

I really need to make a local version of this map of New York City. If someone has more time than I do I can provide the data.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Pension-math ever again

Yeah, pension math is pension math. I'll do this with (almost) no numbers.

The latest update on the plan the state is working to take over Pittsburgh pension plans is being reported today... Nobody should think this is news, the path was pretty obvious going back years. This all follows up a story from a couple weeks ago that pretty much foretold today's news. The key quote from the story then is the state saying:

"In the not-too-distant future, there's going to be a default on the ability to pay benefits if nothing severe is done."
That's pretty explicit. What I still don't get is how just a few months ago the mere mention of dire pension problems and the mere prospect of running out of cash was deemed by the city to be:
The further quote in that from the city is:
"I think that the data was inaccurate. It's quite a bit of a distortion,".
The state has the current quote including "Default".... "not too distant future".... unless something "severe" is done. Is the city saying the state's prognostication is inaccurate and a distortion? If anything, stock market has been doing ok this year, certainly not the freefall from last December when the earlier story is from. So if anything, the situation was worse back then.

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OK, got that out of my system. There is actually a bigger looming problem for the pension fund. Something not talked about much, but certainly something a few folks in Harrisburg realize already. A big chunk of pension funding for the city is from state aide. It's not a guaranteed amount, it all comes from one single pot of money. Specifically revenue collected from the "foreign insurance" premia. Foreign as in out of state companies that issue policies in the state. That money is divided up proportionally across all the municipal pension funds across the state that need money. The number of municipalities that need money is key factor in figuring how much any one municipality gets.

There are two fundamental problems looming for municipal pension plans. The first is obviously that the stock market was whacked and the pension assets of virtually all pension systems are down. In the past a lot of local pension plans were so well funded that they didn't qualify for any aide at all from the state. Thus more was available for the plans that 'needed' outside funding. It's a good bet that a lot of local pension plans will soon be qualifying for state aide for the first time in a long time and for some the first time ever. It's a simple divide-the-pie issue. The more who want a slice, the less each one gets. It bodes ill for any current projections of future state pension aid the city is expecting in coming years. Less aid will require more to be made up by the city one way or the other according to Act 205.

Then there is the recession itself and the impact it is having on tax revenues. The tax revenue that the state dedicates to local pension aid is based on insurance premia. That pot actually had some sizable increases in the years following 9/11 as insurance need and costs grew. So even as the city has been complaining that their state pension aid is down a lot from where it had been in the past, if the total revenue coming in from the foreign insurance tax had not jumped up a lot, the amount the city would be getting currently would be a lot less than it is. An odd ripple effect from 9/11. We would have been having some very different budget discussions in recent years if the total pot of state pension aid had not gone up 65% in the last decade!

In the last year of data the revenues show that revenues from that tax have held their own remarkably, but the growth since 2001 has certainly leveled off. Is it conceivable that ongoing recession is going to actually pull down these revenues. If it does the city is looking at a double whammy as the pot of money allocated to pension aid comes down while the fraction of the total it is allocated decreases as well.

So a graph, with a few numbers... The recent trend looks like this:



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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wettick Watch

Look at that.... supreme court tosses the county's attempt to delay implementation of Judge Wettick's assessment ruling even more than it has been delayed already. Has Judge Wettick become the most important person in the Commonwealth when it comes to the impending race for governor? I do keep a link there on the right to the local case docket for those who are interested. See where it is labeled "Wettick Watch" and just click through when it asks for a date range. The last record coming up right now tells the tale.

Anyway.... Without asking Mr. Google, who knows where this quote comes from which came to mind?:

"I strenuously object?" Is that how it works? Hm? "Objection." "Overruled." "Oh, no, no, no. No, I STRENUOUSLY object." "Oh. Well, if you strenuously object then I should take some time to reconsider."
No need to repeat myself on any of this, I have little new to say. Just some of my past assessment comments are in these past posts if you care:


Which is also my title for one of the few things in ink I have on this which was in the Trib a long time ago: Groundhog day in the assessment office

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Pittsburgh PR combustion

I think the 'New Pittsburgh' PR machine has clearly reached some kind of self-generating ignition... More and more stuff like this for example: nothing too new in this, but a blurb from Reed Construction Data: Pittsburgh’s economy springing back with less steel, more ‘ed and med’.


It has gotten a bit out of hand. The positive PR has actually taken an odd turn. You sense sort of internal bickering going on among the powers that be to try and take credit for the 'resurgence' of Pittsburgh. Not any debate over whether Pittsburgh has turned a corner or not, but who gets to take credit. What industry, institution or personage is responsible is a question many want to have answered. The region is too big and too complex to really think any one answer would make much sense no matter.


So I worry. Plenty of good things to say about the 'New Pittsburgh' and I point them out here as much as others do. But there have been an awful lot of mistakes made along the way in the region's 'transformation'. As Kotkin's recent article reminded us, there are those here who believe all of the recent positive news is illusion, though I suspect those voices are swamped by the more positive news of late. In the future we will see how it all bears out. I honestly wonder how public sentiment is playing out here. We once tried to get folks interested in starting a consistent quality of life survey for the region, but could never drum up enough interest to get it going. I do wonder if folks perception of Pittsburgh is higher than it has been in decades, and I mean our perceptions of ourselves more than what the rest of the world things. We are, or have been, an awfully pessimistic lot for a long time.

I worry that the glowing media coverage will reinforce even some of the more obvious failures along the way. I don't want to get into them here just now, since they are all debates in themselves. If anything the rebuilding of Pittsburgh is only a story because we ignored the need for change so much longer than we should have. That core failure is something I only alluded to in the few words you can fit in an oped but I tried when I wrote "The G20 is coming here?".


So at the end of the day, whatever success we have now is not an indicator for the future if anyone really believes we have arrived where we want to be. Change will have to be continuous or else we really are just destined for the same path we once followed. There is no single 'replacement' for steel in the local economy. Steel and primary metals supported Pittsburgh longer than any one industry will concentrate in any region ever again... arguably Steel defined Pittsburgh longer than any one industry will even exist in the future. I am a big believer in studying our history, in fact I don't think we do it enough. But learning from the past is not always easy and we don't want to repeat past mistakes even if things look relatively rosy at the moment.

It all means that any fleeting 'credit' is an illusion that says little about the future. Fighting over that credit misses the point. Let's enjoy the ride, but there is a hangover coming once the foreign media departs... at least until the Super Bowl comes around again.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

back from the edge and ever more rankings

I know many readers here might not have been so interested in my brief updates on the bike trip to DC, but it was the easiest way to keep some folks updated.. I'll write a trip report when I can, but the moral of the story is: if I can do it so can you! It's not the same experience we had, but I would encourage everyone to read Franklin Toker's account he put in the PG's Next Page last year.

But the very very brief synopsis of our warmer, but dryer, (compared to Professor Toker's) trip was:

Saturday: Connellsville to Cumberland, MD on the Youghiogheny River Trail and the Allegheny Highlands Trails (PA and MD). (91 miles)
Sunday: Cumberland to Hancock, MD on the C&O Canal (60 miles)
Monday: Hancock to Shepherdstown, WV (51 miles)
Tuesday: Shepherdstown to White''s Ferry just outside DC. (35 miles)

I do see I missed a bike brouhaha over the trail next to the new casino. A brief tempest that looks to have been solved by a call from my neighbor Darla to the powers that be down at the casino. Go Darla! Folks have heard me give credit to TM for the vision that became the bike trail system through the city, but for those who do not realize it, Darla made that vision into a practical reality.

Oh yeah, and I missed the casino opening. Oh well. I am sure the casino will provide lots of quantitative fodder for years to come. Is there a casino dedicated blog out there yet? I mean a blog dedicated to just the casino here. I know Toland has the PG online only Casino Journal already.


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But back to the knitting.....

If you have not obsessed enough on rankings... Joel Kotkin has a colum about the multiple "Livable Cities" rankings of late. Pittsburgh mentioned several times. Speaking of rankings, I mentioned Pittsburgh's low showing in something called the Smarter Cities list recently. Some interesting comments from the editor of that list in the comments of that post.

and US News and World report includes Pittsburgh in their list of 10 Cities Primed for a Real Estate Recovery. While BusinessWeek has us listed in their 30 strongest US Real Estate markets.


Finally finally. This is curious. A report called: Pittsburgh: the rest of the story, put out by something called the Campaign for America's Future. Don't really know much about them, but certainly a data point on Pittsburgh 'buzz' of late. I really need to make a list of all this stuff.

update: The Philly Inquirer has a blurb on this Institute for America's Future report on Pittsburgh. Talks about the RERI. I have some of the reports on the Regional Economic Revitalization Initiative here, but I don't think I have scanned unfortunately. I'll see if I can get some of them digitized.

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Hey, how about a G20 bike trip? The leaders of the world biking out to Ohiopyle and visiting Fallingwater. OK, not going to happen. But maybe some of the journalists in town might spend a half of a day? One of the architectural wonders of the world and what is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful trails in the world. I bet someone would take up the chance if presented to them. Might just wind up as a story in the Moldovian press, but hey.. why not?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

S3

Success... Shower.... Sleep....

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Monday, August 10, 2009

happiness is a paved bike trail



This should be a picture taken at the paw paw tunnel in MD. Have made it to Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Almost there.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

biking to DC



Over the mountain... All downhill from here right?

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No-Wind

OK.. I am aware of some of the issues windmills have for those who live near them... aesthetics, dead birds and other things.. but I have to admit I never heard such a distinct anti-wind viewpoint as in this letter to the editor in a regional paper recently.

With luck, as this post gets published I will be in view of the Somerset Wind Farm.





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Friday, August 07, 2009

the anti-hub

Just reading this Trib article today on airport metrics... it says the airport here is the 47th busiest. When the main airport of the 22nd largest region has the 47th busiest airport it says something. It ends with a paragraph quoting an expert predicting even more USAirways route cuts here.

We need a contest to figure out what to do with the barely used concourses out there. I say close one of them off and fill it with Roomba's.

addendum: there is also some more detailed discussion of US airline hubs today from the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation of all places. But worth a scan.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Smarter Cities sans Burgh

Just something I never noticed before: Smarter Cities, something produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council. But what I thought interesting was that they don't seem to mention Pittsburgh in their universe of cities at all. Not sure what their criteria is, or why Pittsburgh isn't mentioned at all. It seems to include both larger and smaller cities so it's not that Pittsburgh is too small to be noticed. Maybe we just don't make their cut, or maybe they didn't get the 'New Pittsburgh' memo that is going around? Maybe nobody applied to something?

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mom-Burgh

Well, this is something. Forbes now has a ranking of best places for working moms (full list) and Pittsburgh is #8. All I can really say is that whether local moms agree or disagree it's an amazing contrast with one of the more amazing quotes I have ever seen written in the vast wonkopedia of Pittsburgh self-analysis over the years:

(Pittsburgh) will, however, slowly decline unless new industries employing women and those engaged in the production of consumer goods are attracted to the area.

This is from a report written by a place called the Econometric Institute based in New York City and titled: "Long Range Outlook for the Pittsburgh Industrial Area", stamped February 12, 1947. It's just amazing given the vintage of that quote. It's a testament to how much Pittsburgh lagged at having women in the local labor force that even as far back as 1947, just a tad before women's labor force participation would approach that of men, that researchers could not help but notice that something was amiss locally.

I rarely do this, but seems a bit obligatory that I mention our work not long ago looking at some of the history of women in the Pittsburgh workforce. See: Gender Wage Disparity in the Pittsburgh Region: Analyzing Causes and Differences in the Gender Wage Gap.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Only in Pittsburgh

One of the things that confounds outsiders about Pittsburgh is just how well we all know each other. That is especially true in politics, but applies to just about everything. What may not make sense on the surface is bewildering because the back story is what really matters to almost everything. What people are talking about or arguing over may have nothing at all to do with what is really being talked about or argued over. In some cases you have to dig back decades to really understand what is going on. In some cases you have to go back generations.

It's a bit stream of consciousness, but that all just came to mind because of the photo here. If we didn't all know and trust Eve I would almost think it was photoshopped. A random Sunday morning finds a local coffee shop with not one but two mayoral candidates sitting around. Within blocks of the campaign offices of a third mayoral candidate no less. The laws of probability would say it shouldn't happen, but it's a Pittsburgh thing. Other than Eve, I bet nobody else even noticed anything out of the ordinary... because it wasn't out of the ordinary.

That or Mark there is spying on Dok for Kevin. Not sure he would need to do it in person. His firm does specialize in various information collection technologies. There has to be a cheaper non-HUMINT way to keep track of what Dok is up to*. Just idle speculation on my part, but I wonder if any of the local campaigns have undercover volunteers working for any of their competitors. Cynical? Me? Remember that out in Philly, the alt-weekly there had undercover journalists in both the Clinton and Obama campaigns last year. I'd actually be a bit surprised if some of that was not going on here in some form.

* actually Big Dog is literally adjacent to Mark's offices, which would make you wonder if Dok was spying on Mark more than the other way around if anything.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

hub-less Cincinnati

Down river Cincinnati is seeing it's airline hub operation decline. See: Cincinnati hub is shrinking from the Atlanta Journal Constitution yesterday. See also the obligatory mention of now hub-less Pittsburgh. We are like the poster child of lost airline service it seems.


Also from our Ohio neighbors... the folks in Dayton decided to do something about being named on Forbes list of 10 fastest dying cities... a list we once would have been near the top of. That we are not mentioned is something. But they have reacted with a 'living cities' symposium meeting in Dayton.

and while city county stuff continues to be talked about here, Cleveland is discussing its own version of reforming their government structure.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Steelers rebranding

It must have been a deity with a sense of humor that decided to make the trading deadline in MLB and opening of NFL training camps happen around the same time? At least for fans in Pittsburgh. Still one of the funnier Onion 'reports': PNC Park Threatens To Leave Pittsburgh Unless Better Team Is Built.

More important to the Pittsburgh ethos.... from the Onion earlier in the year: Steelers Defense Renamed.


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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Greyfield reuse on steroids

I think this is a great creative re-use of space... I think it ought to be a permanent part of the marketing for the region. In IT world it would be phrased as: it's a feature, not a bug.

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