First there is a palpable buzz over this story via Streetsblog: Did Progressive Parking Policies Propel Pittsburgh Past Detroit?
Makes you feel good. A big pat on the back for Pittsburgh. It was not all just luck that we did not wind up as Detroit of late. Deliberate planning to increase density and we didn't pave everything over for surface parking lots which wound up decimating Detroit's downtown. It is true that parking was a key element of Pittsburgh's postwar redevelopment efforts. It all goes back to the beginning of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, which was a deliberate part of Pittsburgh's renaisance.
Now juxtapose with the story yesterday: Commission seeks input on new street grid in Lower Hill District
In summary, we are soon about to spend a lot of public and private money to try and undo what was once touted as one of the gems of the Pittsburgh's renaissance. A project that had some very dire consequences for a lot of families.
Think about the two stories together. If building vertically for parking was part of Pittsburgh's secret sauce, then why did we not follow that same pattern just yards beyond the edge of the 'Golden Triangle'? Like say in the adjacent Lower Hill District. Personally I'd argue it was part of the same Downtown 'neighborhood' at the time. The bulk of the estimated 8,000 folks forced to move out of their homes (imagine trying to do that to a neighborhood today) were not displaced by the Civic Arena, but by the flat surface parking around the arena. Maybe some would still have needed to be moved, but some vertical lots could have saved a lot of the neighborhood. Of course, there was no thought given to the integration of the arena into the Hill District as a neighborhood. For a half century it looked mostly like an aspiring space port or space antenna aimed incorrectly.
The result is not that different from what Streetsblog is arguing happened in Detroit. Big flat surface parking decimated whole neighborhoods of Detroit. Where we did the same thing here, you get much the same result. Not just for the homes that were demolished, but the contagion of living next to such big lots stretched well into the remaining sections of the Hill District.
But.....the history is clear, or at least the history as written. The development of the Civic Arena was said to be about clearing the 'blight' out of the Lower Hill District. The very goal was getting rid of the housing. I am partial to the argument that looking back in time, the failure is much clearer than it must have been at the time. Still you have to wonder why nobody thought about denser parking development in conjunction with the Civic Arena site. Maybe we were 'progressive' in developing Downtown parking decades ago, but horizontal thinking where people actually lived should limit the kudos we get now looking back. Can't play pick and choose with history.
My older point is that (via the last issue of Pulp magazine:) the Lower Hill District really represented Pittsburgh's Downtown residential housing stock that we have now spent hundreds of millions of public money to put back in place over the last decade. Lots of the best Downtown neighborhoods elsewhere are gentrifications of past 'blight' in places that did not see housing stock demolished en masse. Once the Lower Hill District was taken out, Pittsburgh didn't have anything to gentrify and was left with a Downtown lacking population for the better part of a half century. The consequences were part of Pittsburgh's population decline over subsequent decades. Then you really have to wonder about the impact on the folks who were forced to move, many of whom wound up in city housing developments that we have also demolished in recent decades. So you produce serial, and multi-generational, displacement of the same families.