Friday, June 30, 2006

MapFriday: Hypothetical 5 District City Council

As some may know, there is an effort afoot to reduce the Pittsburgh City Council from 9 districts to 5. Some advanced math tells me that means 4 councilpersons would have to lose their jobs. I thought it would be interesting to conjecture what a 5 district map could look like. Note that this particular map represents neither what I predict nor recommend. This just shows an even breakdown of population with a quick and dirty first cut of where the district boundaries could be.

Redistricting is the most political process there is by very defintition. Given there is not the normal inter-party conflict within the city, its even harder to figure out how such a big change would be implemented. The typical way a majority tries to mitigate the power of the minority (however defined) via reapportioment is to stack, pack, and/or crack them.

But here is a question. Will there be one majority-minority district or two? This is the corollary to the debate that has popped up in the city of Pittsburgh during the last two reapportionments (and its original apportionment not that long ago) as to whether there should be 2 or 3 majority African American districts. Some basic demographics, geography and Constitutional issues will likely force there to be one clear majority minority district. But what about a 2nd?

How I think the math works out: unless there is one concentrated African American district stretching from the Hill District to Homewood, there is likely to be a district with a relatively even split between Black and White voters in some other district elsewhere within the City... Could it be that the African American population not in the primary minority district winds up split and diluted across a number of districts? That is possible although geography makes it a little difficult. The Voting Rights Act and its legal precedents to date could come into play at this point. There are some clear directions out there as to what is permissible in terms of creating majority-minority or minority impact districts.

However that does not mean a 2nd district would easily elect a 2nd African American. Reapportionment looks at total population, but the demographics of the voting age population can be different. In 2000 the total population in the city of Pittsburgh was 27% Black-only... however, mostly becasue of some different age demographics, the voting age population was 23% Black-only. Thus even if there is a 2nd district that was marginally a majority Black district in total, the voting age population could be more even.

One way or the other, apportioning 5 districts will be a very contentious issue because with so few on council, each vote counts a lot. This could get really ugly. If you have read all that and are still with me.. you may be one of the few who would be interested in some work I have done in the past on Voting Patterns by Race in Allegheny County.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

2020 population projection

Ok.. this is not my forecast for the record, but two Wharton professors, Peter Linneman and Albert Saiz, have just put together: a baseline forecast for growth for all counties in the US through 2020. For Allegheny county they predict more of the same. Overall, they project that population will continue to move from "cold, damp, and snowy areas". In fact they rank Allegheny County as having the 6th lowest growth rate (or largest decline as it were) through the end of the next decade. just fyi.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The seeds of our (self)destruction.

So the Trib picked up a bit (story, or front page with pictures) that June is the 50th anniversary of the Lower Hill District's demolition. While I am as harsh as anyone on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the Shermanesque effort to 'save' the Hill District, there deserves to be some thought on the mindset that allowed this to happen. Following WWII the idea that collective engineering could overcome almost any problem was probably etched into the nation's psyche. Consider that the generation who thought this up had overcome the depression, mobilized for war, moved millions to win that war and were then rebuilding Europe all through massive plans that really made these Pittsburgh's projects seem miniscule by comparison. It was probably inconceivable to these people that the same type of plan could not solve problems in their own backyard. If they only understood that the problem was not brick and mortar.

But WWII more delayed than caused the neighborhood's demolition, the roots of which go back to well before the war began. Here is an archived documentary entitled The City (American Institute of Planners, 1939, available as an MPEG stream via the Prelinger Archives), which may be the single best explanation of the logic at work here. It is complete with an original score by Aaron Copeland if you can believe that... After first watching it I had to go rewatch the opening credits to make sure Frank Capra didnt direct it as well. He didn't but it sure seems like he did. Basically it idealizes the suburbs as utopian places to live and proselytizes massive city re-engineering with a lot of images of pre-war Pittsburgh as the ultimate scourge to be either prevented or beaten back. If this film could even be made at all, it is not a big leap to understand what happened in the Lower Hill District and elsewhere. But if you don't take time to watch, the title text pretty much says it all:
"Year by year our cities grow ever more complex and less fit for living. The age of rebuilding is here. The time to remould our old cities and build communities better suited to our needs."
All that is missing is the slow fading text scroll into a background of stars. For those who do get through the first part. Here is the link for Part 2.

and for the musicologists out there. Listen to this and realize it was written 5 years before Appalachian Spring debuted.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What is missing in these pictures?

I was asked if I knew anything about the Highland Park Fountain and its lack of water. I don't other than to confirm that when I went by the other day there does not appear to be any water flowing. The Fountain was used only as a big planter for decades until efforts to restore it. The city issued this RFP in 2002 for the work to restore the fountain which the PG reported was going to cost around $700K of public, private and foundation money. From these pictures that work was completed,.. The web site for this constuction company claims to have completed the restoration work. Maybe the water budget is tight?


Monday, June 26, 2006

Hello Children's

To be clear, the opening of the new Children's Hospital is still years away, but there are a lot of signs of progress on the Lawrencewille site. In fact, the very last steel beam is being put in place this week. I have long since come to terms with having to say Goodbye to St. Francis, but it may be time to really start thinking about what Children's Hospital will mean to Lawrenceville and environs. I can only say anecdotally that stirrings of redevelopment are clearly there. Another obvious question that occurs is what will the existing Children's site be used for?


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Revenge Return of the Riverboat Casino

You will need to read all the way to end of this, but the Trib has an interview with State Senator Fumo on the state of gambling that has an interesting observation. Where he says:
"the applicants .... They might be willing to put up the money to bring in a riverboat. You could see anywhere there's a river or the potential for a riverboat, they could put up a temporary facility."
The potential for riverboat gambling was a big debate in Pittsburgh 12 or so years ago. Lots of the same issues then are coming up again. Whatever one thinks of gambling in general, many have decried what a bad idea a big ugly temporary facility would be. This idea that a riverboat could be a temporary facility seems to be coming out of the blue. Has this been discussed as a possibility anywhere? If they allow it in Philly, seems likely they will allow it in Pittsburgh.. and if it is allowed, it's hard to believe whoever wins the license will pass up the $$ an early temporary facility (whether a riverboat or not) will bring in.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

The ultimate antidote to that 'Burgh angst

So I had to go see the Squonk Opera's production of Pittsburgh: The Opera that was playing at the Regent er, I mean the Kelly-Strayhorn, Theater. I do not think that anything I write could do justice to the show.... my Pittsburgh obsessed brain short circuited by about the third act. Suffice it to say I do not think I will ever be able to take this town seriously again. What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

I almost wish I had taken notes.... does anyone have the libretto?


Friday, June 23, 2006

MapFriday - Hispanic Population


Thursday, June 22, 2006

#1 Foodie Haven

Well, no matter how many fewer mouths there are to feed in the City, the July issue of Sierra magazine says the city ranks #1 in terms of farmers markets per capita.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ever shrinking city......

So I feel obliged to respond a bit to the news blurbs today (such as these in thePG, Trib, and KDKA) about some new census data showing continued decline in the city's population. At least two points need to be addressed.

One is that these are just estimates based on estimates. The municipal level data is just a refinement of county level estimates reported months ago. The allocation of growth at the municipality level is mostly based on the spatial pattern of private residential building permits through 2004. Using building permits as a proxy for growth makes a lot of sense (people need to live somewhere so you get correlation) but there are a lot of other things going on. It's easy to overinterpret year over year, of town by town, differences. The only other major adjustment to the model is that it accounts for depreciation of current housing and guess what, Pittsburgh has a really old housing stock which means the model assumes a larger proportion of it goes out of service each year than in cities with more modern housing. Less housing means fewer people imputed as living in the city proper.

Two is whether this was a city story at all. The headline factoid everywhere is that the city of Pittsburgh lost 1.3% population between 2004 and 2005. Even if that number is right, is this reflective of some bad mojo only in the City?? Well, in the same data you can see that in fact the City proper compares relatively favorably to most other municipalites in Allegheny County. Here is my list showing that 80 of the 128 municipalities in the county had faster decline than the City proper. No mention of that anywhere?? People moving into the suburbs, and even farther into the exurbs, is a national phenomenon and surely not anything unique to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a relatively small city, which means it is much more made up of the inner urban core that is being hit the hardest in all regions.

In this data Cresecent Township grew by an amazing 9.3% between 2004 and 2005. Did it really and if so why? Well... in 2004 there were building permits for 96 single family homes for the township, more than 10 times the average of 9 per year over the previous 5 years. Thus the model allocated a lot of growth to that one municipality this year. Looking forward, it is an easy prediction that next years number for the city of Pittsburgh will be worse than this year. Consider that next year's population estimate will be based on the number of building permits in 2005. The census shows that only 65 permits for private residental single family homes were issued for the city in 2005, the lowest number in a decade.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I hope Spencer Tunick is not directing this scene

From Carl Kurlander who is putting together the Pittsburgh Movie.

"We've done it in Hollywood, we've done it on Broadway, and now it's Pittsburgh's turn. On Saturday July 1st at 5 p.m., Pittsburghers, past and present, near and far, are invited to join Mr. McFeely (David Newell) to sing "It's A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood" at The Point."


Monday, June 19, 2006

Lower Hill District demolition began 50 years ago

It makes sense that nobody is going out of their way to notice, but this month marks exactly 50 years since demolition of the Lower Hill District began in earnest in June 1956.

The best book I know of on what the impacts were to the community actually living in the Lower Hill at the time is Mindy Fullilove's: Root Shock: The demolition of America's urban neighborhoods (Ballantine), which I once wrote a review of in the PG. Unfortunately the PG did not put the pictures they ran with this book review online, but they had some of their own file photos of the demolition that really were quite telling.... worth looking up if you are interested in the history.

There still needs to be a few books written about what the mass relocation of the families meant to the City and region as a whole. The impact was not limited to just the one neighborhood. Those families moved into areas across the city, increasing crowding and accelerating the movement of many city residents into the suburbs or beyond. Clearly the Hill District has never been the same.

This thumbnail is of a photo by John Shrader shows David Lawrence ceremonially 'starting' the demolition on May 31, 1956. I presume not much else got done that day, which would make June 1956 as a more realistic reference for when actual demolition began. If the preservationists at the Carnegie ever finish the heroic task of indexing Teenie Harris' photos, I would like to see if he had any shots of this day.


Friday, June 16, 2006

MapFriday: Public Transit Utilization

or view a PDF file of same.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Gambling in California

Just becasue it is a relatively objective and comprehensive report... This just out from the California Research Bureau is worth reading as we prepare for the advent of casino gambling in Pittsburgh:

Gambling in the Golden State, 1998 Forward. By Charlene Wear Simmons. May 2006.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I mentioned this in passing in the previous post, but it is worth a post unto itself: just a nostalgic remembrance of Bolan's Candies. Based in the center of East Liberty it used to be a Pittsburgh institution with additional shops that I remember both Downtown and at Station Square. The East Liberty shop was at one point also a 2 story restaurant that remained busy long after the re-engineering of East Liberty. I forget what they are called but they have a machine that makes patties of almost pure suger that may be the most addictive non-chocolate dessert I know of.

Today it is a pretty quiet shop. I thought it was still open, but in walking by the storefront recently I wasn't sure if that was still the case.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Flemish Pittsburgh?

It turns out I am in Brussels for a few days. I had hoped I could find some unique Pittsburgh connection here in Belgium, but it is proving difficult. So I will resort just to summarizing some of the Belgian connections in Pittsburgh where you can eat Belgian Food, or drink Belgian Beer for sure. Belgium has two parts: Wallonia (French-Speaking) and Flemish (Dutch) regions. For those who really want to obsess, the Carnegie Library has a reference on French Pittsburghers that includes some of Belgian descent. I have not found any known source for Flemish Pittsburghers, but I am sure some are out there. I am here in Brussels becasue the bulk of the EU Bureacracy is here. For those who did not catch it at the time, the Presdient of the EU visited Pittsburgh in February.

Not really a Pittsburgh-Belgium connection but its impossible to not mention Belgium Chocolate. Without meaning any disrespect for any of the other chocolate makers in Pittsburgh, seeing all the chocolate makers here reminded me that the great days of Bolan's in East Liberty are closer to the end than their beginning. Probably the only tenuous Pittsburgh-Belgium connection are some of the older streets. Though most call them cobblestone, the unpaved streets in the city are actually usually made of "Belgian Blocks", though I am sure none were imported from here.


Monday, June 12, 2006

the never ending story

Few debates remain consistent over such long periods as has the debate over local government structure in Allegheny County.

The Post-Gazette covered both sides of the argument in the Forum section Sunday. Far more interesting is the contrast between those arguments (pro and con) with David Brown’s piece in the Trib on the history of Pittsburgh’s annexation of Allegheny City a century ago. What is striking is just how similar the arguments of today are to what went on in 1906. Consider all that has changed in the nation and the world over the last century, yet the arguments over how Pittsburgh and Allegheny County should interact has remained virtually static.

How acrimonious were these issue’s at the time? David touches on this in his piece, but it was quite true that the City’s annexation of Allegheny city went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was ruled on in the Case of Hunter v. City of Pittsburgh, a precedent that still has meaning today. In fact, the state's response to the Allegheny City annexation set in place much of commonwealth's laws on the subject and fixed in place a high level of fragmentation state-wide. Whichever side of the debate you are on, there are lessons to be learned from what happened back then.

My own take on how the Allegheny City episode relates to the current debate is discussed here. If you want to learn more on the general topic of Regionalism and Local Government Fragmentation in Pittsburgh, I have tried to maintain this primer with various refererences from points of view on both sides.


Friday, June 09, 2006


When you don't have much to say... show a picture. Click on image for a larger version if you are interested:

or view a PDF version.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Unbearable bee-ing

Some may find it odd that I am commenting on the plight of Bob the Beekeeper being reported by the AP today. Bob's beekeeping has allegedly run afoul of local zoning in Marshall Townwhip. Why would a city-dweller like me even notice this news? Bob actually helped me out last month. On a recent Sunday morning there was a swarm of honeybees that had come to roost in my backyard. It was a truly amazing sight. If you google "beekeper and Pittsburgh" you come up with Bob J's name (likely because of these legal travails) and his number was in the phone book. Bob couldn't use the bees, but he referred a fellow beekeeper who came right out and 'retrieved' them. He literally put a baited box next to this massive living ball of bees and with a little coaxing they all just walked right in. If you read up on the plight of the honeybee, there is something of a crisis in the country with the honeybee population declining precipitously. The problem is, without bees you don't get any polination for all the crops that make our food. So more power to Bob and his compatriots, for all we know they may be saving the food supply.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bus stops

I feel like I have lived or worked in just about every neighborhood traversed by the 54C. In fact it was in hailing a 54C that my mother tells me 'bus' became my second spoken word coming after 'Dad' and even before 'Mom' to her chagrin. If for that reason alone I am obliged to point out that that tomorrow is national Dump the Pump day promoting public transit. Pittsburgh, or to be precise Allegheny County, has always ranked high in terms of public transit ridership. But like many other things in town, what has been true in the past is not equally true these days. The tea leaves are not positive about the future of public transit in the region. This figure shows the dramatic rise over the last quarter century in the percentage of Pittsburgh region workers who drive alone to work, along with a corresponding decrease in the percentage who carpool. More than most other industries, public transit relies on an economy of scale that breaks down when ridership drops to such low levels. Your average bus costs upwards of a quarter million a pop and there is no way to make it come close to breaking even $-wise if run mostly empty. Probably the bigger danger is that as public transit ridership continues to sink, the perception of transit as a public good diminishes as well. Will higher gas prices change this trend? I dunno.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Is there an historian in the house?

If the Carnegie Library's version is correct, then one of the most underappreciated inventors in history is Hugh J. Ward, the alleged Hazelwood inventor of BINGO. The poor fellow is not even mentioned in Wikipedia's history of bingo. I only think about this because, on the precipice of the casino-tsunami about to hit town, I wonder if anyone has contemplated if (or how much?) slots will displace any of the bingo revenue collected by nearly every church and charity in the region. Of course, it's not just bingo, which is legal, but all of the other de facto gaming that has become essential to so many local charities and non-profits... whether technically legal or not.

If anyone thinks that bingo is just a penny-ante diversion. In most bingo halls you can use an electronic bingo computer to increase the number of cards you can play at a time. Saves on all those daubers as well.


Monday, June 05, 2006

The Latent Ed Ott Fan Club

It has been an awfully long time since I have been to a Pirates game where they won, but I was there Saturday when 30K or so waited though a long rain delay to watch them beat the Padres. (when was the last time they beat a team with a winning record?) What is more interesting is that my friend, Gary, was wearing his one-off Ed Ott jersey. It was impossible to find an Ed Ott jersey for sale, so he had one made a few years ago. It was amazing how many people came up to him to say they remembered Ed Ott, who was a Pirates catcher from 1974 t0 1980, and what a cool the jersey it was. A few wanted to know where to get one. Ed Ott had one of his best years in 1979, and had some clutch hits during the '79 World Series... clearly people remember. So if Ed is out there, he should know he still has fans in the Burgh.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Voter turnout

Mark asked for some info on voter turnout in the primary last month. These are maps of voter turnout for the county and the city proper, respectively. Looking at it quickly I do not discern too much of a pattern. Obviously the districts without contested races had lower turnout, as did the student districts because the primary comes after most have left for the summer. Note these maps show voter turnout which is ballots cast divided by registered voters. Not everone is registered to vote so actual voter participation is somewhat lower these maps imply. In certain districts with more transient populations voter participation rates are significantly lower than voter turnout. Overall the county is showing that voter turnout was 22.21%. I would peg the overall voter participation in the county at around 20%, but it varied a lot across districts. You should be able to click on the images above for larger GIF images. Better quality PDF versions are available here: County, City


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Wal-mart and county poverty rates

Penn State's Stephan Goetz and Hema Swaminathan are making waves with a paper just published on the relationship between the growth of Wal-mart and county poverty rates. Here is a press release on their article "Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty" in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly. There is an earlier verion of their paper available here.

From an earlier post, but this brings to mind the video put together by Thomas Holmes at the Univ. of Minnesota: "The Diffusion of Walmart and the Economics of Density" (.wmv file)