Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pittsburgh Charm

I have not been checking my own reading list on the right side of the page. But Metropolis Magazine had an article last week on architectural designs to revitialize the North Side. There was local media coverage on some of this, but Metropolis Mag has more neat illustrations. Just fyi.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Pittsburgh Recast

Not arriving until the fall, but there are already some fun illustrations to look at on their website...... See info for the PittsburghRecast exhibition that will be at the Heinz History Center come November.


Nick Perry's Ghost

Only in passing did the news mention that the Pennsylvania lottery came up 444 yesterday, but nary a mention of the number's (almost) history. Yes, when Nick Perry rigged the lottery in April 1980 the number 666 came up, not 444. but Nick and his accomplices didn't know that 666 was the number going to come up that day. All the balls were weighted down except for 6's AND 4's. So there were 8 possible rigged combinations for the straight 3 digit daily number. I assume the point was to even out the abnormal betting that would happen as they tried to cash in. That or they needed to make sure the mixing of the balls did not appear odd with only one number rising above he rest. I wonder. but the history of the biggest fix in lottery history could have just as easily have been 444, not 666.

Back then, the machines that picked the lottery number each day were on an unguarded studio set at the WTAE studios in Wilkinsburg. What was in the same studio: Bowling for Dollars, a live daily show that ran in the evenings hosted by Perry. True story: My very first contact with the media came when my mother was picked to bowl on the show. Guests on the show get to introduce the family and friends they bring with them. So somewhere buried in the Channel 4 archives is some image of me waving at the camera. Seemed a big deal at that time. I wonder if that footage exists.

Anyway... Nick went to jail and would be released. You would often see him having breakfast at Ritters.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Olympic Burghers

No, I really don't think Pittsburgh will ever host the Olympics as is sometimes proposed. It will be a long time before we ever have the infrastructure to support anything like that. But has anyone ever compiled a list of Pittsburghers who have gone to the Olympics? A bet for the next Pittsburgher to win an Olympic medal may be Robby Huerbin who just won the silver at the Luge junior national championship on Sunday.

Speaking of the winter olympics. I have a theory that the only chance I will ever have of even going to the olympics is if I take up winter curling someday. As Mike once pointed out, there is a Pittsburgh Curling Club online.



Does anyone else think it's odd that the Port Authority is using it's ad space in the Pittsburgh City Paper not to explain the proposed restructuring or otherwise market it's service. Instead, the ads in the CP are advertising the advertising opportunity. I do appreciate the value of meta-marketing to other marketing professionals, but it just does not seem to make sense to waste money to keep doing this in the City Paper. Maybe they had already bought the space and did not want to appear hypocritical 'selling' their service in the midst of a major restructuring. But there just has to be a better use of that space. Back in the day, at least they had a little creativity:


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

assessment news

It seems to me that the news yesterday about a ruling in commonwealth court allowing market values in property assessment appeals is a lot more newsworthy than the coverage it has thus far.

I guess the whole assessment issue still has people burned out. That or people do not realize that legal machinations continue on many fronts. The Commonwealth Court ruling is from an older case, it still could be any day that Judge Wettick rules on the constitutionality of the entire base year assessment system here. Mr. Prothontary allows you to keep watch on that case here.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

less than two fathoms needed

Just something I was thinking about... but mark my words. I would lay good odds that we will again be talking about a temporary casino in town. With the indefinite delay caused by litigation, and a growing realization that the 14 month construction schedule was a tad optimisitic, the incentive to get a temporary casino into operation becomes a little harder to ignore.

Yes, I know the Majestic Star proposal said it would not build a temporary casino. Circumstances are ever changing and lost revenue accumulates every day. If it is not strictly precluded by law, I have to believe that the state would be more than receptive to the idea if it could bring in revenue up to a year before a permanent casino will be built.

No, this isn't a recommendation and I am sure my mentioning the idea is not going to spur the idea forward. I am quite sure this is already being discussed somewhere. I suspect that there will be no open discussion of the topic as long as the license itself is being litigated. but the day after the license is formally awarded free and clear....

As for when and where. What is the quickest option? Maybe a riverboat. That makes even more sense given the location of Majesitc Star which was where a riverboat casino was going to go in a decade ago.

Think I am nuts? We will see.


Monday, March 26, 2007

the politics of small numbers or more hazy numbers out of Hazleton

I read this quote in the PG yesterday:

The U.S. Census Bureau says Hazleton has a population of 22,000. But a demographics expert hired by the city testified that Hazleton has perhaps 33,000 residents, 10 percent of whom could be illegal immigrants. (italics added)
So, lets deconstruct this a bit. In the last few years, Hazleton now claims it's population ballooned from 22 thousand to 33 thousand, an increase of 50% or 11 thousand. They also claim that 10% or 3,300 of them could be undocumented immigrants. Here is some video from the plaintiff's lawyer on the veracity of the testimony that generated those numbers. I thought they were claiming that all of this increase in population came from new immigrants. Now it's a fraction of that growth is supposedly coming from immigrants.

Even if there were no undocumented immigrants there before (a silly presumption by the way) then at a minimum the vast bulk of these new residents, 7,700 or more are perfectly allowed to be there. If there were any immigrants in the city in 2000, then an even larger part of the population increase must be made up of citizens or other undeniably legal residents.

So let's trust those numbers for a minute. Also let's forget any new immigrants for a moment. A city the size of Hazleton, 22 thousand, faced with a rapid influx of nearly 8 thousand people (i.e. the legal migrants who must have moved in according to the city's numbers) over just a few years would face enormous problems. It would inevitably cause strains on all public services, shortages of housing, crowded conditions everywhere and increases in crime... again, this is no matter where these new residents were coming from and whether they were foreign born or not.

It seems to me that if the main argument for most of the new laws being proposed is to prevent all these negative consequences of growth, he ought to oppose anyone moving into Hazelton period. Even if nary another soul arrives in town for year, it will be a decade or more before the city builds out to accommodate all this recent in-migration of citizens. I suppose he could even go so far as to prevent any more migration of residents from New Jersey or New York. Hazleton could be a Pennsylvanian-only zone. Or if things were really getting bad, they could declare most of the town blighted and get Luzerne county redevelop most of into a vast park. That ought to solve some of the population problem... for Hazleton at least.


Monday read board

If you saw either the PG or Trib pieces on reports recently released focusing on Pennsylvania local government, here are some of the reports they referenced:
If you are interested in that you may be interested in my web page primer on Regionalism and Local Government Fragmentation in the Pittsburgh Region and Allegheny County.

On a different topic.. but speaking of economics and journalism, here is an interesting piece on on U. Chicago Economics professor Matthew Gentzkow and his research looking at newspaper bias and related topics.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

apologies - no fare increase.... yet.

apologies. I briefly a long post based on how the Port Authority had approved a plan to increase its base fare from $1.75 to $2.50. That is incorrect. They actually decided to defer any decision on a rate increase until later.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Brain Gain PA

This is not anything new, but here is the latest data showing again that Pennsylvania is the largest net attractor of high school grads matriculating into college.


who will get the short straw?

The political news cycle continues to be caught up in the moment. but there is some future-looking news worth thinking about. A news blurb the other day mentions the continuing population decline in Allegheny County. What does this mean politically. I have projected that Allegheny County is likely to lose 2 state legislative districts after the not-too-distant census in 2010. Which two? who knows. The political deal last time around was that the different parties essentially controlled the redistricting of state offices within different parts of the state. In and around Pittsburgh, Dems had greater say compared to other parts of the state where Republicans pretty much controlled the process. Other factors come up. Retirements could play a role as could who is on the outs with party leadership at the time. 2010 may seem like a long time from now, but it really isn't. I bet someone has started to fire up those computer models.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

the butterfly strikes again

Consider how convoluted the path has been to this point. First off, let's consider where we were just a couple years ago.

Not too long ago, both the professional and insider pundits foretold a vertiable multitude of candidates for mayor. The reality was the opposite.

Then there was the phase where the question seemed to be whether there would be just a multitude of east end candidates that would dilute the vote for any one of them.

Then some said that the endorsement was going to be a nail biter. Must be that new math.

Then on the the day the LR campaign had its worst PR day thus far, the counter intuitive result was a strategic victory. It raises an interesting question, if people had thought BP might not run in the end, would any of the other other erstwhile candidates have entered the race?

Could BP be planning a campaign for the general election. When the prospect was for a bakers dozen of candidates I made the point that at least one of the major candidates would see that as the best strategy. I doubt that logic applies these days. There are some conflicting legal precedents on whether this is even a possibility given the fact that BP filed Democratic Party nomination petitions. I will let the legal beagles sort it out.

Ignoring the legal issues, it a general election run politically feasible. The analogy people want to throw out there is the Caliguiri example, but it is a lot more complex than people remember it. Again, I am not sure it applies to the current situation anyway.

What are the secondary impacts? Without a headline mayor's race and a virtually uncontested county executive race, turnout could be very very low. What the impact will be on the city controller and city council seats??? It could be an all-time low turnout for what its worth.

Last but not least. For the inside-the-party perspective of yesterday's events, I again point out the latest musings by PittsburghGuy.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

transit blogging

There is a new blog focused just on Transit in Pittsburgh. It's about time. Actually it's a critical time. Even though the news cycle is preoccupied on other things, this Friday March 23rd may be the most important date affecting the future of public transit in Allegheny County. The Port Authority executive board is meeting on that day and I presume they will be deciding the shape of cuts to come up for final approval at the full board meeting the following Friday March 30th. I do not think there will not be another board meeting before new routes are assigned to drivers for the coming year and any change at that point will become virtually impossible. So just a couple days, hours lets call it, is all that is really left before the Port Authority votes to implement some form of the cuts it has proposed.

In case you can't recall all the issues. Here is a compendium of past posts here on public transit issues:


Glass Glass Everywhere

The USAToday ran an AP story writing up all the Glass Happenings coming up in town. It's a full year of Pittsburgh Celebrating Glass:

and if any of that inspires you... you can sign up for classes at the PGC. Something even I have done and have several one-of-a-kind abstract orbs to prove it.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Have saw will travel..... and Inside the mind of the gaming control board

The ruling of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) is out and it gives some detailed explanation for their choice of Majestic Star over the other proposals. Most of it is unsurprising or pro-forma, but there are a few curious things hidden in there. All along, one of the main arguments for the Forest City/Station Square proposal was that it was going to be managed by Harrah's which had a reputation within the industry for high quality and successful casino operations. Buried in the report is the following footnote which says the PGCB didn't care at all about that at all:

Harrah’s Entertainment is not the “applicant” for this license nor does it have an ownership interest in Station Square gaming. Therefore, the success of Harrah’s Entertainment as a contractor are not a factor to be considered under Section 1325(c)(6). (footnote 9 page 68, or p. 72 of the PDF)

There are some other basic details worth thinking about. In particular the self-reported employment impact. Not to imply I trust the veracity of numbers self-reported by any of the applicants, but Majestic Star says building the casino will create 4,000 construction jobs. They don't say it but they must mean person-years of employment. That is obviously a ballpark guess, but given the scale of the project it is a decent enough number to start with. The important point is that Barden claims the casino will be built in a 14 month construction window. So those 4,000 jobs will all be concentrated over the course of a year or so. That means the project will have a much bigger impact on the local construction market than if it was spread out over 2 or more years.

Remember when two stadia were being built in town along with a few other big projects. There was a point where the local construction industry was highly strained. Just a quick list, but as I observe it at some point pretty soon there is going to be a number of big construction projects going on all at the same time: a fast-tracked casino will be labor intensive, the North Shore Connector ramping up (or down I suppose) construction, let's not forget the new arena, the PNC building downtown as well as ongoing construction of Children's hospital, and this new amphitheater on the North Shore (ok, that may not count as big like the other things but it adds up)... The list could go on with some other things we already anticipate, but the point is simple enough: can the local construction market handle all this activity at once? At the very least it is just another reason to doubt any fast-track scheduling for the casino construction. Anyone want to bet that there will be a headline at some point to the effect of: casino opening delayed by pace of construction, or lack of construction workers or structural steel means casino not to open until 09. You almost are in the situation of hoping for a national building recession which frees workers elsewhere who would be willing to come here for the season.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Ypsilanti meets Yarone

Lest anyone think this is a political post... I just think it is hilarious. I presume this is not an early April Fool's post: It seems that the youngest member of the Ypsilanti City Council was in town over the weekend and showed up unannounced at the mayor's office expecting an immediate audience. Something about feeling the 'brotherhood*' of elected officials. Strange enough right there, but he seems to be affronted that he only got through to Yarone after great effort. Sounds like he then took the opportunity to lecture ol' Yarone on somebody's definition of 'professional courtesy'. Think about this whole episode for a sec. Someone shows up at the Mayor's door on St. Patrick's Day, the 2nd biggest St. Patty's day in the nation any local news outlet will tell you, half the city is drunk, it's the middle of an election season no less and says he would like to walk right in and immediately see the mayor. Honestly, I would have let the guy in just becasue I figure anyone creative enough to pretend to be on the Ypsilanti city council deserves a minute of the mayor's time. Mostly I give the staff up on the 5th floor a lot of credit for not calling Mayview. You can't make this stuff up.

Next time have your people call his people to set something up... that or just try calling ahead.

* must not be many women in office in Ypsilanti.


Ypsilanti has responded and they say I have been cupcaked. Have I? See the comments and some of the other posts on the East Cross Street blog.


Why is the ICA concerned about casino revenue?

A passing news blurb mentions how the ICA wants some casino revenue to be guaranteed by the state even before our casino opens. Contrast that with this earlier news blurb from last month about how the city has a 'big' surplus of $38.8 million.

Why would the ICA be so concerned if things were looking up for city finances? One reason is that the city budget projections count on revenue from the casino coming in next year. I'd have to go check, but I bet the budget counts on some casino revenue this year. You really need to look carefully at the previous year's finances, which are said to have ended with $25 million in the bank. Superficially you may think that going from a $25 year-end balance in 2005 to $38 mil at the end of 2006 is a good sign. You have to dig just a tad deeper than that. Just consider that in 2006 the city:

  • Borrowed $50 million additional dollars.*

  • Deferred ~$12 million in debt payments coming due into future years

  • Received at least $10 million in one-time payments from the state for capital purchases.

  • had more unfilled positions than planned as city employees rushed to retire before Jan 1, 2006 when certain retirement benefits would expire.
All to end up with $38 million in the bank. In Wall Street terms the cash burn is remarkably high. If the city was just breaking even with its budget, given the new borrowing and debt deferment alone the money in the bank would have ended the year in $75-85 million range. Think about those numbers a bit. As I have said before, both candidates for mayor ought to be careful what they wish for.

* Read carefully the Series C part of the bonds floated in June.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Meet the Bloggers - In Cleveland that is

Move over Tim, George and Bob. Is somebody already doing this here? In Cleveland you can MEET THE BLOGGERS. Sure seems like an idea for PCTV.

Speaking of Ohio... has anyone noticed that there are currently commericals being run on local Pittsburgh TV stations that advertise the advantages of living and working in Jefferson County, Ohio. I was going to say it is just a sign of Pittsburgh's exurban expansion, but that technically wouldn't be correct because Jefferson County is already the core of the Steubenville MSA. In fact, Jefferson County is on the other side of two WV counties: Brooke and Hancock, so if Pittsburgh is touching Jefferson County, it must be touching more of WV as well.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

more pseudo stocks to trade

Prompted by Mike M., here are a few more psuedo stocks to trade.

  • Who will win the Democratic Party nomination for Mayor?

  • Who will win the Democratic Party nomination for City Controller?

  • and ongoing:

  • When will a casino open in the City of Pittsburgh?

  • Also, here is a new reference link for all of these:
    For those who saw it, I had created a blog page to keep track of the trading, but it didn't really work. This new page will have the current market tickers.


    Friday, March 16, 2007

    it really is time to call up Gus from AAA....

    ..... and as for Phil: waiver wire!


    mock the Swiss at your peril

    trivia you may not care about... though I am curious why it was fodder for this column in the PG yesterday. It was actually a news story last month that a squad of unarmed Swiss soldiers inadvertently 'invaded' Liechtenstein. Now I think visiting Switzerland is a lot of fun, but I would be fearful of mocking their military capabilities. Most consider Switzerland the most militarized country in the world with more soldiers per capita than any advanced industrial nation. A universal draft is in place and just about every able bodied male is a reservist their entire life. If you do any hiking in Switzerland, you are likely to come across the caches of weapons, and an occassional armored vehicle, they have stashed away so they can all defend the mountains on a moments notice. Those picturesque bridges you go over... all fully wired with explosives. Back in the cold war days, the Swiss were spending a lot of money to build a bomb shelter for every citizen, and by bomb they really meant nuclear bomb. As John McPhee quotes in his book La Place de la Concorde Suisse: "Switzerland does not have an army," says a Swiss officer "Switzerland is an army".


    Thursday, March 15, 2007

    How many immigrants are in Hazleton?

    So let me get this right. The Mayor of Hazleton says that the population of his city has gone from 22K to 33K "mainly because of Hispanic immigrants" in just the last few years.

    Huh? like how is that possible. The entire population of Hazleton in 2000 was 23,264. Somehow the city has grown by 50% since then, and somehow it's all Hispanic immigrants. Yet, the city seems to be declining through the end of 2002 according to this article. and the growth is caused not just by immigrants, but specifically Hispanic immigrants. If that were even conceivable, wouldn't you think the poor guy would have a lot more problems to deal with than whether some of these new Hazletonians had visa's or not. Even if you doubt population counts, I think we have a decent count of housing units out there. With a total of 11,523, housing units in Hazleton where are all of these people living? Unless every single house or apartment suddenly took in an extra resident then it is inconceivable that many people are there. Imagine if 160K people showed up in Pittsburgh next year, would the number one story be about whether some of them didn't have visas, or would it be about what we were putting in the water.

    I'm sorry, but no matter what you think about immigration, this whole Hazleton topic has careened over the edge into demagogic posturing if not something worse. I came to that conclusion a few months ago when I caught a few minutes of a local radio interview with the mayor of Hazelton. The host was all upbeat on the mayor and saying what a great American he was and all of that. The theme was all about how he was only opposed to the illegal immigrants, not immigration in general. Then they took a call from someone who said be had grown up in Scranton and how he wished the mayor had been in charge back then because he would have stopped the influx of Puerto Ricans who moved in decades ago. They thanked the caller and the backslapping with the mayor continued right on.. Did anyone bother to mention that Puerto Ricans are AMERICAN CITIZENS...every single one of them. NO!! Not only that, but they are citizens at birth just like most of us. I even served with a large part of the Puerto Rican national guard when they were mobilized and sent overseas a few years ago. So this facade that this is only about illegal or undocumented immigrants is a fraud. There can't be any distinction being made between legal and illegal immigrants if they are fostering opposition to people who are not immigrants at all.


    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    maps maps and more maps

    I thought it might be good to repost some old election maps now that election season is gearing up again... instead I thought I should be efficient about it and made up this index page of maps I have posted in the past. Just fyi.


    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    joblessness and race

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an article today on some research out of the Univ. of Wisconsin/Milwaukee on racial disparities in labor force participation. In their benchmarking Milwaukee has one of the highest rates of joblessness among working age African American males. The one city with higher Black male joblessness: Pittsburgh. See their graphic.

    Just to avoid any confusion, I think this data refers to city specific jobless rates, not county or region data. Also, this is not unemployment rate data, but joblessness which I think is meant to be the inverse of labor force participation.

    For those interested, some local regional trends in unemployment rates by race and gender in Pittsburgh we put into the last issue of our PEQ, see page 7.


    Help me re-start the Pittsburgh Stock Market ... really

    Once Pittsburgh hosted the world's major oil exchange, later to become the Pittsburgh Stock exchange. The Burgh's own stock exchange would finally close in 1974 I believe.... but I have an idea that needs your help: Let's re-start the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange (sort of). There are now a plethora of online prediction markets that can help. Most only allow for users to buy and sell a fixed set of notional contracts, usually major events or major political races. Only a few allow you to create your own markets for things with more limited interest. Wouldn't it be great to have a market that could predict things like whether the Penguins will stay in town, or when the casino will open? We can do this.

    So tried a number of sites that allow for ad-hoc markets.. most were pretty clunky to use, or seemed to have severe bandwidth/server issues. The one that worked best in my quick review was Inkling. So using their website I have created a number of contracts pertaining to events important here in the Burgh. Specifically it is now possible to bet I mean invest funny money on the answer to these questions which I have created 'markets' for:

    1. When will a casino open in Pittsburgh

    2. Will the Penguins announce relocation on or before April 1st, 2007

    This is all a work in progress obviously. I will need to make some fixed site for these links, just so people can find them in the future. But there is no reason you can't bookmark those sites now.

    The upside: if enough people participate, this could be the optimal predictor of a lot of things. Could be fun to see if the predictions that come out of the market wind up to be accurate. Get in on the ground floor, as they say.

    The downside: you need to register with inking to use the system. (how? see the top right of the main Inkling page where it has a box labeled "sign up" which will then ask you to "send your email address" to get started). Who wants to register for another website I know? Also, you can't really win any money. If you could this would be tantamount to gambling and illegal to do on your own. So the only real payoff from doing well in these virtual markets is the satisfaction of doing well. I will add in whatever notoriety this blog can offer to those who do well trading in theses contracts. Not quite sure what that means right now, but I am open to suggestions.

    Could be fun? Try it out if you can. I actually worked on this over the weekend and really told nobody about it. I just checked and there is already some activity in these markets.


    Monday, March 12, 2007

    Tax Abatements and Philly

    I feel obliged to comment on Bill Toland's piece looking at the effect Philadelphia's tax abatement has had on residential development and population trends out east. Most have probably read my oped a couple weeks ago which attempted to make the case that any tax abatement scheme we put in place here needs to be a city-wide abatement and not something focused on any set of neighborhoods.

    The one theme I read in Toland piece, and something I agree with entirely, is that Philadelphia is not Pittsburgh. It really is a tenuous argument to ever compare Pittsburgh directly to other large cities. While some problems and issues are similar in different places, many are not and Pittsburgh is an outlier in so many ways.

    One big difference between Philly and Pittsburgh that makes it a stronger case for a city-wide tax abatement here is the potential impact of lost revenue. The core argument against a city-wide tax abatement is as Toland seems to opine in the middle of the article is that:
    Pittsburgh, which is much smaller geographically than Philadelphia, must be more careful about forfeiting potential revenue than its eastern brother.
    The problem is, we have much much much less potential revenue to worry about forgoing. Those who just read my oped online and not in print may not have seen some building permits data I had them include with the piece as a graphic. Here is the single most important fact affecting the future of the city: building permits for residential construction in the city are at all time lows... all time! as in ever! and that includes the new construction coming online downtown. Even if you do not net that out, or if you look specifically at single family homes, you will see that there is minimal private residential investment going on within the city and not much more being planned. It really is rather scary in that there is not enough construction activity to come close to offset even natural depreciation that is taking place within the oldest housing stock in the nation. My friends who believe in the efficacy of the land tax make strong note of how residential construction has pretty much died off completely since Pittsburgh killed off the two tier tax just a few years ago. That has to be a bigger issue than just the land tax, but it is a telling trend.

    and the thing about single family housing, or lack thereof, is that that really is the bellweather for any hope to retain the families that are moving out to the suburbs. The city can't survive as a place full of students and elderly residents, at least not without an entirely different structure than is on the horizon anytime soon. City and school district tax revenues rely on a earned income tax on residents.. neither students nor elderly contribute much of that, and also property taxes, but students really generate a much smaller amount of property tax per person (whether they be renters or owners) than your average family house.

    The bottom line is that the potential loss of abating future tax revenues is moot if there is no potential investment that will increment the tax base. As Toland reminds us, Pittsburgh is geographically smaller than Philly.. That means lots of things but mostly that a lot of core urban problems are more concentrated here than in Philly. What would be a semi-suburban, but still within the city, neighborhood out there is more than likely to be its own municipality out here. Thus a lot of core urban disinvestment is disproportionaly ours as well. Is there really a tax revenue hit that will come from abating future investment in Homewood or Garfield or just about any other neighborhood in the city? Something needs to be done to encourage people to invest and stay in these neighborhoods and not continue moving out to the suburbs. There just isn't a store worth worrying about giving away at this point. It's like putting out a sea anchor in a hurricane. Abate it all I say..... the only other option is sinking.


    Sunday, March 11, 2007

    the week ahead

    What do we have to look forward to this week? It's going to be all Penguins all the time? Let’s describe what this week’s news cycle is going to be. First there’s going to be the pre-announcement vigil that will continue until there is hard news. Then there will be some announcement telling us what will become of hockey in Pittsburgh. That will be followed by the tsunami of emotion, either euphoria or disappointment depending on circumstances, followed by a never ending period of analysis and pontification over what just happened and who gets the credit or the blame. And somewhere in the middle of all that there may be a hockey game or two played along the way.

    Obligatory historical musing. I learn from that a) Pittsburgh only loss of a professional sports team cme in 1929 when the Pittsburgh Pirates moved the franchise across the state to become the Philadelphia Quakers, and b) they used to play professional hockey inside Duranti's.

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    Saturday, March 10, 2007

    PIT → BWI → KEF → IFJ

    At the risk of sounding like an advertisment.. I think it's great news that Southwest is adding some Pittsburgh to Baltimore flights. What is means is that it will now be possible to make a cheap connection with the Baltimore hub of IcelandAir.

    This is a picture I took myself of Gullfoss, the largest waterfalls in Europe. Long long ago when content on the web was kind of sparse I had a bunch of Iceland pictures on my web page. People browsing with mosaic and searching with veronica from all over world would occassionaly send me email to comment on them. Some of these old pictures are here.


    Friday, March 09, 2007

    more East Liberty

    a master's thesis from MIT really worth a look:

    East of Liberty: Reclaiming Main Street.

    By Nathalie M. Westervelt
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    February 2006

    I am unclear if this is directly related to the East of Liberty documentary, the promo of which is available on youtube. Also worth watching.

    Anyone remember Mannesmann's?


    Thursday, March 08, 2007

    correcting the history - Pittsburgh's long history of political fratricide

    So this is a correction of sorts. I explained it correctly in this old post, but elsewhere and in person, I have incorrectly explained the episode in 1977 when then-acting-Mayor Caliguiri sat out the primary but later ran as an independent in the general election for mayor.

    My error, and apparently the error of others (see the current version of the Caliguiri Wikipedia entry, which is also incorrect), was in thinking Mayor Caliguiri ran in the primary in 1977 and that, only after losing, did he declare as an independent and go on to defeat Tom Foerster in the general election that year. That is not how it happened.

    The correct history goes like this: Louis Mason was City Council president from 1970-1977 and only because of illness did he announce his resignation in February of 1977. At the time, there was an expectation that Mayor Flaherty would take a position in the newly elected Carter administration. Thus it was expected that the person selected to replace Mason as City Council prez would become acting mayor in short order and remain in office through the general election in the fall. City Council included several potential mayoral candidates and there was a compromise consensus that the potential City Council prez/acting mayor should be someone not planning to run for mayor. Caliguiri was that compromise choice and replaced Mason. Flaherty became deputy attorney general (when Flaherty was nominated in March, fellow Pennsylvanian Richard Thornburgh was briefly acting deputy attorney general - the two would run against each other for Governor a year later), Caliguiri became acting Mayor, and neither sought the Democratic endorsement for mayor nor ran in the primary that year. Tom Foerster handily won the ACDC endorsement that year (a 537-150 blowout btw) and then the primary against a number of other candidates.

    Several bits of trivia. If it wasn't Caliguiri, who was defeated in the 1977 Democratic ACDC endorsement? Councilman Richard Givens of Lawrenceville. Also, Caliguiri had run for mayor 4 year earlier but had actually won the ACDC endorsement by defeating then-incumbent Pete Flaherty. So it is not the case that Caliguiri ever lost the ACDC endorsement, though he would lose the 1973 primary to Flaherty. Flaherty had actually beaten the endorsed Democrat twice, first Harry Kramer who had been unanimously endorsed in 1969 and then Caliguiri in 1973. And a bit of counterfactual history: if Louis Mason had stayed in office, as people wanted him to do, he would have become Pittsburgh's first African-American mayor.

    At that point things get ugly. Some believed Caliguiri had promised to stay out of the race for mayor, period. But Caliguiri claimed he had only promised to stay out of the primary election. He would subsequently change his registration to independent, which he had to do in order to run for mayor in the general election. Despite Foerster on the ballot as the nominated Democrat as well as a Republican: Tom* Joe Cosetti, who had been City treasurer under Flaherty and who had switched parties just before nomination petitions were due. Caliguiri won the 1977 general election and remained in office. The general discontent fostered by the whole episode persists to this day in some of the animosities that still exist between factions/families within the party.

    Makes all the current machinations seem pretty boring.

    * an anonymous comment pointed out my error. It was Joe Cosetti, not Tom. Thanks.


    Wednesday, March 07, 2007

    So you think parking is expensive now?

    Has anyone come up with an estimated impact on parking prices Downtown if the Port Authority goes through with their proposed cuts? Has anyone even asked the question?

    Lets try this. To be clear, this isn't an in-depth analysis.. I'd call it a back of the envelope estimate. The current plan is to cut 60% of PAT routes. Supposedly that will translate into a ridership loss of around 10%. Those are their projections fwiw. That seems a little low, but since they are cutting the less-used routes it's possible. I would put good money that they are undercounting secondary ridership losses. Even people whose routes are not being eliminated will see greater crowding. As a result some additional people are going to shift away from using public transit, if not in the short run then eventually. So lets just say it's a 10-15% ridership loss.

    Right now I would peg the number of people who commute for work into Downtown on public transit at just over 30K people/day. Taking just 10-15% of that translates into 3-5K new commuters who are most likely going to be driving to work. At 1 person per car it's 3-5K more cars seeking parking close to town. Some may carpool, but these new drivers will not be part of established commuting patterns... so it may be hard to find a partner to drive with. If it were 2 persons/car you get 1.5-2.5K more cars driving into town. Carpooling with 3 or more people per car is so rare here that it's not worth accounting for.

    Is that a lot? How many parking spaces are downtown? Let's say there are 25K core downtown parking spaces. So an increase of 1.5-5K cars may not seem unmanageable, but it translates into a 6-20% jump. That is pretty significant even at the low end. Consider that parking utilization in core lots Downtown is already near capacity. Parking supply is pretty fixed in the short run, i.e. no new parking spaces about to come online to absorb the new drivers. Even in the longer run, space downtown is at a premium. Econ 101 tells you that if supply is inelastic, consumers will wind up paying a higher price if demand increases.

    I have no precise amount that will translate to in terms of increased parking rates, but does anyone want to bet that parking rates will not go up after the PAT routes are cut. For PR reasons it may not be immediately after the routes are cut, but not too long in the future. How much? Just a SWAG but what if daily rates to up $1/day. That applies to everyone so it means an aggregate $25K/day collected by parking operators. Over the course of a year say $6-9 million/year from consumers. No reason to think that $1 increase could not become a $2 increase in short order. And that is all just Downtown, it could be more if you look at other areas within the city and region. What about all this new residential housing downtown, do people really think all these new, and fairly affluent, condo dwellers are not going to have any cars whatsoever. What about the casino which is going to have a big impact on parking and traffic flows in and around Downtown. The silver lining? Maybe the city budget can be balanced with this. With the parking tax being what it is, the windfall will go to both the lot owners, but also to the city which takes its cut off the gross revenues.

    Maybe they will have to bring back this old advertisement.. Of course, most drivers who want to switch to the bus won't have that option anymore. The proposed routes are concentrated in the areas where ridership is already pretty high.. if not near saturation.. Any Every route into areas where commuting is mixed between auto and public transit will be cut; efficiency in the eyes of the Port Authority for sure... just not to anyone else. They can also save on their future advertising budget since what would be the point.


    Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    Mill Towns (in Massachusetts)

    Thanks to for mentioning this report put out by MassInc on the state and future of Massachusetts' Mill Towns.

    We have a few of these.


    Generation Next

    This may be about as comprehensive as it gets to surveying the attitudes of today's 'young people'. The Pew Research Center has an omnibus report:

    A Survey Conducted in Association with: The Generation Next Initiative
    and Documentary produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions


    Monday, March 05, 2007


    I suppose it's impossible not to have a few passing comments on the endorsement vote yesterday. Here are a few thoughts beyond what the papers have gotten into.

    On Allegheny County council the number of incumbents who lost the endorsement vote is interesting in lots of ways. There are not many legislative bodies in the US that don't have high retention rates.. but for District 13 where Brenda Frazier lost the endorsement, there are some implications beyond the obvious. When Allegheny County Council was first districted there was only one packed majority-minority district. That a 2nd African American was elected was the result of a very broken field in that first race. If the endorsement vote is indicative of a unified opposition to her in the primary, she will have a tough fight for re-election. If she loses, the 15-member county council will have only one minority member. Just something to think about.

    The city controller's race seems to put to rest the idea that everything is being driven by the coattails of the late B.O. If that were true, Doug Shields would have had a much better showing, at least within the ACDC. That he didn't even come in 2nd says there is a lot more going on.

    Which gets to the mayor's race. For that I will just pass on these comments by Pittsburgh Guy which has to be the most expansive explanation actually written out (ever?) of the sentiments within the AC Democratic committee. Since this person is a) a blogger b) relatively young by Pittsburgh voter standards, and c) an east ender I would guess (just a guess, I could be wrong) you would think he was a potential BP supporter.


    Sunday, March 04, 2007

    Cool London Transit Graphic

    This is actually a quicktime file, but it worked for me. A pretty cool dynamic graphic showing the NeXus at the Univ of Minnesota.

    I had to click on the picture to get it to 'play'. Note the dedensification that comes in near the end.


    Saturday, March 03, 2007

    casino appeals.... huh?

    Just before the casino license decision I had mused that it would be ironic if Majestic Star won after all the attention had been focused on whether it would be Isle of Capri or Harrahs. I wish I had made that a formal prediction, but I hedged. It would not have been that unreasonable as a prediction despite common wisdom to the contrary. Harrahs had recently announced a corporate buyout that questioned their commitment to this project. Isle of Capri was getting hit with the mounting local opposition in the Hill District and there were public rumblings on Wall Street that because of the new arena promise they were committing to a bigger expense than was justified. Even if it was only by default, Majestic Star was clearly in the running even though everyone had written them off.

    The thing is.. for Harrahs, the earlier questions are still there. For that reason I thought they would just cut their losses and move on. Isle of Capri is a different case, but still I didnt think it would be worth the effort to appeal. The criteria by which the Gambling boards decision could be overturned is a really impossible bar to reach. Thus I really wonder.. is this a legitimate attempt by either of them to wrest the license from Don Barden or is it just a case of sour grapes. For relatively minimal cost, they can impose some real costs on a competitior. The potential hit is pretty huge. The delay itself is probably $millions in revenue next year. The bigger problem is how can Don Barden enter into an agreement with the SEA over the funding of a new sports venue if he can't say for sure he has the license. Makes the whole Penguins deal even dicier. So that is all left up in the air.

    How long it takes to resolve?? I have no idea. There was one appeal before these and I think it was adjudicated by the supreme court rather swiftly. But if it really drags on who knows what it means.

    One thing that did irk me a little this week was Majestic Star saying that delays in obtaining the licensing will delay the opening here. There has not been any abnormal delay. In fact, most of the delays thus far should have been anticipated from the beginning. Even the latest news on the appeals is irrelevant in that the appeals process itself is a clearly identified part of the process. So the earlier predictions that there could be a casino open here my March of 2008 were never credible. Even before the appeals they were saying summer 2008 at the earliest. With any delay caused by these appeals it is now the fall if everything else goes smoothly. Anyone really believe any development in the region can proceed at an optimal pace? Sure sounds to me we are talking very late 2008 or 2009 which will have real implications for the city's budget if casino revenues don't even happen in 08.


    Friday, March 02, 2007

    rant alert

    OK, I know many of my posts are rant-like enough already, but this is just pure rant. There are just too many important things going on in the world to rationalize this continuing obsession with the plight of Anna Nicole Smith's remains. What is wrong with us? and yes, for those who wonder about such things, the rest of the world thinks we are nuts when they see us focusing on things like this. It's embarrassing.

    But the two degrees of Pittsburgh strikes again. A friend reminded me of a bit of personal and Pittsburgh trivia related to all of this. The media has dutifully reported that the Broward County Coroner used to be the coroner here in Allegheny County. The scary thing is.... I can even connect myself to the good Dr. Perper. Apparently it must not pay a lot to be coroner, or deputy coroner or whatever he was way back when. Dr. Perper also moonlighted at the military entrance processing station in Federal building downtown. So this is not just me, but like most of a generation who enlisted here, when I joined America's 17th line of defense long ago, it was Dr. Perper who poked and prodded and had to approve the deal. Thus I have the rare privilege of being examined by the man while I still had a pulse. I am sure his signature is buried on some piece of paperwork buried in my personal record. Given the lunacy of the media coverage, if I could find it do you think could I sell it for anything on ebay?

    Yeah, I know you were all dying to know that.


    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    Pitt News editorial: City Lacks a Reputation

    I am not mentioning this because of my own quotes in it, but I think the Pitt News has a good article today covering all the various perspectives on the eternal questions over Pittsburgh's retention of young people.. For more see:

    City Lacks a Reputation
    February 28, 2007.
    Assistant News Editor. Pitt News

    In fact, I am not sure I remember talking to the fellow, but those are clearly my quotes. The single most important quote in it comes from a recruiting person at ALCOA who said:
    "There are plenty of opportunities here in Pittsburgh for young people. And a company doesn't like to have to pay to relocate a new hire, so it's always a plus to find homegrown employees."
    That is the single most important perspective to understand labor force migration in Pittsburgh. Lots of local college graduates means that local companies find plenty of job-seeking graduates to fill their recruiting needs and they like that. Its means lower cost for them, both in search and relocation costs, and likely gets you workers who are less likely to move away over the long run. Lots of local employers have gotten out of the habit, not that they were ever in that habit, of recruiting for workers nationally the way their competitiors in lots of other regions need to. What that means however is that we don't attract as many people moving into the region as would be typical elsewhere. That is an issue unto itself but it means the whole issue about "keeping our young people" is not exactly the problem that absolutley everyone thinks it is. Some may recall that this is a theme of mine going back a few years, especially to my thoughts on the infamous Border Guard Bob.


    On Carrie Furnace

    I am a broken record I know... but I think there are a few new people reading these days. If you saw the article about a bill proposed by our two senators that would make the Carrie Furnace site into a Steel Industry National Historic Site, you may be interested in what was done at the nearly identical Thyssen Steel plant in Duisburg Germany. Now called Landscape Park. I have some pictures here: