Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why cities grow and shrink

Really worth a read is an analysis piece from Inman News: Why Cities Grow and Shrink


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leave it to Mayor Murphy to point out the obvious:

"As Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute and former Mayor of Pittsburgh Tom Murphy said, "I think a large part of (urban growth) is demographics. The population is moving from what we would call an Ozzie and Harriet concept of development -- mom, dad, two kids, white picket fence -- to households that are far more diverse," he said."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 4:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the articles Chris, and three cheers for Mayor Murphy. Kind of funny though to see his name and "loss-leader" in the same sentence. But you know, every time Murphy sneezes some Pittsburghers will still blame him for starting the plague. Can't please everyone.

I just watched the Steelers game yesterday afternoon with a 1979 CMU EE grad who's lived in L.A. for the past 20 years. He enjoyed his 4 years in Pittsburgh and he hit it on the head when he observed that, considering the huge loss of its primary industry, the city bounced back and is a success story. Yes, that's obvious, but it bears repeating.

And regarding that "obvious" Murphy quote, here's the way journalists sometimes work Frank: They interview someone at length who says a lot of things that are interesting and fresh, then the journalist picks a quote or two, sometimes "obvious" ones, that often illustrate points that are being made in the story.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 8:50:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

it is semi-coincidental that I am in Toronto speaking on Pittsburgh's history and TM will be speaking after me. I was actually going to make that post a longer one saying something close to that, i.e. that you have to evaluate our successes or failures in terms of how much change there has been here. It is one of the odder dichotomies that people from elsewhere (elsewhere in the US, or especially elsewhere in the world) see us as much more of a success than we ever do. The truth is that there is no one answer to how we are doing, there is a lot of good and bad in there somewhere. But I will make that all into a longer rantlike post in the future..

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm a bit iffy on exactly what caused the plague, but I think it involved rats and fleas. Neither of which can really be held responsible for their actions. On the other hand, Murphy raised taxes, cut services and still left the city bankrupt. And he did it in his third term, so he can’t even blame his predecessors that much. I realize that he cannot be blamed for everything wrong with Pittsburgh. But, he can be blamed for enough of it that he should shut up and stay away from telling people how to run cities.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 10:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you know, people are asking him. Maybe he's smarter about it than Pittsburghers give him credit for?

I've always thought he gets a bit too much flak (flack?) and a bit too little credit. He wasn't perfect but I think he did wonders with the riverfront and the convention center, among other things. And I think he was simply ahead of his time on Downtown redevelopment, and wound up with a bad plan because he was so desperate to realize his vision. Yes, it was a bad plan, but I do think he sparked an interest in Downtown that may have lead to the good things we see there today (or at least sped them up).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 9:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I pay more for the tax on parking (not the whole of parking) than I do on gas. In 2003-4, his administration appealed the valuation of my house and the house of everyone I knew who lived in the city. Nearly everyone I knew in the city in 2003 has either left the region or moved to the suburbs.

He sunk hundreds of millions into the pension fund without actually doing anything to make it solvent. I assume he figured he could always just take more from the taxpayers.

He wasn't ahead of his time. He just didn’t care about the taxpayers and would spend their money on anything he could stick is name on the side of. He didn’t care if it was built well or if it was useful. What mattered was getting the support of the people who would be paid to build whatever white elephant could get federal matching funds.

As for Tom Murphy’s vision, that at $2.00 will get him a cup of coffee. And at least he can’t spend my $2.00 anymore. Until somebody visualizes how to keep city costs in line with a declining tax base, they can go visualize a pig’s ass.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also believe that Pittsburgh, and the region for that matter, held up miraculously well after what happened in the 80s. There were some dark days, but the city and its region I believe have better days are ahead. There are some things that are in state government's hands regarding taxes, and it's more of a Pennsylvania problem. But compared with Detroit, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Cleveland, we're in a better position.

I was no big fan of Mayor Murphy, and I was a critic when he brought the Home Depot to East Liberty, but we have to ask ourselves if the subsequent development of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Borders, Red Room, and other plans would have ever happened had Home Depot not been there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 2:45:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Clearly TM has entered the world of Skybus, the MFE and other things that people divide completely over around here.

on just the east liberty comment above. I have heard that the eastside developer does give most of the credit for it happening to the Murphy administration fwiw.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 4:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have only been following this blog since I found it looking for election commentary. I’m not sure what Skybus and MFE are and I certainly was not aware that Murphy was divisive. I hadn’t heard anything positive about him before Anon’s comment. Granted, I moved to Pittsburgh in 2002, so if Murphy had glory years, I missed them and his last two years cost me too much money to care about what he did before. Most of what I’ve heard/said about Murphy is not something I would ever put in print or even repeat in front of a stranger.

Just in case Anon is Murphy in cyber-drag, it may cheer him to know that I feel pretty much the same way, if less strongly, about the rest of the local Democrats and 95% of the state legislature.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 8:22:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

it's kind of fascinating to hear what perspectives people have, or what background they bring. MFE=Mon Fayette Expressway which has been in the news a lot since 2002. Skybus is.. well, Skybus but an older history that many have forgotten but is much the same level of debate. I don't know about glory years, but TM was in office 12 years which I think is some record since Lawrence was mayor. I guess it its true that if one moved to Pittsburgh in 2002, you would never have been here during any of the 3 elections he won. I think the link I had in ean earlier post gives some flavor to the earlier campaigns. If this link works here:

Thursday, November 29, 2007 6:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did say he wasn't perfect. Which in other words means I don't like *everything* he did. But I do like some of the things he did, including the "white elephant" convention center. He's also responsible for the renovation of the Hot Metal Bridge. They finally finished that project recently, and at the grand opening of the pedestrian walkway yesterday I saw hundreds of people. And when the mayor thanked TM for conceiving the idea in the first place, I heard nothing but applause.

As for the parking tax, what choice did the city have but to raise it? (And don't anyone say cost cutting, there's been a lot of that too, much of it started under TM. New revenues were also needed). The state's got the city's hands tied on most taxes. But it was and is only a temporary increase. It's going down every year. (Sadly the parking authority isn't lowering rates in accordance, but that's hardly TM's fault).

As for the comment that most people you know have moved out of the city, that means nothing. Look at the census numbers for the city versus the county sometime. I believe you can find them if you do some digging on this very blog.

Sorry if I sound argumentative. I don't love TM, I know he made some mistakes, but I think he deserves some credit that he rarely gets.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 9:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Murphy Administraton early on identified potential sites for development, and East Liberty had prime potential, primarily because the parking lots were large underutilized sites under public control. Home Depot then signaled two important things to other developers: That with the right product people from different kinds of backgrounds would come to East Liberty (including suburbanites), and there was political support for big box retail in the city.

Home Depot, like the Sears it replaced, is a functionally classless retailer. Rich and poor, working and idle, all use it regularly, including a number of small contactors that could in turn rebuild the housing stock.

Ironically, what followed was Whole Foods, which was sold and subsidized as providing unavailable food for the inner city poor (nevermind the Giant Eagle across the street, or the high prices). Then the rest of Eastside.

Gentrification is a whole lot easier than bringing people together that do not normally come together. And the city had more of an opportunity to create a unique retail value proposition in the city by exploiting their concentration of the rich (with high end retail) than their poor.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all of the new retail and entertainment in East Liberty is upscale. There are several new shops in East Liberty that cater to neighborhood needs, the Shadow Lounge gets young people of all races and incomes, the E. Lib Carnegie Library will undergo renovation, and a new Goodwill store opened across from Borders. It does seem to be a good mix for people who live there, and I see all income groups and races shopping at Borders, Walgreens, the liquor store, and even Whole Foods and Giant Eagle. Plus there is new mixed-income housing going up near Negley and Penn and to the east of Penn Circle. So it's not all done for high-income people, because the East Liberty and Shadyside areas all shop there. What is there serves neighborhood needs, and gets a lot of suburban traffic because some of those stores are the only ones inthe market.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am aware of the Mon Fayette Expressway, I just missed the abbreviation.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not cost cutting? The city is shrinking and if it doesn’t cut costs, taxes and debt will continue to rise. My personal preference would be to lay-off all of the senior management first, but revenge probably isn’t a good budgeting strategy. Basically, if someone want to cut something, I’m all for it. As near as I can tell, you have to know somebody to get city services anyway.

I know the state has the city’s hands tied on my taxes. Small favors from Harrisburg. If the city’s hands weren’t tied, I’d hate to think what taxes would be. I know that TM isn’t responsible for what happened afterwards, but it is still the machine that hasn’t cut those parking rates. The parking authority controls most of the spots.

You are of course correct that by 2003, the city had no choice but to raise the parking tax. That is the source of my ire at Murphy. Cost cutting (even cost controlling) over those twelve years could have avoided the crisis.

And what is wrong with Whole Foods. I mean aside from the fact that it was subsidized (see my views on cost-cutting above). Yes, it is expensive, but, unlike property taxes, I get to decide for myself if they have something better worth paying that higher price. I am much more willing to pay for good food than I am to pay for a convention center that I’ve only been to once and that was apparently built poorly. And it was only competition that got Giant Eagle to actually sink some investment into its stores.

Additionally, Eastside is a nice shopping center, but it hardly serves the “rich” exclusively. Most of those people in Whole Foods are not rich except in minds of people who want to raise their taxes.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's funny that you and Murphy shared the bill Chris. A couple years ago a friend of mine who runs a NYC research center at the New School emailed me for some inside perspective on Murphy because he and a bunch of other mayors were doing a panel on urban development. My friend said that Murphy got the crowd fired up because he was the only outspoken pol in the bunch. Admittedly, though, Murphy was out of office by then and didn't have to pull punches.

Let's start the campaign here to name the Hot Metal pedestrian bridge after him!

Friday, November 30, 2007 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

my honest thought is that the subject is a bit too raw for that to get too far just yet. mh's comments puts a point on that. Though I do believe both friends and foes alike give credit for all things trail-related in the city to the Murphy administration. When you consider that BO did get the Schenley Golf Course named for him it would seem to make sense.

hmm.. let's just spell it out and let Google's sentience do the work. What would it be called: the "Tom Murphy Hot Metal Bridge".

If I don't get any hate mail on that I'll put it up as a post of its own.

Friday, November 30, 2007 4:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why not cost cutting?"

I didn't say the city shouldn't cut costs. Just that that is not enough on its own. Should more be done? Yeah. Should more have been done sooner? Yeah. But I was never trying to claim that TM did nothing wrong. I made it quite clear that I don't like everything about him. I was just trying to say that he also did a lot of good things. And yes I do think he was ahead of his time in certain ways. When he proposed the Hot metal Bridge conversion people thought he was nuts.

I also think that in addition to cost-cutting, sometimes new revenue is also needed. The city is the center of the region, but most people in the region live outside the city. What I want to see is a full revamp of the city and county tax system, with full cooperation from the state, and an eventual city-county consolidation. That is the only real answer for the long-term. And if that is done right, taxes can probably go down. But in the meantime the city had to do something.

Friday, November 30, 2007 9:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C. Briem,

Please consider this polite hate mail about naming anything after Tom Murphy. (As to putting it on a post of its own, it's your blog.) I doubt the proposal would gain any traction in the city council unless Murphy were very sick or something.

Friday, November 30, 2007 6:17:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I certainly appreciate the civility, I'm sure others react a bit more viscerally. It raises an interesting question. Is TM viewed so negatively that no public accolate should ever be considered.... ever? or is it this particular option (renaming the Hot Metal Bridge) that is not supportable?

the contrarian in me may push me to make it post of it's own at some point. Seems like it is worthy of debate if nothing else.
on whether it would get support in city council.. I actually agree it is unlikely to get much support. Its a bit counterintuitive but I figure the changes at city council actually make it less likely. Those who had opposed TM in the past could have claimed some cover despite supporting something as innocuous as naming a bridge. For newer members it just becomes a minefield with more potential cost than benefit.

For that particular project maybe it is better to ask whether the Hot Metal Bridge should be named for someone at all.. then address who in particular.

Sunday, December 02, 2007 9:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, I'm not talking about renaming the Hot Metal Bridge itself. That's too good a name to ever let go. It's the bike bridge itself, and I think the "Tom Murphy Bridge" works just fine and distinguishes it from the HMB.

What is the official name of the pedestrian/bike bridge anyway? The PG story on the opening just calls it the Hot Metal Bridge, but I've always thought of them as being two distinct spans. Did J&L use the same name for both of them?

Sunday, December 02, 2007 6:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! Leave it to Rauterkus. In a 2004 blog entry he wrote:

"I think a fitting remembrance would be a name change for the Liberty Bridge to the Mayor Tom Murphy Bridge. This tribute to Tom Murphy could be a continual reminder as his administration made great strides in removing true liberty in Pittsburgh."

Despite that snarkery, I think Murphy's still got quite enough influential friends around town to make this relatively benign honor reality. Although the question about death/illness being a sort of prerequisite does raise the question of whether anything has been named for a living person in Pittsburgh in recent times. Heck, we can't even get a Mr. Rogers or Gene Kelly statue erected.

Sunday, December 02, 2007 6:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And finally, for the moment, I went back and checked that J&L South Side Works plot plan that you posted a while back. (Yes, nerdily I saved it.)

It shows a Hot Metal Trestle leading to the M.C.R.R. Bridge. That makes sense--one bridge, the larger one that we now refer to as the Hot Metal Bridge, was actually the railroad bridge, while the smaller one (the current bike bridge), is the actual "hot metal" bridge. But let's not confuse things with historical fact. Call the big one Hot Metal, the small one Tom Murphy. Or perhaps to hitch a ride on Rauterkus, the "Mayor Tom Murphy Bridge".

Sunday, December 02, 2007 6:50:00 PM  
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