Monday, January 19, 2009

No indifference over Pittsburgh

With prescient timing, Jerry B. had an oped in the WSJ just before the game: "Sports Mania Is a Poor Substitute for Economic Success" taking Pittsburgh to task in a lot of ways. Looks like a reaction to the more positive press the region has been getting of late from a lot of places, the likes of the NYT, or the Cleveland Plain Dealer, or even earlier last year from the Detroit Free Press which had it's own in depth look at economic story of Pittsburgh, and other coverage I will not list (but remember the piece in the Economist).

Which reminds me of something I have noticed for a long time: Folks from outside of Pittsburgh are far more positive in their analysis of the Pittsburgh economy than most in town are. I don't just mean the media coverage alone, but academics, politicians, economic development professionals and all sorts of people exhibit the same pattern in less public ways. Not true all the time of course, lots of diverse opinions out there.... but it really is true to a large degree. Not quite sure what it means and you could spin it two ways. We know ourselves better than others could be one argument I have heard, or maybe we are that much less objective at understanding our own region. No matter really, but for sure there are few people indifferent in their opinions about Pittsburgh.

But let the Phoenix-Pittsburgh comparisons begin! And for sure Jerry was right. Mania we got.


Blogger Unknown said...

You're out there where's the tax information it's needed today

Monday, January 19, 2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

I would say that Jerry Bowyers op-ed is not a reaction to these other pieces, more a statement of obvious, parochial nature of life in Pittsburgh.

With so few adults that have moved to Pittsburgh for a job, we have a homogeneous fan base. 99% (wild ass guesstimate) of people that follow the NFL are Steelers fans here. When someone moves into the area, they really don't have much of choice about "converting" into a Steelers fan. Compare that to some place like Denver that experienced huge population and job growth over the past 30 years. Maybe 60% (w.a.g.) of the people are Broncos fans. It is commonplace to find someone that is a fan of another team.

As far as outsiders having a more favorable view, as one that lived away from the city for 20 years, I absolutely disagree with that. Just look at how we close ranks when ever a outside journal says anything negative about the city. Just review the discussion from the run up to last Steeler Super Bowl.

The is a big streak of hometown "Homer-ism" associated with the city as much as the sports teams. That and a large dollop of Polly-Anna-ism.

Monday, January 19, 2009 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

Its annoying that a lot of the criticism of Democratic local governments comes from Republican type commentators. I don’t think that Pittsburgh, at least, had so much a development strategy as a sense that we needed to build stadiums to keep teams in town. I don’t remember hearing that the stadiums were going to revitalize downtown or anything. But the local government knew that at least on some level the stadiums would be pretty popular.

While I don’t think Bowyer has it quite right, I do think Pittsburgh has followed the path of other city governments and threw money it didn’t have at sports teams. And I also agree with him that I don’t trust Ravenstahl, Onorato and company to spend federal stimulus dollars wisely. But they are the game that is in town.

Monday, January 19, 2009 2:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When the case was being made for a regional tax to support economic development efforts, the only projects mentioned were the stadiums. Other projects were expected to be funded, of course, but these were not considered to have enough popular support to get the tax passed, so they were not identified in the initial offering. The strategy didn't work, however, and the referendum failed. An alternative was found to fund the stadiums - no public official wanted to lose the two sports teams on their watch - and the Steelers are certainly one of the strongest regional businesses with continued local and national goodwill. But the goal of a transparent, accountable, and performance-oriented economic development strategy was probably never broadly understood, and it was never pushed by the electorate. A CMU President once pointed out the region's weak economic performance, but he left, and so did the agenda.

Are Pittsburghers more pessimistic than outside observers? Anyone who went through it found the region's economic restructuring far from painless, and many continue to see their economic prospects as more limited than they would like. With the economic base so thin, an eliminated position often translates into a relocation out of the region. The economy may look strong to others mainly because these outside observers don't notice the stress of the locals, and they don't see those who out of economic necessity quickly move somewhere else.

Monday, January 19, 2009 6:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing that so-called "outsiders" don't notice or stay abreast of is the day-to-day stories regarding Pittsburgh's financial status. To an outsider looking solely at unemployment and housing costs, everything is okey-dokey. Extended Act 47 status, multi-billion dollar pension shortfalls and city/county budget deficits are somewhat less than okey-dokey.

This is not a Republican/Democratic issue: Seattle is decidedly Democratic and ultra-progressive, NYC has had 15 years of Republican mayors, and they've both had population growth and reinvestment.

Monday, January 19, 2009 9:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The talking heads in the City-County Building and the Regional Enterprise tower can spin the story all they want. The fact of the matter is that me and several of my friends are unemployed and are looking for jobs in other cities because we can't find jobs here in our fields. Not everyone is in the health care or tech fields.

I guess that means a few more people in their mid-20's will be moving away. Thanks Pittsburgh!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 1:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pittsburgh is very much like General Motors. It coasted for decades on its legacy but always deferred the tough decisions to the future (taxes, spending, pensions, union dominance, etc.) Both entities made changes to the periphery to promote the appearance of real change but in reality the core continued to rot.

The best thing to happen to GM in years was the rise in gas prices and the collapse of the credit market. They have no choice now but to bite the bullet and implement real change (brand eliminations, union concessions, plant closures, etc.). GM will be a smaller entity, but it will not be weighed down by its legacy any longer and will at least have the potential of growing again.

This is what Pitt needs. It needs to right size its government in order to have a chance for success. It will need to get smaller and leaner first which will be very painful, then it can grow and become healthy again. I see no leadership in the region willing to acknowledge this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Jerry said...

From Bowyer's article:
"When I stopped [in Baltimore] for gas, I was aggressively panhandled by a man with a gold tooth in which a black ace was etched."

First point: Either that guy had really big teeth, or else Mr. Bowyer was standing inexplicably close to him in order to see this detail. I'm not sure what the point of this sentence is other than to affirm the racial coding that's part of lots of these arguments.

Second point: Mr. Bowyer has a good point about development, but obscures it under a layer of suburban anger at the city for taking the lion's share of state and federal funding. It's just really tiresome to keep hearing people from the suburbs, most of whose neighbors work in the city, most of whose neighbors go to the hospital in the city, most of whose neighbors go to the museum in the city, most of whose neighbors go to games in the city, etc. -- it's really tiresome to hear them keep complaining about the city getting all the funding.

Third, he is being so disingenuous with his population statistics. "But Pittsburgh has lost half of its population since the 1950s." Yes, the city proper has. But it's not like 50% of the city up and moved to Seattle (a city which, undoubtedly, Mr. Bowyer would hate if he lived there). Some did, but many of them moved to the suburbs, meaning they continued to benefit from any success the MSA had while paying less in taxes. Should these people expect the city to remain in exactly the same state without their tax revenue?

The only solution Mr. Bowyer and people like him ever propose is that his taxes should be cut. Everything flows naturally from that, apparently, and without any further planning. Well, we now have a pretty clear picture of what this looks like on a national scale. Why should we think it'll be any better on a regional scale?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 4:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jerry B. and his Trib/Scaife Libertarian (whatever that is) enablers are professional city haters. I guess their disdain for all things urban somewhat balances occasional Allegheny Conference cheerleading, but beyond that, their skewed analyses hold little value.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 5:03:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

J.B. obviously just doesn't like cities period and what they mean to regions. Sounds like he would prefer a suburban ring with nothing in the middle, regardless of the city.

Where's the metrics to show the imbalance of tax dollars going to support the economic development of non-urban areas, increasing the public burden for roads and infrastructure and all the other hidden or deferred costs that comes with supporting sprawl. Let alone a truthful gaze into the source of problem of urban areas and how these place got to be the way they are.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 5:57:00 PM  
Blogger Jerry said...

OMG OMG OMG I was just browsing Mike Madison's other blog and I came across this blurb. Jerry Bowyer wrote a book about the financial boom of 2003, attributing it to George Bush.

Can somebody explain to me why the WSJ is so highly-regarded when they give editorial space to someone with such laughably ridiculous ideas?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 12:08:00 AM  

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