Wednesday, May 13, 2009

evil New Urbanism?

update: DNJ at the Post Gazette has some comments on all of this on her City Walkabouts Blog.

Would James Kunstler understand what is going on here? I was there when I think Kunstler last came to Pittsburgh for a public presentation, though he was here for a book signing I believe more recently. Scares me to realize it was almost a decade ago. For those who have heard him in person, whether you agree with all he says or not, almost everyone learns something and absolutely everyone is entertained. In an odd way he has been invoked in a debate before City Council... but I doubt he or anyone else realized it. And I really don't know which side Kunstler would be on even if he did know.

But the Trib today covers the debate in city council over a zoning exemption required to build a 400 unit apartment building in Ridgemont (aka Chicken Hill) in the City of Pittsburgh. The story focuses on a pretty creative youtube video from folks obviously opposed to the project. I really am not commenting either way on the project itself, but the video is really curious. The theme/title is "Small Town America versus New Urbanism".

A minor point is that I am not quite sure the New Urbanism moniker applies to the project, whether the developer would like to label it that way or not. I suppose someone thinks NU is just a synonym for density and nothing more. Last I taught Urban Economics I would explain there is a little more too it than that. Otherwise it might be urbanism, but it certainly isn't anything new. But the "Small Town America" claim is really curious. This is a neighborhood in the middle of a major city (or so we like to think) in America. A city that has is so often quoted as having lost half it's density since it's peak. Maybe the title would have been a tad more accurate as: Old Urbanism vs. New?

All that being said, none of it really matters. Like political ads, or any advertising for that matter, these things are judged by their impact. I have no idea if the video is responsible at all for the update today that the project has failed a preliminary vote in city council today. Is it any surprise folks from out of town often get confused when they get caught up in anything like this here. Debates like this are just off from what you would see elsewhere. Here you have a self described small town community group, that isn't from a small town at all opposing a New Urbanism project that isn't really New Urbanism. It confounds me.

What is also interesting is how similar the public debate over this project sounds compared to what happened at the Don Allen site. I can't find a news article that really gets into the gory details on that, but the short version is in this Trib article.

But check out the video which you have to admit is effective... gratuitous Springsteen soundtrack near the end or not:


Blogger Craig said...

I don't think the proposed City Vista is New Urbanist at all. City Vista seems to be a relatively sparse suburban-style development. I really have no idea how New Urbanism got pulled into this; now it's just being given a bad name unduly.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 12:06:00 AM  
Anonymous DBR96A said...

The development renderings look cheesy, but that doesn't change the fact that the YouTube video is yinzer parochialism at its worst. You want a "small tahn"? Give Waynesburg or Ligonier a try.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 2:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have little sympathy for developers. Generally speaking, they present overblown building plans aimed at grabbing as much profit as possible from a site. That's business, of course. And then they cry crocodile tears when the community tries to preserve their neighborhood and rein in developer greed.

Like the Don Allen site ... oh, boo hoo, we cut the height from 97 feet to 90 feet (still twice as high as the zoning allowance, BTW) and the mean neighbors still don't like it. We're taking our ball and going home!

How convenient, the economy tanks but the developers blame their pull-out on the community. Believe me, when the numbers work again, they'll be back with a real plan.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 9:18:00 AM  
Anonymous DBR96A said...

But developers could make the argument that nobody would notice the difference between 90 feet and 97 feet from the street, so the argument on the part of the community groups would seem a bit petty. I understand that community groups don't want some urban-planning disaster plunked down in their neighborhoods, but really, if they're going to quibble over a seven-foot height difference on a building that's almost 100 feet tall to begin with, then that strikes me as overbearing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 7:05:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of empty car lots, the Jeep dealship on Baum was on the list of those Chrystler wants to cut loose. They already have a big building, so maybe somebody will do something there. Or maybe, since that it is Day dealship, they'll just move something else in there. Or maybe it will survive, which I sort of hope as I've got two Jeeps.

Friday, May 15, 2009 9:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were/are many more issues with the Don Allen proposal, DBR96A, I just picked that one for an example, and as I noted, the developer's "capitulation" was still well beyond the zoning reg. Also, the building height matters more as you move away from building. But maybe you were just being facetious with your street-level observation.

Friday, May 15, 2009 9:45:00 AM  
Blogger Jerry said...

I am sure "New Urbanism" was selected by a non-economist because it reinforces the theme of traditional values vs. newcomer big-city folks. I doubt anyone was trying to cast aspersion on any economic school of thought.

DBR96A: If "yinzer parochialism" means opposing developers who are going to ruin a neighborhood by making traffic 10 times worse and 10 times as dangerous, not to mention taking away increasingly rare green space, all in the name of making a few million dollars on a project that really doesn't need to be built (Pittsburgh needs more housing options?!?!), then I'm not sure why it's a bad thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I really do have a hard time figuring my own thoughts on this whole project because the arguments have all been framed in such odd ways. But I do think the NU label would be a tough one in this case. Seems like it's a limited access type of site. I suspect Kunstler would rail against anything that smacked of such a privatopia type of development.

There were other issues for the Don Allen development which honestly I saw as deadly from early on. Neighbors put up fierce opposition to the Mariott hotel over far less severe issues. So whomever didn't expect issues for the much larger development on the Don Allen site was just plain confused. Someone needed a lot better community relations work up from there for sure. Now with the Day dealership up the street also at risk, and the Goodwill long closed, there is quite a stretch of fallow space all around that area now... even with the redevelopment of the Ford building by the cancer center still going to happen I believe.

Friday, May 15, 2009 10:07:00 PM  

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