Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Follow those stories: Immigrant-Burgh not what you think

Trib had this today: Immigrants from India find a home in Pittsburgh

To put it a bit more bluntly..  in the Pittsburgh region today there are more immigrants from Asia than there are from Europe.

In other words, it really is a long time since my friend the late Clarke Thomas wrote They Came to Pittsburgh.


What a difference a century makes (part II)

Just catching up on a weekend headline: PNC plan could be a harbinger of Downtown's revival.

To begin, kudos for quoting the Urbanophile in that story...  and I will be the very first to note that if built without any public funding as is being reported, that it would be a big story for Downtown Pittsburgh. In recent memory virtually all investment Downtown has only come with sizable public $$$, direct or indirect.

It also is an interesting story if as reported the new building is going to be entirely occupied by PNC without an impact on the current real estate market Downtown.  That would imply they are keeping their current space and expanding which would almost have to mean a net employment gain in the City.  If not then their sizable Downtown workforce is getting a significant bump in space per person. 

At the same time, I quibble with the need for a 'revival' Downtown.  From a purely economic perspective, the sheer number of jobs located within the Golden Triangle is about as steady an economic metric as you can find in the entire Pittsburgh region.  There were 100K jobs located within the Golden Triangle in 1960, and there are just about 100K jobs there today. You just don't get more consistent than that.  When you consider all the economic upheaval in the region over that period, the economics of Downtown Pittsburgh may be the single most stable economic story we have... yet the way we talk about it, or report on it, you would think the very opposite was true.  I still don't get it. The story of Downtown Pittsburgh is how it has been able to retain jobs where so many similar Downtowns elsewhere have shrunk and shrunk, losing jobs to the ever growing edge cities that have become ubiquitous.

When you further consider that the concentration of jobs Downtown has not eroded despite the pressure on Downtown's everywhere.  It is something of a myth (or so I teach sometimes) that suburbanization was merely a post-WWII phenomenon in the US.   The 'century' I am refer to is really the timeframe you need to think of when studying what happened to cities in the US.  Here is an almost full page ad that was also in the Pittsburgh Press of May 31, 1901. To me at least it is virtually screaming to readers to move away from, and shift investment from, the center of the city.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Women Welders of Pittsburgh

LST-750 on launching day, 30 May 1944, at Dravo Corp.,
Neville Island, Pittsburgh, PA. Source
Something else for Memorial Day, or more specifically for May 30.

Built in Pittsburgh, LST 750 would be launched at the Dravo Shipyards on Neville Island on May 30, 1944, barely two months after its keel was laid.  The citizens of Allegheny County had bought sufficient war bonds it was said to finance the construction of USS LST 750, its official name. LST 750 was an amphibious tank landing ship quite similar to LST 325 which visited Pittsburgh last summer.  Though not officially designated, it would at least unofficially be called the USS Allegheny County. 

A World War II LST was not the largest of ships.  Displacing roughly 1,600 tons they are barely 1.5% of what a modern aircraft carrier weights.  If you took the tour of 325 when it was here, you would have seen LSTs are ships which by design have some large open spaces and thus less of the watertight compartmentation which helps ships survive damage.  In other words, it is not a ship that would be expected to survive a lot of battle damage.
LST 750 did not have a long career.  While transiting in convoy near the Philippines it would come under attack.  By some accounts, the attacks that day included a Kamikaze strike which hit LST 750. One thing is for sure, it was a ship that did not want to sink. According to Naval Historian Samuel Eliot Morison’s description of LST 750’s end on December 28, 1944:
At about 1830, when the convoy was off the southern point of Negros, 20 to 30 enemy planes opened enemy planes opened an attack which lasted an hour and three quarters.  The planes split into two groups for a coordinated attack.  Ships in the convoy opened fire and within the next half hour bagged three.  Shortly after 1900, in bright moonlight, three more groups of planes closed on the convoy on both quarters and astern, and an aerial torpedo hit LST-750.  Seaplane tender Half Moon, sent to investigate, reported that she was “finished.”  After destroyer Edwards confirmed this sad state of affairs, and had sent over a boarding party to search the LST for wounded (the others having been taken off by LCIs), she was ordered by the escort commander to be sunk.  It took two torpedoes, which missed under, and about 150 5-inch hits, to send LST-750 to the bottom.
150 5” shells!?!? On top of a torpedo and possible Kamikaze strike.  It is almost hard to believe that description is completely accurate.  I am not sure many warships at sea today would survive a fraction of that.  One way or another it is a testament not only to the crew who sailed it, but the welders (many of whom were women) who built it right here. 


What a difference a century makes......

Pittsburgh Press, May 31, 1901

.....or not.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jaywalking beyond the pale

I can't believe that the LATimes stole my thunder and covered this explicitly just last week.  Their article explains in detail  what this all is, but my own recording of the spectacle is below.  If ever I could have used a personal Gigapan...  Note the one biker snaking their way through the nexus.


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Women Workers of Pittsburgh

Not surprisingly I caught the headline in the PG looking at some national numbers on the labor force: Women lost more jobs in economic recovery.

What was that “except in Pittsburgh” thing?
Some years ago we looked as comprehensively as we could at the impact of gender in the history of Pittsburgh's labor force, but that was all completed before the recent recession sank in; it could use updating at some point.  What I am slow noticing is something pretty extraordinary.  Since William Trent arrived at the point that would become Pittsburgh, the labor force of the region has has a labor force dominated by men.  For a long time that was true everywhere, but the disproportion of men in the labor force persisted here long after things changed nationally.  Through recent decades, Pittsburgh had a labor force more dominated by men than just about any other metro area of the continental US. 

Until now?

This is what I quicky compile for the breakdown by gender of the employed workforce in the Pittsburgh MSA in recent years and the most recent data does indeed show more women workers than men. This shows the average employment by quarter for the Pittsburgh MSA broken down by gender.

So even if it is a recession impact, which is part of it, I doubt that is the big picture long-term trend we ought to take note of.  The quote in the article today points out correctly that women are the majority of state and local workers. The bigger factoid is that for Pittsburgh of late, at least for non-summer months women are the majority of workers period. Even if true for just a single month, it is a shift that was once inconceivable in Pittsburgh.  Wow.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

You can take USAirways out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of USAirways

WSJ: For Frequent Fliers, a Ranking of the Stingiest Airlines

Must be that Scotch Irish frugality........


What's a decimal point worth?

Not new, but from Zillow and via Calculated Risk is a table of negative equity in the largest real estate markets in the US. 

Phoenix: 68% of all mortgages are 'under water' calculated as the percentage of single family homes with mortgages where the equity value less than current market value.

Pittsburgh: 6.8%.

The disparity is even wider in a real sense.  I bet the proportion of properties in Phoenix that have mortgages in the first place is higher than in Pittsburgh.  If true, the proportion of homes that are at risk in a financial sense is even lower here when compared to places like Phoenix.  If we further compare the $ value of how much mortgages are underwater. I suspect the 6.8% of local properties are underwater in this type of calculation have total market values that are less than just the underwater amount in markets like Las Vegas.  If that type of calcualation were done, I bet the disparity between Phoenix and Pittsburgh could be more like 20:1.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Prices held up best in Pittsburgh"

There are all sorts of news stories, good and bad, where the national headline needs the postscript "except in Pittsburgh".

Today's is this story of real estate markets nationwide: "House Price Index Sees Greatest Decline Since Q4 of 2008".


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Arena Football we would be doing OK

You know, the auditor general may be on to something.  Put it all in football terms and folks may pay attention. Like all such things I don’t have time to really keep up with all I could on my iPension page…. but with the report from the state auditor general in the news it seems worth pointing out a few things.
Only in Pittsburgh’s context is the verbiage ‘severely underfunded’ an optimistic euphemism.  We can quibble over where they are at specifically, but in terms of real assets you are talking a pension funding that is under 30% of what the actuaries say should be in there.  That is a calculation based on actuarial assumptions from over 2 years ago at this point since the total liability calculation is really based on data current as of January 1, 2009.  It clearly has gone up since then.  It also does not take into account that virtually all public pensions used unrealistic discount rates and excessive assumptions on investment returns.  If recalculated with more conservative assumptions, who knows what the funding ratio would be. 
Then there is the impact of the notional ‘asset’ created by a promise of City of Pittsburgh revenue.  Whether that funding stream, if conceptualized as an asset and it’s NPV calculated, really is an asset is an almost metaphysical question...  Little has been written about how unique such an asset is in the public pension accounting world.  I have asked before, but let’s say the city changes the ordinance that sets aside that funding stream for the pension system… does anyone in the world have standing to sue?  I think nobody is the answer, which really calls into question just how real that asset is.  If it really does get counted as an asset, it really could lead to a revolution of sorts in public pension management and financing nationwide.  We’ll see. 
But ignore all of that.  Here is the big picture:  Even if the city of Pittsburgh’s pension system is notionally over 50% or not, or at least deemed by some actuary to be so… the question is what does the future hold?  When the City of Pittsburgh floated just under $300 million in pension bonds in the late 1990’s the pension funds were calculated to be over 60% funded, and projected to quickly reach to 100%.
Yet that wasn’t the case.  Even in years good for the stock market, the city of Pittsburgh’s pension fund has falled behind. With payouts, the fund as a whole has continued to drop. If the actuary used decent assumptions in calculating the liability of the fund, the overall funding should be going up.  Yet even decent investment returns only allows the fund to tread water and in bad years it falls back quickly.  Leads you to wonder if there are not some other fundamental problems going on with the management of the pension fund.   Given that a decade ago they were close to 2/3rds funded, the city can't go back to the old excuse that decades ago the system was essentially a pay as you go system.  The question is what has happened over the last decade and the problem goes far beyond what has happened on Wall Street.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Book of the Moment: Makeshift Metropolis


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book of the Moment: Naked City


Thursday, May 19, 2011

When down means down, and when it does not

So the news headline is that the state’s unemployment rate dropped from 7.8% to 7.5%.  If you look at the 6 month change it is a full percentage point decline from 8.5% just in October  to 7.5% last month. So when was the last time the state saw a full percentage point drop in the unemployment rate over 6 months?


So does that mean there is anything today comparable to 1984?  Hmmm.  Between April 1983 and April 1984 was probably the peak outmigration from both the Pittsburgh region and the state resulting from the recession and job destruction at the time.  That was purely an economic migration generated by young workers fleeing the region.  The apparent drop in the unemployment rate back then was all the result of workers looking for work elsewhere.  Yet this period of dropping unemployment rate is a period when we think people are on net moving into the Pittsburgh region and most likely Pennsylvania as well.  So of the two periods, in one the drop in the unemployment rate is a sign of severe economic weakness.  In the other……….

So if you take out the 1983/4 miasmic period, when were the previous times when there was a comparable 6 month drop of a percentage point or more in the state's unemployment rate?  One single period ending in November 1975, and another period in the first quarter of 1973, both of which I suspect may have been the end of strikes or the reopening of whole mills as the nation came out of recessions.  So there just aren't a lot of recent (recent as in the last half decade or so) examples for the unemployment rate dropping so far so fast.


News that isn't

The headline is:  Census finds Pittsburgh is growing younger

But there is nothing at all news in that. From over a decade ago is my first PG Oped:  We're getting younger every year which many still decry to me as being no more than uctuous baffle-gab.  I could not even explain the fundamentals of basic population change in the region to the PG editorial board which still insisted on writing this recently: Elusive turnaround: Reports of a population uptick are unproven, which says much the same thing, but is just nicer about it. As best I can tell, the endemic Pittsburgh pessimism is about the only thing that the two editorial boards of the two papers share in their perspectives.

Funny that.

The point is though that nothing in the news today is really reflective of anything that has happened in just the last few years.  No G20 boost, nor any recent program or initiative either caused or inhibited the story today.  The trends that lead to the headline today were inevitably in place over a decade ago.  I think the good Jim R. likes talking about the mesofacts impacting regions. In all of this you see mesotrend #1 impacting Pittsburgh.  You can't even infer that all 'youth' are the same. For the city in particular though, the 'youth' that are moving here are really part and parcel with the growth in college students enrolled locally, especially those living in dorms.. and not necessarily younger families with children.

Yet even after a decade, that same oped could be rerun today.  By most any metric you can think of, everywhere else in the US is getting older a lot faster than Pittsburgh is and will continue to do so for several more decades. If you take a look at this story: Baby boomers augur old age, new needs, and in particular this graphic, you will see the projections for 2030 by state.  Basically Pennsylvania is dead last in the projected % growth in its elderly population. Pittsburgh, the region, is an even more distant outlier in terms of how much slower our elderly population growth will be compared to elsewhere in the nation. 

Border Guard Bob needs to take up some occupational training as an undertaker. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The appraiser that saved Pittsburgh

I regret to report what is awful news for the Pittsburgh region.  By yet another metric out there, local real estate prices are growing faster than most anywhere else in the nation.  If the folks who look at real estate data do not stop spreading such misinformation about the region than who knows what bad things may result.  Once Pittsburgh housing markets gain much more against some of our regional competitors we will not be able to tout the low cost housing here in the region.  Most rankings of regional quality of life or similar things place a disproportionate rank on housing affordability which certainly is going to suffer as a result.  We will have to drop on all those rankings. It could be really bad.  What can be do to stop this?  Where is Richard Nixon when you need him?  I am sure there is some form of price control that might be helpful.

Even if you discount the fact that most real estate markets nationally are continuing to decline, it is remarkable news for Pittsburgh.  Most other markets are not expected to seer ebounds until 2014!? Yet Pittsburgh is on the opposite tract altogether. At +3.9% over just the first part of the year, you are really talking a really rapid rise in prices at an annual clip.  Not sure Pittsburgh has seen that in some time.  If you then account for the low inflation of late compared to past decades, you have to ask yourself if real estate is the fastest period of real housing value for the region since ???

And then there is the impact on property assessments in Allegheny County which generally have been showing some of the stronger gains within the region.  It means, among other things, that any delay in property assessments will only result in ever larger jumps in assessed values.   Right now the county must be using recent sales price transaction data through the end of 2010 and going back a couple years I bet.  If that window of data gets pushed to the right it could mean significantly higher assessed values.. especially for some homeowners since I am sure the appreciation is not uniform across the region. 



Do I have this right?  Basically in virtually every high profile local race in the news, every incumbent won and where an incumbent was not running, the winner was the scion of an old political family.


Granted, the exception to that seems to be the races for the two respective party nominees for Allegheny County Chief Executive.   Fitzgerald over Flaherty and McCullough was bested by Raja. 

On secret ballots..  McKeesport Ward 1 again trailed the country in turnout.  1 of 10 registered Democrats cast a ballot.  Sure seems to me that you can look up who voted in the election and you would have a perfect report of his or her voting in each race on the ballot.  Only thing interesting is that whomever it was, they only voted for one person no matter what election it was.  For judge in the court of common pleas there were 2 choices possible, for school board in McKeesport there were 4 potential picks and for council in McKeesport there were 5, yet in each only one pick was made.  Not sure it means anything, but it makes me wonder if the instructions were clear enough.   A lot of people choose not to exercise all their choices, but to not even have a 2nd choice in all races where multiple choices were an option???

If there is any quantitative story in the election it seem to be the low turnout.  The unofficial count has just under 128 thousand Democratic ballots cast yesterday in the county.  That is fewer than any recent election for sure and for comparison, there were over 175 thousand votes cast (a number itself smaller than the total ballots cast in that election)  in the first Democratic primary for the ACE primary in 1999.  I don’t have the data to say this definitively, but it is certainly possible yesterday had the fewest Democratic party votes cast county-wide in Allegheny County in a primary election ever. 


Book of the moment: Aerotropolis


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One person, one vote. Give or take.

I'll be a  broken record on this, but the window to even talk about this is pretty short and most likely the status quo will not budge for another decade if the county does not start a process for this soon. Is it not time to reform and redistrict our voting districts in Allegheny County?!

Rumors are there is an election afoot today.  It's primary season so party endorsements matter.  They are not the only thing that matters, but if there is an election where they do matter, this is it.  Yet what signal does a party endorsement provide if the actual voters represented by each party committeeperson (i.e. the folks who decide who gets the endorsements) range from 5 or under in some parts of the county to hundreds of voters in other part of the county.  That really is the range of representation you get within the committee processes here in Allegheny County.  Not just one, but almost two orders of magnitude of difference.

It really gives a whole new meaning to "one person, one vote" that I am surprised nobody has taken issue with it in court. Remember, the elections for committee members take place on the official ballots in elections run by county election offices.  When you add up the votes, you just have to wonder what success in the committee vote real means with respect to support even among core party supporters county-wide... let alone among all primary voters.

Seriously, we may have this cycle the first instance of a voting district in Allegheny County where nobody at all casts a ballot.  We'll see late tonight.

There are plenty of ways to rework the committeeperson elections, and the endorsement process, to at least get us a bit closer to the ideal of one person, one vote.  But it will only happen if somebody other than me cares a whit.

Anyway, here is our Rube Goldberg voting district map as it exists now:


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Paging Henry George

One of those news items I should have noted already.  PBT points out that one of the city of Pittsburgh's property tax abatement is drawing to a close.  The article is talking about the LERTA program which is a state statute that allows municipalities to expempt taxes on commercial real estate in a designated district from taxes on a depreciating scale and in particular the district defined Downtown.  As the article points out, many think the program has had an impact improving the residential demand Downtown.

The LERTA is actually just one tax abatement program impacting some city neighborhoods.  There exists a separate program that abates the tax on investments in residential investment in 28 city of Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  

Want to make a real impact on the future growth of Pittsburgh? There is something we almost have to try at some point. My point a few years ago was to make the city's tax abatement universal!

There is no real reason not to.  The argument against expandng it city-wide is that the city might forgo some new incremental tax revenues on new residential investment going on in the non-tax-abated neighborhoods.  Guess what?  The level of non-subsidized residential construction within the city of Pittsburgh is about as low as it can get.  In fact, most new housing in the City in the last decade have come entirely from Summerset and all the highly subsidized housing stock Downtown. That's it pretty much.  I am not sure we have any more slag heaps needing redevelopment, and there isn't much new money for more condo subsidization, so what does the future hold for the future of housing in Pittsburgh? Without any incremental jumps in property tax in the pipeline the cost of expanding the abatement program across the city are limited.  Yet the benefits could be spurring a new level of investment in residential construction or improvements that really are key to ever get the city of Pittsburgh population decline to itself abate.

To abate, or not to abate?  It all depends what you want to abate.

Philly's tax abatement program has been credited with a revival in residential housing in Philadelphia and the census shows that Philadelphia's population trend has literally reversed over the last decade.  At the same time Pittsburgh's popualtion continues to drop rapidly.  The presence of children is a decent proxy for future household population in the City of Pittsburgh, and the trend there is worse than the overall popualtion trend.  Bottom line, if the city does not build out a housing stock attractive to new families then there is no reason to think the city's population trend will reverse any time soon.

There has never been a place that has less to lose and more to gain from an omnibus tax abatement on new residential real estate investments than Pittsburgh.

OK, maybe we do have some other slag heaps out there to redevelop... but I at least am unaware of any bold initiative out there to repeat any time soon what was done with Summerset.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Centre and Crawford Votes

The great Blogger collapse the last day or so seems to have eaten the post on transit..  so just know I didn't take it down.  The big blogger in the sky ate it.

But looking at the election newsoid yesterday on the ACE candidates looking for minority votes...  for the newer readers who have not seen it, you can see the impact of race in a lot of local elections in this old report of mine: Voting Patterns by Race in Allegheny County.  A bit dated, but still a lot of history embedded in the stats. 

Actually the transit post exists out there in the ether.  Some of the folks who seem to like reusing my posts (without having ever communicated with me for the record) have it here: Jobs and Transit- Transit and Jobs.  Maybe blogger will put back the post here at some point?


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Jobs and Transit - Transit and Jobs

Historically Pittsburgh has ranked very high in terms of public transit service and usage, but history is history unfortunately.  Take a look at the Pittsburgh profile just out of Brookings looking at spatial mismatch issues here.  We are actually just below average for the percentage of working age residents who live near a transit stop.

And I bet that was all compiled, or reflects data, before the latest round of cuts, but that is speculation.  It really is remarkable that we are below average given our history. 

and the median wait time here?  40% higher than average. I will bet that is the derived from the schedule and does not reflect what the delay actually is these days as well.  Share of all jobs reachable within 90 minutes.   23%.   So even if you are willing to endure a 90 minute commute, you can't get to 77% of jobs in the region.  Think about that.

If only I had time I would get around to updating my Pittsburgh Transportation Policy Bibliography.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Must..... include...... Pittsburgh... and that darn transfer tax

The website thestreet.com has yet another list of cities unaffected by a bad economy and yup Pittsburgh must be on it.  Some interesting semantics in it. I  suspect they wanted to title that cities unaffected by recession, but the recession itself has been officially over for some time. We are going to make it to the next recession before local coverage of the economy turns as upbeat as the national media talks about us.  (and an addendum: Forbes has us #2 no less on their list just out of Best Places to Buy a Home Right Now.  I like the 'Right now' part.)


On a side note.. PG has taken up the issue of the toothlessness of the real estate transfer tax in the City of Pittsburgh.  and finally there is some note that this does not have to be this way and that Philadelphia has made significant changes to their real estate tax statutes to limit the shenanigans.  As I said earlier (or earlier, or earlier), fix this now and there could be significant revenue gains for the city in the future, especially if Sam is right and this type of real estate activity is ramping up here.  Even if there are significant legal or political issues to making such a change, you really have to wonder why this has no more than a very passing public debate over the decades as Pittsburgh lost money Philadelphia likely would have been collecting from similar transactions.

and I guess it means the Forbes folks did not find the transfer tax so intrusive as to keep us off their list which focused on residential real estate markets where us normal folks can't escape the tax.

The excuse that state law inihibits this is misleading.  2nd class city code can be changed as can 2nd class county code in Pennsylvania.  The question is has anyone in Harrisburg even suggested this over the years?  Maybe we could get some more attention for this if we called it a tax in lieu of a tax on electronic billboards tax?


Seriously, if you do a NPV calculation of all the future revenue that could be collected, you might be talking significant amounts.  In fact, someone ought to go fund a study looking back at how much has potentially been lost over the last decade because of the differences in how Pittsburgh can tax these transactions compared to Philadelphia.   Wouldn't that be an interesting number?

Philadelphia, by the way, at least on the surface of it does not seem to be suffering from the change in their transer tax laws a decade ago. In fact, Philadelphia has reveresed its own population decline and recorded an historic population gain over the last decade.  Hmm...

More likely there will be no follow up and this will all be lost in the shrubbery until the next big real estate transaction.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Ho hum housing news


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Book of the moment: Reconsidering Jane Jacobs

Not sure if we had a local Jane Jacobs' walk here this year, but this was the weekend according to: http://www.janeswalkusa.org/. But still a book just out is worth checking out:


Saturday, May 07, 2011

So ahead of the curve

NYT is reporting on demographics from our so distant neighbor Weirton, WV where the annual number of deaths exceeds births each year:  With Death Outpacing Birth, a County Slows to a Shuffle.
Can't hide from the fact that have long been there already. In fact even in the NYT it has been our story in the the past. See: As Deaths Outpace Births, Cities Adjust.  Here is the trend in births minus deaths, also known as natural population change, in Allegheny County over the last 3 decades:

So if you focus on population change as a reflection of how people feel about a region, the voting with their feet argument, realize that for us the voting is not quite the same as it is elsewhere else.. and means something awfully different as well. 

This is all part and parcel which is what the real big and understudied story that will impact US politics in the next couple of decades. Read from just the other day: Census estimates show seniors gaining influence  .. and again something we are way ahead of the curve. Read: Older Voters Reign at Polls.  Especially as the Big Sort continues it means primary elections will become ever more important nationally just as they are here.. and it is in primary elections that young voters really shun the process.  Many even register as independents and in closed primaries as Pennsylvania has, can't even vote in primaries.  For us, by the time the primary gets here soon, most students will have finished the term and left town further depressing their impact.  Not just the students of course, but a decent chunk of the workforce that is solely associated with education as well.  What if the primary was moved up just a few weeks and the students were still around?


Friday, May 06, 2011

Fix now, collect later

Dear City of Pittsburgh potentates,

Before what is potentially the biggest private real estate transfer in the city happens, can somebody please fix the statutes surrounding the transfer tax so the city does not lose out again.  Sort of like what they did in Philadelphia.

If you work out the NPV of the potential revenue gains into the future, you may be talking more value than the entire parking lease.


If only Don Barden could have held on.....

I drafted this up a few days ago, but it got lost in some other things.   Now I see the Trib has it as well. 

Speaking of the casino assessment, this is from the Inky: Pa. credited with giving casino industry a boost

Remember Don Barden?

Despite rumors of his demise (financial and medical), Don Barden has been in the news of late up in Gary where relations between the City of Gary, Indiana and his Majestic Star Casinos are improving it would seem.  That and some other news out there reminds me of casino bidders of the past and that we have not checked in on metrics from the casino in some time.

Generally speaking things it seems to me things are much more stable down at the Rivers Casino.  Here is what struck me more.  Remember all the talk of how imposing higher tax rates on table games would discourage their 'investment' by state casinos.  Here is what the latest (March) numbers look like for the Rivers Casino.

SlotsTable Games        
Payouts including promotions$265,384,229.02
Gross Revenue$24,311,676.14 $5,548,123
Taxes$13,288,534.56 $887,700
Net$11,023,141.58  $4,660,423

So 30% of their gross profit is coming from table games.  Anyone think they were going to leave that money on the table?   Then there is poor Don Barden who signed on to the slots-only license at the time.  If he could have only made it until the state changed the rules, he probably would still be the owner. Alternatively, if someone else won the original license and they had been able to survive the first couple of years, they may have done quite well for themselves.  Just thinking counterfactually for a moment.

Not sure any of this is going to help out the Detroit Pension System's investment all too much, but it does mean the doors are going to stay open pretty much indefinitely over in Chateau.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

Moms-burgh without the Moms

The Daily Beast says we are the place for Moms: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-04/the-daily-beast-ranks-americas-100-bestand-worstcities-for-moms-from-new-york-to-san-francisco-to-tamp/

Which seems to be because they rank us really high in 'maternity care'.. but note we rank near last in the actual number of Moms we have.  Just another artifact of our age demographics?  Mostly, but not entirely.


How big is big?

It may be hard to appreciate the story in the news of Chevron leasing 228 thousand acres of land for Marcellus Shale development in the state.  How much is that?  By my calculation it looks like the area in red in the graphic below, compared to the footprint of the entire city of Pittsburgh. 
Someone really ought to go and do a study to figure out how much Pennsylvania landowners got for leasing their land and compare it to how much those rights are going for in this mega secondary market.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011


So yet again the PWSA is in the news for more bonds gone bad. I would have thought this was in connection to this bond, but it seems to be outside the range of dates referenced.  At least in this case someone is taking litigation to the issuers which may get them some $$ back.

Of more immediate concern, last I checked the PWSA's variable rate bond imbroglio had a crucial letter of credit that expires this year.  I'm not sure I've seen any news on that so I can't quite say this is still an issue.  Anyone checking into what the status is with that?


Billboard on my mind

More thinking on my earlier post sparks a latent neuron or two.  While we often get caught up believing in a Pittsburgh exceptionalism that is not always justified, some things make you just shake your head.  In other words, stuff like this just is not normal elsewhere. From early in Billboard-gate:


Love of Billboard

Well.. cross this story off my list of old news items I was curious what is up with.  Actually, I am not so sure if this means the legal situation is resolved.  Lamar lost the battle to keep the billboard up, but I sense there is still some contract litigation between them and the city lurking out there. Unless eating their costs to date is just being written off as a cost of business that is.  Lamar is a huge company these days and could probably afford it.  I just wonder if that particular piece of equipment can even be used elsewhere.  I swear one day I am going to write up the whole story of this, but a) who would believe it?   and b) who would need to read it? A case study in cyber-policy-politics-social media-public relations and romance all rolled into one.  Maybe a little Law and Order thrown in as well. 

Other news stories I keep wondering what the latest update is:

Has the city responded to this request for data?

How about the status of the property assessment appeal of the Rivers Casino?

and as always... where in the world is Bernardo Katz?

Anything else?


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Flooding Pittsburgh

Incessant rain, problems downriver, and now our dams being intentionally backed up.  Just an excuse to look at some historic floodplain maps of Pittsburgh

Who knew they had maps before GIS? 

That darn Mercator dude!


Monday, May 02, 2011

Pittsburgh beyond the Urals

From some questions I have been getting I suspect many still don't quite believe one of the factoids on the region I mentioned yesterday.  So, if you think the Pittsburgh immigrant community is still defined by the Tamburitzans, here is a slide I like to show people.  Note the larger sample error producing some noise in the ACS data, but the trend is clearly the trend.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Pittsburgh and the Subcontinent

The leading oped in the PG today is about all things India: The Pittsburgh-India connection has paid off for Pittsburgh

I wonder how many think it is a new story? 

I wish they had the video of this online, but when the G20 came through town, Voice of America in India had a whole video segment devoted to Indian immigrants in the Burgh.  It was diasporan himself and journalist Kane Farabaugh who did the piece.  Here is the extant text version online. Kane himself is a true Yinzer from the West End and talked about his Pittsburgh background when he blogged about covering the G20 here.  It's a great read because it connects many generations of Pittsburgh heritage with India via his coverage of the G20's visit to the Point.

But when it comes to Indian immigration here, it really is  not a new story at all. All that being said though should not lead anyone to false conclusions about the overall state of immigration in Pittsburgh.  We remain locked solidly among regions in the nation with the lowest rate of international immigration.  Our low numbers actually lie a bit because if you look at the foreign born population in the region it actually reflects in large part a much older population that likely arrived in the US generations ago when we didn't rank so low.  Recent immigration is about as low as exists.  One result of which is that Pittsburgh also remains just about the single  "white-ist" metropolitan region in the nation if you do a benchmarking of the proportion of white-non Hispanic popualtion here. 

If you want to read more on the state of immigrants impacting the region, probably one of the better places to start is Gregg Zachary's white paper on the topic and focusing on Pittsburgh: Immigrants as urban saviors: When Immigrants Revive a City and When They Don’t - Lessons from the United States

Back to today's oped. I can't believe the oped didn't mention what is probably the key statistic underlying all it is talking about... namely that immigrants from India are in fact the single largest group of immigrants settling in Pittsburgh.  That is a fact these days, as it has been over recent decades as well. Even when you take account the older foreign born in the region which tend to almost all be European in nativity, it has only been in the last few years that largest foreign born group in the Pittsburgh region are folks born in Asia, and the single largest group of Asian immigrants in Pittsburgh are immigrants from India.  People don't quite believe that factoid when I tell them, but add up everyone who was born in every single European country (or former nation in many cases) in town.. age 1-99 or more I guess, and there are fewer of them than those who were born in Asia. That is something that was probably not true as recently as 5 years ago.

This all is really just a chance to repeat again what is one of my favorite factoids on the region.  Today, well under 3% of the region is foreign born.. and as I said a lot of that reflects a much higher incidence of immigrants in the older generations here.. much more so than elsewhere in the nation.  In 1910, over 26% of the City of Pittsburgh was foreign born. Over half of the population was categorized as being "of foreign stock" which was then a term for the foreign born and their children at the time even if they were born in the US*.  Think about that some.

That is 2nd on my list of top immigration factoids for Pittsburgh.  Can you guess what language has been tops for Pittsburgh when it comes to its location quotient.  i.e. what language has had the largest proportion of such speakers within the US?  I'll put the answer up in a bit in case anyone wants to take a guess or two.

In the end the significance of today's oped is that it was written at all.  A lot has changed over the last decade I would be the first to say.  I took a fair bit of personal and professional grief over writing this a decade ago.  Still have a long way to go for sure, but the ground is shifting.

* and those stats focus mostly on the foreign born white population.  Not much notice at all of those who were foreign born and non-white?!