Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday reading

First off, you should not be reading this. You should be off on your bike.But if trapped at your computer, some Friday reading:

Missed this last week from our friends at the Cleveland Fed: Urban Decline in Rust-Belt Cities

WSJ today has: Journal Concierge: Insider's Guide to Pittsburgh, Pa.

Also, some Cleveland Fed folks will be speaking at the PNCIS User's conference you can still register for.

On a pseudo-Cleveburgh note, sent in from the peanut gallery is this I missed from last month: Time to Collapse the Wheeling/Steubenville TV Market into Pittsburgh

Again, you ought to be riding your bike when it is on, but on 11:30am Sunday on KDKA I was interviewed along with the Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor on all things workforce.   If you are so inclined to watch or record.

and I overhear a story in the PG (maybe Trib too as far as I know??)  this weekend is about how the Port Authority is going to get real time tracking data online.  So a real GTFS feed I presume.  Wonks delight? 


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Statistical noise and labor force math

Take a second and actually look at these numbers.

The state reported yesterday that the unemployment rate in the Pittsburgh MSA dropped by a tenth of a percent from 7.2% in March to 7.1% in April.  Note that the Pittsburgh MSA is in its entirety made up of 7 component counties.  The unemployment rate changes in each of those counties is as follows:

Allegheny - increased 2/10ths of a percent

Armstrong - stayed same

Beaver -  increased 2/10ths of a percent

Butler - increased 3/10ths of a percent

Fayette - increased 1/10ths of a percent

Washington - increased 2/10ths of a percent

Westmoreland - increased 2/10ths of a percent

Hmmm.....  I don't think I could devise a weighting scheme that makes all that consistent without violating a fixed point theorem of some kind somewhere. Yes, there is an explanation of sorts for it all, but why try to rationalize?

OK, ok....   not to get into it too much, but it all is saying that the seasonal adjustment factors used by the federal wonks are so different from the seasonal adjustments made by the state wonks that the region's unemployment rate could differ by as much as 3/10ths of a percent between them.  Compare that to the punditry and parsing based on on monthly changes of just 1/10th or 2/10ths of a percent.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Virtual Fire Sale

I forgot to mention this, but motivated by our recent bout of Portland schmaltz, I registered the domain on a whim. No joke!  I'll sell the domain to anyone with a vision for what to do with it.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

more on turnout

Just a parse to address some lingering questions on why turnout was so low in last week's election.  The 2009 and 2013 races had remarkably identical total ballots cast.  Generally speaking closer races generate bigger turnouts so it begs lots of questions. That aggregate similarity masks some big changes in turnout within the city of course.  So here is a scatterplot of all city precincts comparing percentage Black to the percentage change in ballots cast between 2009 and 2013.

What it means is open to lots of conjecture.  But this, admitedly simplistic, look implies that turnout declined by approximately 14-15% for the Black population, but increased by 7-8% for everyone else.  The divergence of those two estimates produces a pretty different mix of voters last week compared to past elections.  Since 2009 was in total a pretty low turnout election to begin with, for turnout within the Black population to drop significantly below that cycle says something.

Yes, it deserves a much fuller model and I'm pondering that.  I bet some variables on income, age and past voting patterns would all show up as pretty significant. Also for those who might ask, that result is unweighted on size of districts. Note that the vertical axis compares votes cast in each mayoral election, not total ballots cast technically.  Some folks who showed up last week did not vote at all in the mayoral election.


Deficient Bridges

The Department of Transportation has a new interactive map of deficient bridges across the nation.  You can imagine we have a few:


Sunday, May 26, 2013

For Memorial Day


Friday, May 24, 2013

One chart that will destroy your faith in Pittsburgh

Washington Post's WonkBlog has 31 charts that will destroy your faith in humanity.

#22 is a straight crib from Professor Davidson's 30+ year old paper, but there you have it:


Where are you 54C?

Joe posted a comment yesterday with a video of some great mayors all talking about Pittsburgh apropos the absolutely ridiculous Weinergate news cycle yesterday. It really is an amazing collection of American big city mayors in that.

But Joe also has a cooler video from decades ago on what the 54C means to Pittsburgh.  I've mentioned before my 2nd spoken word was literally 'bus,' after Dad and even before Mom to my mothers chagrin.  So for a bus route that tied together Pittsburgh's North, East and South this is it.  Just didn't stretch into the West End is all. I'm just mad that the Port Authority now has a pretender named the 54D out there as well. Sacrilege!

Anyways... file under things that make Pittsburgh Pittsburgh:

If you are not into history, another Today Show clip from yesterday is all about amusement parks.  At time 1:26 some may note our friend Jim F. who is one of America's foremost experts on all things roller coaster.  I can't believe he didn't get a Kennywood plug in there. 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Thursday, May 23, 2013

I know Pittsburgh is taking over the world, but this is ridiculous

From the Anthony Weiner for Mayor Campaign (in NEW YORK CITY) is this

Look at the blue....  Someone is taking the Pittsburgh as Gotham thing a bit too far.

Spreading through the twitterverse right now.  I have no idea who spotted this, but h/t to Burghdiaspora.

update:  For the pseudo-record, I believe the first public notice of this is from one @rlampasone  in this tweet last evening.   This all has gotten out of hand with national media weighing in on the grand indiscretion.    I am unclear if this is all because the world remains fascinated by all things Yinzer or Weiner notoriety.  A tempest of both I suppose.  Anyway, he has changed the image finally. 


A number is a number is a number....

.... or not.

Last year the City of Pittsburgh was reported to have increased in population to a total of 307,484 in 2011. For the following year the news today is that the city's population increased again, by 152, to reach 306,211.

Confused? New math?

No, Soylent Green has not returned to the Malthusian math. Maybe someone was mistakenly counting Zombies?  I'll explain more later. Data behind all that is not fully released yet this morning.  We'll find those missing people.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Parse parse parse

Lots of parsing to go, but just one important look at the results yesterday.  Here are three snapshots of the results for each major candidate by demographics of the district.  This gives me an estimate of the election results within the Black community that works out like this:

Peduto  37%
Wheatley 32%
Wagner 30%

So just my estimate is all that is.  No official count of results by race (I get asked about such a thing a lot actually).

I'll let others opine on how this reflects on each of the candidates, but the relatively even split between all three candidates certainly means that the efforts to coalesce AA support behind one candidate didn't work out all that well. Also it is looking to me that one of the reasons for relatively low turnout this race was low turnout in the AA community.  I've seen some reuse of my 30% estimate for Black voters within the primary, which is what I get looking at some past elections. Part of the low turnout story is concentrated in certain districts. I am pretty sure we were not anywhere near 30% this cycle. Maybe 25%.

Note it is even superficial to overthink the average.  You can see in the charts there is a decent amount of unexplained variation.  So the support each candidate received varied within the AA districts.


Where did the voters go?

So as the returns were finishing up last night it looked to me like the total turnout in the election was going to set a new all-time low for a contested primary here.  At the very end the total ballots cast for mayor edged just above the number from 4 years ago. The thing is the election in 2009 was not expected to be very close and that seemed the explanation to a lot of us for the low turnout in that race. For the demography wonks, no the answer really is not population loss over last 4years.  City population has mostly stabilized in recent years and even tomorrow I bet we get a headline of a small bit of population gain in the latest data to come out. So changes in total population is not the answer, but changes within the population for sure. I've pointed out the declining number of supervoters as am artifact of changing demographics in the city. Still, close races almost always bring more folks to the polls. More parsing may answer who did, or did not show up yesterday. 

But for the long term perspective, I know 24 years ago is ancient history to many but in 1989 110K folks voted in the primary for mayor.  That is not a reflection of population loss.  Total population loss in the city of Pittsburgh since 1989 is around -18%, but the decline in ballots between 1989 and 2013 primaries looks to be -59%.  Big difference. 

Here is the trend and note the 2007 race was completely uncontested. There was not a lot to motivate showing up to vote at all.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Where are you Paul Proteus?

So before the election tsunami, this deserves mention. All but labor wonks really should just skip this.  I hope nobody thinks the economy is tanking because of the news that UPMC is laying off transcriptionists.  I'm a little surprised there are too many transcriptionists left in the first place.

There is a reason that the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut's 1952 novel Player Piano has heading off to Pittsburgh for a big promotion.  Not to many years earlier Vonnegut was here in town going to school at Carnegie Tech as well.

But less than a decade later it was local congressman Elmer Holland, representing the South Side of the city and near environs, who took the lead on looking at the impact of automation on the labor force.  Even back then the article notes that 40,000 telephone operators had already lost their jobs because of automation.


And so it goes

I know it always seems so new, but history is history.  Turnout was pretty low at my precinct as of 9am this morning, but I suspect it will pick up.  I just realized I forgot to write myself in for the uncontested election judge of the precinct.  I should have done it just to have an excuse to issue a press release as has been done in the past. Remember 4 years ago: Joe Wos wins landslide victory in election.  Hey, someone should check in to see if Wos is fulfilling his duties.

Some snippets from primaries past in the PG following each election:

1989 City of Pittsburgh Democratic Party Primary

1997 City of Pittsburgh Democratic Party Primary


Monday, May 20, 2013

Negative equity still a Cleveburgh issue....

Below is a regional snapshot of the negative equity mapping produced by Zillow. I remain amazed by the stark state differences where all along the PA-OH border.  Follows from the foreclosure map posted long ago.

Actually they made the map embeddable. More red = more bad. So here:



Friday, May 17, 2013

How many months make a trend?

There is an inflection point in here somewhere......  Just updating this graphic on mining employment across Pennsylvania with the latest data for April just out.

This is not meant to confuse.  The metric here is Pennsylvania employment in Mining and Logging industries minus similar data for the Pittsburgh region. Basically what is happening across Pennsylvania with the exception of Pittsburgh.  This is also graphing out the net change in jobs for each month compared to the same month in the previous year.

The Pittsburgh time series does not go as far back in time as the statewide data. But looking at statewide data for Pennsylvania tells another story.  If you look at month over month employment change in mining and logging, the April data is showing the largest one-month drop in almost 20 years. Maybe it is all a temporary aberration?


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Education and Earnings in Pennsylvania

Out today and worth a read from our friends at the PA state data center. Full brief:  Education and Earnings in Pennsylvania but the money slide.. literally:

As always important not to forget the illusion of the aggregate. Same by gender:


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Radium City... and the brownfields among us

News of a lost piece of mining equipment with a radioactive core reminded me of this.  In case you missed this chapter on Pittsburgh history, this was once the Radium City. Actually, the moniker thrown around for Pittsburgh was Queen of the Radium world.

The center of radium refining was once the Vanadium building on Forbes Ave. in Oakland.  It was at one time the world's foremost refinery of radium. Remarkably the building was only decontaminated in 2003, roughly 80 years after the building was used for radium refining. Stranger still I can find no local news coverage of the final decontamination efforts. Strange in that it is not as if there was anything unknown about the dangers. I walk by the building every day. Few know the building's history.

Such a big deal it was that Marie Curie herself visited the building in Pittsburgh to inspect the radium refining operations there.  The bottom image is a certificate for some of the radium produced in Pittsburgh for her. But in true Pittsburgh uber connectedness, this all gets stranger.  The only legacy of the company that refined radium here, the Standard Chemical Company of Pittsburgh, is a plaque at Pitt's Allen hall commemorating Mme Curie's visit.  The plaque was unveiled in 1969 by a young archbishop visiting from Poland named Karol Józef Wojtyła .  Later Pope John Paul II. I am wondering if that was the primary reason for JPII's visit here and if it was his only visit ever to Pittsburgh.

Marie Curie visiting Pittsburgh


Monday, May 13, 2013

They came to Pittsburgh

WSJ has a piece datelined Saint Louis, but much about Pittsburgh: Rust Belt Reached for Immigrant Tide. (use the Google trick if you are thwarted by the paywall)  Note they are talking about city only stats in places.

Mostly repeating myself, as we have gone into this over and over again.....   but for the record it is likely to be a very different immigrant tide compared to who has ever come to Pittsburgh in the past.  Not too long  our friend the late Clarke Thomas wrote books like this on the immigrants of Pittsburgh.


How much has changed I think still astounds a lot of folks. 30 years ago roughly 70 percent of the foreign born population in the Pittsburgh region came from Europe. That proportion is at most half of that today and trending down. So those dancers there are most likely 2nd or 3rd generation native born Americans. Just in the last decade the majority of the foreign born population in Pittsburgh switched to a plurality at least (soon to be majority?) born in Asia per the trend in the graph below. If I had time I would love to update Clarke's book today.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Revisionism, Unhistory, and Pittsburgh's Mayoral Memory Hole

If you have not see the Pittsburgh Business Times just out, the online version of the article about former Mayor Tom Murphy does not do credit to the real estate they dedicated above the fold on page 1 on the subject. I don't recall them ever running a top of the fold photo so big; go check it out. Add to that the exquisite timing to run it all a week before a mayoral election. You really have to ask if the rehabilitation of the man has begun?

If anyone ever asked me to pose questions to mayoral candidates, I could have some fun with this. I would ask the mayoral candidates straight up what credit they think the Murphy administration deserves (or doesn't deserve) in the redevelopment of Pittsburgh. (has this question been asked?)  PBT describes the Murphy legacy as vexing, and so the question would be for mayoral candidates today.  Consider that Wagner actually ran against Murphy for Mayor and Peduto spent much of his first years in office attacking all things Murphy.  The antagonistic histories both candidates have with Murphy play some not inconsequential roles in how this current race is playing out.  If the incumbent was still in the race, the Murphy animosity goes multigenerational.

If rehabilitation is at hand, it really is quite a change of course for the region.  How much Tom Murphy has been shunted really came to a head when the G-20 came to town? If you remember, one of the big talking points was how Pittsburgh was chosen in part because of the city's David Lawrence Convention Center.  Yet in all that media attention nobody ever mentioned at all  Tom Murphy's role in pushing for the building to be constructed. Whether you thought the center itself was a good idea, or a horrible idea, his complete erasing from history at that point was straight out of Minitrue.

Other than that I won't begin to add to Tim's comprehensive piece in the PBT. Given they are going to be running a monthly column authored by the former mayor, I suspect this debate is only beginning. I do have one incremental thought. No matter where you come down on the overall Murphy legacy, I am pretty sure nobody disputes his role in building the bike trail system within the city. Without him, maybe the city's bike infrastructure would have eventually gotten to where we are now, but it's hard to see how.  Clearly urban biking is something he authentically supported to include a trip on the yet to be completed Great Allegheny Passage. Stuff he was working on long before he became mayor.  I may have to restart my campaign to get the bike/ped span twinning the Hot Metal Bridge named for him.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pittsburg Yinz Portland Yang

For a quiet Saturday it is worth reading Andrew's musing in the PG: Saturday Diary / Pittsburgh's not Portland, and that's just fine with me.

Pittsburgh... Portland..   I've heard this theme before I am pretty sure, but couldn't immediately remember where.  Then I realized it's been something of a meme for Jim (@burghdiaspora) Russell for some time.  Just a few of his Pittsburgh isn't Portland posts include: Pittsburgh Versus PortlandTalent Glut Portland,   Pistols at Dawn, Pittsburgh Vs. PortlandRust Belt Roboot Buffalo.  Jim by the way has parlayed his blogging into a gig on the West Coast writing a column for the Pacific Standard magazine.

But the Pittsburgh - Portland dichotomy is actually much more than fodder for cultural commentary. Portland is different from Pittsburgh on a lot of very concrete levels.  The Pittsburgh region is the nation's poster child for fragmented local government, yet Portland actually is the literal extreme opposite with an empowered metropolitan government, the only one in the United States.  I mean, I don't even think our elected officials can find all of our municipalities (go ahead, try and find Wall, Pennsylvania quickly).

Then there is 'Creative.' A decade ago Portland was one of the original regions identified as key growth poles according to Rich's theory.  The region reciprocated and all but codified all things creative into the official Portland Economic Development Plan. Pittsburgh was for much of that time (if not lately) deemed more the opposite. The two regions have seen a very different economic history over last decade as well. There is a related interesting news blurb from a couple months ago on the majors being chosen by Portland's college graduates of late. In a world of infinite time I would do a compare and contrast with Pittsburgh of that metrification.  I bet there are some palpable differences.

Not to overlook Portlandia, the series. All I can say is see what links generally come up when you Google 'Pittsburgh Hipsters'. If  Mike and I come up on your (Google personalized) list then trust me, we may be lacking on the Hipster index.  I bet Toland comes up as well, but he may be authentic. His hidden inner hipster comes through on occassion.


Friday, May 10, 2013

anti-capitalist propaganda

Whatever 'side' you are on with regards to fracking, I am just confounded by the media reporting on the economics of the whole thing.  Here are two stories in the last 24 hours.

We have CNBC with the almost rote analogy to a small country in the Middle East: Marcellus Turns Pennsylvania Into 'Saudi Arabia' of Natgas. Let's ignore that I swear they have rerun the exact same story in the past. Also put aside that we have long been the 'Saudi Arabia' of coal fwiw.

But here is a story in that rag of a paper the Financial Times worth reading in general: Rust belt states of Midwest lead US manufacturing revival. (pseudo paywall... accessible free with registration). Lots in that worth reading that is relevant to Western Pennsylvania but part of one paragraph had a slightly different view of all things shale:
While cheaper shale energy has been pitched as a competitive advantage for American manufacturing, it also has not yet translated into more jobs, according to a Morgan Stanley research paper released last week. “We find very little real evidence of a renaissance in US manufacturing activity [as a result of shale gas],” the authors wrote. “Outside of the chemicals sector, low natural gas prices will probably have limited ramifications on capacity decisions.”
Does Morgan Stanley have some reason to be biased against shale gas development? (They seem pretty positive on shale to me)  Is the Financial Times squawking crazy thoughts? These are not exactly anti-capitalist, anti-development ideologues. Sure seems to be discounted by the media in that I see little other reference to the Morgan Stanley report mentioned there.

Locally the news is yet more complicated.  From the regional Herald Standard just the other day: Marcellus shale gas drilling in area peaked in 2011.  US Steel says demand for its tubular products dropped 50% in the first quarter of this year.  Add in what I come up with for the trend across Pennsylvania and there just might be a pattern emerging.


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Pittsburgh in space and time

I've seen this type of imagery before, but a NS reader out of the 14th ward pointed out a neat set of satellite maps put online by Time.  No static link for particular regions, but you can zoom into any region of the world and look at a set of satellite images for each year since 1984.  Below are what you get just for the two endpoints: 1984 and 2012. 

update: I should have followed the provenance.  I think Time is mostly using for the project and the images there.

It is clearer when you see their dyamic illustration flowing through the years, but note carefully the construction of 279 and ask yourself what that did to the population in a string of city of Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  Also note all the completely greenfield construction that is now all that is Robinson Town Center and environs.  If you look real close you can see the changes at a lot of the major brownfields over the years and also changes along the riverfronts.

Anyone else catch anything of note? I think I hypnotized myself watching it play over and over again.


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Daily hagiography

Some positive Pittsburgh PR from some less common sources in the last 24 hours.  Just a compilation of them for today:

  • 30 years ago I swear that Chinese on Carson constituted exotic eats in Pittsburgh. Today in the New York Times no less we have foodie stories that don’t involve Primantis? NYT: Replanting the Rust Belt.

Am I missing anything?  

Not quite a positive, but a slightly more in depth look at potential route consolidation issues for the impending USAirways/American merger. Travel News Daily: American Airlines/US Airways merger could slash connecting-flight competition.  Nothing (or everything!) about Pittsburgh, but worth a read: Infrastructurist: Dams Grade: 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure

and you saw it here last week. PG: 'Pittsburgh: The Movie' offers collage of city as seen on the big screen


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Two Weeks Out - Mayoral Race Deadlocked

The counterfactual history one could write....


Monday, May 06, 2013

Pittsburgh's Front Door... and more

Thinking of Biking to DC? Beyond the Great Allegheny Passage lies the C&O Towpath stretching from Cumberland to Georgetown in DC. The towpath was for pulling boats along the long de-watered canal that was first envisioned by no less than George Washington. The Washington Post over the weekend chronicled the travels a shade under a century ago of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer John P. Cowan. See: A Canal Trip from a Bygone Time.

It's a pretty amazing story. He apparently built a boat from a kit call the Sometub he had shipped to him and which he assembled in his kitchen. Then using one of the earlier outboard gasoline engines made the trek down the canal. Not many options to boat over a mountain any longer. You can't even put that trip on your bucket list since the canal itself is no longer. Alas. 

Also of note. The article says his wife was active in the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy. Pittsburgh had a chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy?

Even more amazing. From June 1912: Pittsburgh's Front Door, but the same (I presume) John Cowan. 


Saturday, May 04, 2013

Pittsburgh in Film

It takes a lot to get the NS A&E editor to produce. A for this montage of Pittsburgh in film.  A+ for soundtrack.  It is missing a few I would have included. Something from Valley of Decision, Achille's Love, or the best Pittsburgh line of all time from the Arthur remake. And lest we ever forget the proverbial: The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh!! I guess the Robocop scenes filmed here don't count since they were 'set' elsewhere (or too depressing). 

But I could watch this all day:

I really need to add the standing on back of a pickup coming through the Fort Pitt Tunnel to my bucket list.


Friday, May 03, 2013

George Ferris, Michael Porter, and the Ferris Wheel built in Pittsburgh

I did not know this.  Exactly 100 years ago this week the first Ferris Wheel went into operation at the Chicago World's fair.  Built by the Pittsburgh firm of one George Ferris.  Who knew? Why was Ferris here in Pittsburgh? He was not from Pittsburgh, but was a young entrepreneurial engineer specialized in steel construction, so this was the place to be. Just think it took most of a century for folks to start talking about industrial clusters and even longer before anyone mentions talent migration.

Related (circularly?) is this little snippet of what physicists must doodle about (h/t ): Could a high-speed train run through a vertical loop, like a rollercoaster, with the passengers staying comfortable?

Of course many knew all that, and I would have known all that Pittsburgh history if I watched more Rick Sebak. 


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ce n'est pas un fauteuil

I've been thinking about how different this election cycle is from elections past, in a meta kind of way that is.  The last real free for all mayoral election in the City of Pittsburgh is probably the 1989 race that followed the death of Mayor Caliguiri while in office.  I find this contemporaneous article in the Christian Science Monitor on the race rather curious. See: Pittsburgh Mayoral Race Draws Potpourri Of Five Democrats.  Who wants to identify the 'Gary Hart-style ``new ideas'' candidate' they speak of?

No comparision for the social media angle today of course, but what about the money?  From PG, May 17, 1989 is this summary of the campaign finances in that race. Remember, this is 24 years ago. Increase $ values by 88% to get comparable $ values today.

So a total of $2.3 million.  Adjusted for inflation gets you to $4.3 million. I could be wrong, but I don't think we are going to get close to that amount in total this cycle. Also worth noting that on that list of candidates, there are two future judges and two mayors which served a collective 19 years in office, and a future president of the local chapter of the NAACP.  

and you either get it or you don't.  Neither Google nor logic will explain much.