Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Two memes out there just have to be connected.

First there is a palpable buzz over this story via Streetsblog: Did Progressive Parking Policies Propel Pittsburgh Past Detroit?

Makes you feel good. A big pat on the back for Pittsburgh. It was not all just luck that we did not wind up as Detroit of late. Deliberate planning to increase density and we didn't pave everything over for surface parking lots which wound up decimating Detroit's downtown. It is true that parking was a key element of Pittsburgh's postwar redevelopment efforts.  It all goes back to the beginning of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, which was a deliberate part of Pittsburgh's renaisance.

Now juxtapose with the story yesterday: Commission seeks input on new street grid in Lower Hill District
In summary, we are soon about to spend a lot of public and private money to try and undo what was once touted as one of the gems of the Pittsburgh's renaissance.  A project that had some very dire consequences for a lot of families

Think about the two stories together.  If building vertically for parking was part of Pittsburgh's secret sauce, then why did we not follow that same pattern just yards beyond the edge of the 'Golden Triangle'?  Like say in the adjacent Lower Hill District. Personally I'd argue it was part of the same Downtown 'neighborhood' at the time. The bulk of the estimated 8,000 folks forced to move out of their homes (imagine trying to do that to a neighborhood today) were not displaced by the Civic Arena, but by the flat surface parking around the arena.  Maybe some would still have needed to be moved, but some vertical lots could have saved a lot of the neighborhood. Of course, there was no thought given to the integration of the arena into the Hill District as a neighborhood.  For a half century it looked mostly like an aspiring space port or space antenna aimed incorrectly.

The result is not that different from what Streetsblog is arguing happened in Detroit.  Big flat surface parking decimated whole neighborhoods of Detroit.  Where we did the same thing here, you get much the same result.  Not just for the homes that were demolished, but the contagion of living next to such big lots stretched well into the remaining sections of the Hill District.

But.....the history is clear, or at least the history as written.  The development of the Civic Arena was said to be about clearing the 'blight' out of the Lower Hill District. The very goal was getting rid of the housing.  I am partial to the argument that looking back in time, the failure is much clearer than it must have been at the time. Still you have to wonder why nobody thought about denser parking development in conjunction with the Civic Arena site.  Maybe we were 'progressive' in developing Downtown parking decades ago, but horizontal thinking where people actually lived should limit the kudos we get now looking back. Can't play pick and choose with history.

My older point is that  (via the last issue of Pulp magazine:) the Lower Hill District really represented Pittsburgh's Downtown residential housing stock that we have now spent hundreds of millions of public money to put back in place over the last decade.  Lots of the best Downtown neighborhoods elsewhere are gentrifications of past 'blight' in places that did not see housing stock demolished en masse. Once the Lower Hill District was taken out, Pittsburgh didn't have anything to gentrify and was left with a Downtown lacking population for the better part of a half century.  The consequences were part of Pittsburgh's population decline over subsequent decades. Then you really have to wonder about the impact on the folks who were forced to move, many of whom wound up in city housing developments that we have also demolished in recent decades.  So you produce serial, and multi-generational, displacement of the same families.


Blogger Vannevar said...

Pretty sure JJ isn't Jonah Jameson. Help a brother out?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

it is not Joan Jett

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jim Russell said...

Jane Jacobs, I assume.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

shhh.. I'm tempted to delete that comment. :-)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

I've been persuaded that throughout the automobile era in Pittsburgh and other similar U.S. cities, there have been voices speaking both for and against any given ill-conceived urban parking/road projects. So the question is what tipped the balance one way or another in any given case, and in this case the balance was pretty much tipped by bigotry.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not just parking in Detroit, but block wide freeways... lots of them. At least since our infrastructure is so meager, we didn't demolish 2 or 3 times more than we did for them.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 1:28:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

but block wide freeways

There is this small case of 279 going north through a few (former) neighborhoods.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 4:44:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

And 579 cutting off the Lower Hill.

Generally, Point State Park and the plazas between Stanwix and Commonwealth are characteristic of the Robert Moses Era as applied in Pittsburgh. They show up as white on that map at Streetsblog, but certainly they should be counted against Pittsburgh in any sort of tallying of historic wisdom or lack thereof in urban planning.

Thursday, August 29, 2013 6:46:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Oh, and we shouldn't forget the 10th Street Bypass and I-376, which cut Downtown off from the riverfronts. We are now trying to soften that impact with some riverfront trails and greenery, but it is still pretty bad. A more ambitious approach (but still short of highway removal) would be to put deck-parks over them for a few blocks on each side (which would require reconfiguring the I-376 side a bit).

Thursday, August 29, 2013 6:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Not Ken said...

Well, it is not just the City. I am convinced that a huge, unwritten part of the story why the Mon Valley has been slow to re-develop is the talk of highway projects. And it is not just the Mon-Fayette (why would consider anyone building anything in Braddock or the Turtle Creek Valley when a four-lane divided highway was to run down the middle of them?). There was the Pittsburgh-McKeesport Freeway, the Route 48 Expressway, the North-South Freeway, the PA 837 Expressway, and so on. Land was even acquired for some of these projects. There are staircases leading to nowhere in White Oak, Turtle Creek and McKeesport where houses were taken for the Mon-Fayette and North-South.

And, to add to one of Briem's notes, what did the East Street Expressway do, but make cheap land available in Butler County for home construction? That's not a value judgment--lots of people like cheap land and big houses. But it is tax money subsidizing that development.

Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this article seemed relevant. I tis arguing that the PPA (Philadelphia Parking Authority) divest itself of retail garage component which raises relatively little revenue for the agency. the sales would generate tax upfront (transfer tax, sale) and long term revenue in the form of property taxes, business taxes, and the parking tax. A side benefit would be higher parking rates which would encourage transit use. the same argument could be made for pittsburgh

Friday, August 30, 2013 12:10:00 PM  

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