Thursday, October 31, 2013

USS Pittsburgh redux

A few years ago I wrote a piece on the history of the USS Pittsburgh in Typhoon Viper in 1945.If you ever think you are having a bad day, just go read the histories of the sailors who experienced Typhoon Cobra and Typhoon Viper during World War II. 

From that I was excited to hear from a veteran who not only survived the typhoon himself, but had some pictures of note which he shared.  This particular picture may not exist in the public realm at all as far as I can tell... but thanks to Navy (and Army and Air Force) veteran K.C. Priest who sent me this photo of the bow of the USS Pittsburgh (the notional USS McKeesport), sheared off during the storm.

and if you care to see how that all came about, see the video below the pic.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All things transit

Pittsburgh City Paper covers the very very notional subway map once designed by a graduate student some years ago: Former grad student's proposed transit map goes viral  

Of course the harder news is some analysis showing that the city of Pittsburgh ranks high on the percentage of commuters who do not use a car here. See Atlantic Cities: The U.S. Cities Where the Fewest Commuters Get to Work By Car. You will see the city of Pittsburgh ranks high on the list of cities where commuters travel by foot or bicycle.

I really thought I saw the thesis in the past, but given just how pie in the sky it is, I don't recall even mentioning it here. Given that just one small piece of that would require actually building the Spine Line, which remains a nonstarter, the whole concept is a bit ethereal. It really is a story on the power of presentation and that one map. Otherwise this would all remain unnoticed like the scads of theses written on say Maglev over the years.  Let alone the longer bibliography of transit studies here.

The bike story is a bit curious of late.  Note the PG's 30 year retrospective recently touted how little bicycle riding there was here 30 years ago."Thirty years ago, about the only people on bicycles in Pittsburgh were messengers and a smattering of gung-ho pedalers seemingly oblivious to our unfriendly terrain, weather and traffic."  Big change right?  Of course the Post-Gazette's own tumbr news archive recently pointed out the opposite story of how much bicycle riding was growing here though the 70s.  Funny reading both articles together.

For the bike/ped commuting story.  Be clear, I am a big fan of all the progress in making Pittsburgh a better bike place. Still, it is worth taking note that the statistics are about the city of Pittsburgh compared to other cities.  If you did a similar benchmarking against regions, or even big counties, the high ranking for Pittsburgh evaporates.  The city of Pittsburgh is a relatively small part of the region, compared to the the proportional size of other cities in their respective regions.  So anything that is impacted by density, i.e. walking to work, is going to be a skewed number for Pittsburgh. Works for statistics as diverse as poverty, but most certainly impacts the proportion of folks walking or biking to work.

If you want to look at detailed maps of where people bike and walk to work in Pittsburgh, we had this in the last 3 pages of this newsletter. You may note just how concentrated the pattern of non-car commuting even within the city of Pittsburgh.  Once you get outside of the city limits, it makes little sense even to map it out.

Then there is this measurement issue I've gone through in the past. I'll update this graphic comparing all the American Community Survey (ACS) estimates ever produced for bicycle commuting in the city of Pittsburgh. It is a good demonstration of the pitfalls of the ACS because the proportion of bicycle commuters is so low that it highlights some of the problems of overinterpreting ACS survey-based data in general.  This graphic has the estimates for the number of bicycle commuters displayed plus or minus the margin of error that you should use in interpreting the point estimate.  Makes for a different perspective at least.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Steeltown Shudders

I am just barely old enough that headlines about U.S. Steel shutting down a plant makes me shudder personally just a bit. Even if, as is the case today, the plant is in Canada. Per the Hamilton Spectator today: We Won't Make Steel in Hamilton: US Steel.

But the plant has been on the chopping block for some time. USS tried to shut it down a few years ago and got caught up in some subsidy agreements that kept the plant open. The Spec even put up their headline from the time (see below), a headline that really is familiar to many a Pittsburgher to this day.  They will have a similar headline tomorrow no doubt.

If anyplace can relate to Hamilton's feelings right now, it remains Pittsburgh. As with Pittsburgh's experience three decades ago, Wall Street's priorities are a bit different than main street's. WSJ: Forget Those Losses – Market Cheers For U.S. Steel Cost Cuts.

Things that make you go hmmm. though  Shedding nonperforming assets; possibly deferring a costly move into a new headquarters... If USS stays in 600 Grant Street, I personally would love to know the length of time they sign a lease for.



Welcome to Pittsburgh a delegation from one of the region's Sister Cities: Saitama, Japan, who will be here for a couple days. A blog called Pennslvasia  has the details: Delegation from sister city Saitama to visit Pittsburgh, October 28 - November 1

But who knew there was a blog out there focused on "Exploring the intersections between Pennsylvania and Asia?"


Monday, October 28, 2013

Paleofuture Pittsburgh

So the Post-Gazette is summing up its 30 year retrospective of change in Pittsburgh.  What I find most interesting is a very esoteric point, but it is remarkable how the 1980s continues to be a touchstone for Pittsburgh. While the last piece of the PG series looks a bit into the future, the bulk of  whole series has been about how Pittsburgh has changed since the seminal changes of three decades ago. In fact the foil for the series was nominally another PG series from 1983 which the PG was good enough to reprint in large part.

All well and good, but what did we learn about how Pittsburgh has changed?  A button was pushed somewhere and the region was transformed from the dirty manufacturing town of the past to the 'Knowledge Town' of today.  Was not such an easy path I assure you, if you really accept that is what happened in the first place. If you are looking for a more long form version of the story, a good starting point might be Mike Madison's: Contrasts in Agglomeration, then and now. You might get a very different perspective on this Pittsburgh story.

Still, what fascinates me is how for Pittsburgh everything still revolves around the 1980s. The series just concluded really keys off of what Pittsburgh was like in the 1980s. In fact the series was inspired by a similar series the PG ran back in the 80s. That past series was very much about Pittsburgh present, or how the region was dealing with changes at the time, it was not really looking into the future. If you go back and look at 1961 you will find what I think is the most fascinating version of this type of meta-analysis ever done in the region.  Back then the Post-Gazette had a far more extensive look at what Pittsburgh would look like 25 years into the future.  Lots of amazing guest writers pondered the future for city, region, nation and world.    

So for Pittsburgh in 1961, the question was what would it be like here in the 80s.  In the 80s we reflected on what changes were ongoing and now decades later we look back on how we have changed since then. It is like That 80s Show meets Ebenezer's ghosts.  But just to give you a shortcut to all the great prognostications of 1961.Here are just  some of the articles the Post-Gazette compiled for their 25 year look into the future

Look Ahead 25 years, by Mel  Seidenberg.  In a sidebar note the comment on an Aerial Tramway from Mount Washington to Gateway Center Downtown. That idea keeps popping up in various forms even to this day. Old is new again, eh?  But lots of great stuff there in the lead-off piece of the whole section.

The New Technologies, by Carnegie Tech president John Warner

Some of the changes for Downtown.  The bullet of note there is:
"Redevelopment of at least one section - that containing and surrounding the historic and now-cleared Diamond Market Square - into a center of interest and night-life, including: Sidewalk cafes, supper clubs, theaters, playgrounds, art exhibits, outdoor and indoor markets for small enterprise. " 
....  so we are a little slow on some things. Also note the plan for 6-8,000 residential dwellings in the Golden Triangle proper.

Emphasis on Health by Abraham Ribicoff

The American City of the Future by Robert Moses (yes, that Robert Moses)

Teaching Machines, by Herbert Stein

Man and the machine, by Leland Hazard

The War Against Disease, by Jonas Salk

The Sleeping Beauty, (subtitled: Pittsburgh comes of age in cultural activities for those who think all the work was done in just the last few decades)

and a must read: Prophesy as new sport, by sports editor Albert Abrams

If you get through all that, even better than the articles themselves are some of the advertisements that ran at the time alongside all of these.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

What a difference a century makes

U.S. Steel in the news of late: US Steel new CEO expected to slash more costs. .... it has been for some time. Circa 1911: 

I still am dying to know the story behind the raccoon (it is a raccoon?), an editorial motif of the time.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Paleofuture Detroit

Non-sequitur to a large degree, but for a Sunday morning this works  With last week's PG theme of how Pittsburgh avoided being Detroit I caught this film of Detroit's future (circa 1965). Some dangerous hubris in how the PG framed all of that.  Plenty of municipalities in Southwestern Pennsylvania in as much duress as Detroit is today, and have been for decades.  Still, if anyone wants to draw simple parallels, was Detroit's path all that different from Pittsburgh in the era when this video was made?

Key phrases in there include "Planning with a purpose," but plenty of other Pittsburgh analogies could be made if you want to parse it in detail...   also note that Detroit was so optimistic.  The Prelinger archives which I presume is where this video comes from (but which I can't find a way to embed from) implies this video is part of a pitch for Detroit to attact the Olympics. Note that link has the full video, not just the first 10 minutes.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

"and the fathers are working"

A video and longform piece worth watching and reading: Cleaning up one of America's most polluted cities on a site called  The longform piece by Matt Stroud.

The piece stands on its own, but look closely at time 3:38 in the embedded video below.  The heart-wrenching soliloquy there I bet is from the 1970s. Go watch that and then think about how local environmental politics were playing out at the time. The old footage is not specifically referenced, but I have a feeling it is contemporary to when U.S. Steel put this full page, and I mean full page, advertisement (pasted below) in local papers. U.S. Steel was playing on job fears in an ongoing battle with Allegheny County's then new air pollution bureaucracy  (highlighted in the video) which was locked in a front-page legal and political battle with U.S. Steel at the time. Consider what folks were up against arguing against the region's single largest employer, arguably the region's corporate soul. The advertisement references the recent construction of 600 Grant Street (aka, the U.S. Steel building... now with another acronym on on top) which opened in 1970 and the picture there is of Edgar Speer, US Steel's Chairman at the time. This was hard ball politics that puts to shame most any recent political history. The video is all about the debate this advertisement epitomizes.

And at time 5:00 I think you get a shot of the late city councilwoman Michelle Madoff, who passed away just this week, in action.


Water = Money

Only of interest to the municipal finance wonks out there, but there has been a positive development in the long saga of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's variable rate bond imbroglio. If you don't know the details, you don't want me to even try and explain.  But the backup letter of credit for the bond, credit that JP Morgan once left the PWSA hanging without, is to be replaced.  PNC was providing a letter of credit, but it appears that the Royal Bank of Canada will be the new credit provider, with a slightly better credit rating for good measure. 

Still, some may have noted the PWSA is being forced to raise rates anew to cover capital investment required in the near future.  I still wish someone would go and at least do a psuedo audit of their last big borrowing (~$419 million in 2008) to determine how much of that $$ ever made it into capital investments, and how much just went into financing, and refinancing, costs resulting from JP Morgan leaving the PWSA hanging after setting up the whole deal.

But good news in the short term.  I pointed out earlier in the year that some sort of refinancing had to happen, and it looks to have worked out for the better. Don't want anyone to say I ignore the good news when it comes. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

Riverfronts and the region formerly known for steel

PG on Sunday highlighted the upcoming Remaking Cities conference, and just as was the case a quarter century ago, everyone is agog over the participation of HRH The Prince of Wales.  Prince Charles made big headlines here for pointing out how our communities had been blocked from our riverfronts by the mills that were still shutting down. An important message then, and now for that matter, but one not completely unheard before he mentioned it.

But the 1988 conference had other big impact pieces.  Just one was the focused report on the Mon Valley.  You can read the AIA's R/UDAP  (Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team) report online here: Remaking the Mon Valley. Worth a read in itself. No time to truly decompile it here, but one hard to ignore truth is that a lot of the communities that report focused on: Braddock, Rankin, Homestead (if you look past the Waterfront of course) just to begin, are far worse off now than they were 25 years ago. They are all certainly much smaller having suffered nearly continuous population loss since then.

Truth is that the report was not super well received by the community it was supposed to be helping. Where the communities of the Mon Valley were still looking for a path to bring back manufacturing to the region, the message the AIA team provided was just a bit different.  When responding to questions at a public meeting in the Mon Valley, one of the report's authors had this to say:

"If you wait for the steel industry to come back, you'll wait forever"*

No matter the truth to it, didn't go over well for sure.  and btw... the lead up to the 1988 conference was seriously all Prince all the time. The mere thought that anyone important would come to Pittsburgh had everyone all a tizzy. See the Pittsburgh Mag version of the story highlighting the Prince's upcoming visit to Pittsburgh.

Finally for the transit wonks out there.  Check out page 43 of the R/UDAT report linked above for a look at "transit improvements needed to support Mon Valley redevelopment."  Big progress there with the exception of the EBA's extension to Swissvale.  Wikipedia will tell you what PatTrain was:

Tony McGann, Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (RDAT), Speaking in Homestead, PA,  February 27, 1988


Sunday, October 13, 2013

South Side then - South Side now

Must be some Pittsburgh mole in the Wikipedia machine that has made tomorrow's Wikipedia's Picture of the Day tomorrow an illustration of the historic South Side of Pittsburgh (aka Birmingham).

If you want more, the best source on the history of the South Side is not Wikipedia in this case, but an old article by a former teacher of mine: A Political Process of Urban Growth: Consolidation of the South Side with the City of Pittsburgh, 1872, by Bernard J. Sauers.

 It has a cool and rare map breaking down the annexations that made the city of Pittsburgh:


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Lest we forget: Doolittle Raiders meet for last time

Still awe inspiring over 7 decades later.

WarHistoryOnline:The remaining Doolittle Raiders will gather in Dayton, Ohio, for a final time next month.

That picture says it all.   


Friday, October 11, 2013

Wonk's End



Thursday, October 10, 2013

Biking here / biking there

Bram comments on biking in Amsterdam: Munich, Amsterdam and Pittsburgh: Differences as seen through Bicycling N'at

Coincidentially going viral is one Dutchman's commentary on biking here (h/t Professor Levinson )

I'll point out that the weekend coming up could not be better weather and timing for heading out onto the Great Allegheny Passage to see the fall colors. Just think, no traffic... but if you go beyond and onto the C&O Canal, the big budget bruhaha has apparently cut off the water faucets.


Greater Westmoreland County Airport angst

You know, it's a little odd how much media attention this is getting.  Note all the coverage of the bus route Greyhound is about to start from the city of Pittsburgh out to the Arnold Palmer airport in Westmoreland county.

PG: Greyhound service will connect Downtown Pittsburgh, Arnold Palmer Airport
PBT: Greyhound to link Latrobe airport, Pittsburgh
Trib: Greyhound to begin daily service to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
AP via WPXI:Greyhound to link Pittsburgh to Arnold Palmer airport
Story was not a one shot deal, but ran over several days. I presume this made both TV and radio as well.

Odd in that folks from elsewhere might wonder what the big deal is about access to a pretty small suburban airport when there is a showpiece airport serving the region.  Typically a smaller regional airport might provide convenience to passengers starting from a distant part of the region, but to actually have folks travel away from the major airport?? This also isn't the case say of Chicago's Midway airport where congestion at the major airport has pushed a lot of traffic to alternative airports.

addendum:  see the comments where it is pointed out that there already is a bus route from Downtown Pittsburgh to the Arnold Palmer Airport, making all this news coverage that much odder.  See the published (and online) schedule for the Latrobe-Pittsburgh Flyer.Cost? $4.50 or half the onlyprice quoted in the PG article for the new Greyhound service at least.  Note the PG article seems to imply the Westmoreland Transit service is only from Greensburg? ("Westmoreland Transit offers service from Arnold Palmer Airport to downtown Greensburg") Is the online schedule incorrect??

The airport out there is not far past Greensburg.  Maybe AMTRAK could put a stop close to the airport and we could get a train to the plane. My quick look says the closest point of approach from the rail line to the airport is about a mile. Then I wonder what the displacement from PIT would be?  Or just imagine if MAGLEV ever happened.  It was envisioned to stretch to Greensburg as well. 

Might be interesting to look at the trend in flights from Greater Westmoreland County Airport:


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Understanding economics of shale in Pennsylvania

This is actually at the core of Marcellus Shale economics.  A lot of early visions of what profit (and for individuals the potential royalties) the Marcellus Shale could bring presumed far more than they should have that new Pennsylvania supplies would continue to sell at a higher price than other supplies out west. The price differential caused in large part by the proximity to New England demand or the city-gate price for the New York region.

well.......  That economics 101 hits you and that question on what happens when you push the supply curve out.  But we are not talking widgets here.

So don't ask me why the Department of Energy is able to put out new data when most other Fed agencies can't, but today they have one of those Rosetta Stone graphics and analysis if you want to read more.

Channeling my inner energy trader, this is saying that where there used to be a premium for Pennsylvania produced natural gas... now the futures market is projecting that Pennsylvania supplies will be worth less than the spot price at the reference Henry Hub... which is in Louisiana.  Rational expectations anyone?

So this is all really important to the future of shale development in Pennsylvania.  When you factor in that the Henry Hub prices are sustaining very low $$ already, the lower price available to Pennsylvania suppliers is really depressing realized prices.


The single biggest change in Pittsburgh since the 1980s......

Too much to be said about this graph:

And just as an aside, but Allegheny County has flipped to majority women employed and appears to be staying that way permanently.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Peak unemployment rates

Since new data continues to be curtailed by the big budget brouhaha... let's stick with the 30 years ago meme.  For perspective if nothing else, here are peak unemployment rates by county:

Allegheny County - January 1983 - 14.7%
Beaver County - January 1983 - 28%
Butler County - January 1983 - 20.2%
Fayette County - February 1983 - 26.7%
Greene County - February 1983 - 22.1%
Lawrence County - January 1983 - 23.3%
Washington County - January 1983 - 20.4%
Westmoreland County - January 1983 - 20.6%

For the regional unemployment rate over time, my interactive version appears to be still working, though I have not updated the most recent data in a couple years.

addendum:  yes... 28.0% was the peak unemployment rate recorded in Beaver County.   If you want to put these numbers in context, compare them to the potentially overestimated unemployment rates during the Great Depression... not the recent and 'Great Recession,' but the Great Depression of the 1930s.Also, I really am going to have to go back and calculate what U-6 was in the Pittsburgh region was in 1983. Going to be a scary number. 


Monday, October 07, 2013

Zak Kovalcik | From the Streets of Pittsburgh to the Track of Berlin

Just passing this on:


Sunday, October 06, 2013

Post-Soylent Pittsburgh

OK... since Gary has set the tee, let's talk population.  Per the Post-Gazette (if behind the paywall I'm sorry, I have no subscription myself, but it still seems to be letting me in??) If you can read it he sets up what appears to be a 4 week series looking back at Pittsburgh over 30 years.  It starts, as it should, with people: 

"The city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and metropolitan Pittsburgh area consistently lost population in every decennial census after 1960, with the 1980s serving as the greatest period for the depressing view of moving vans' tail lights."

Let's start with the city. Population decline is not a debatable story since 1960 of course.  Most will say 1950 was the peak. It is actually worse than that.  Official stats will peg 1940 as the peak in the city's population, but you need to parse even more. It turns out that what little population gain the city had in the 1930s was the result of annexations that expanded the size of the city. You can make a case the city of Pittsburgh has been on a population glide since 1930. Folks long before me figured that out, but take that into account and the population within the city was declining in the 1930s as well. Much the same story for the county.  For both city and county the double whammy of regional population change compounded with suburbanization...  another myth out there is that suburbanization began after World War II.  For Pittsburgh and many other regions, it really was a phenomenon that was well underway by the 1920s. 

The region is a different story.  The baby boom generation masked to a certain degree the demographics of migration which has been net negative for the Pittsburgh region since at least the 1950s. The blast of migration in the 1980s really being the culmination of a long period of economic change, not the beginning. 

But is there population growth in the city of Pittsburgh proper? It is a bit of a debate.  Some census estimates show a nearly microscopic growth. You may note that the previous year's growth completely disappeared in the data.  Which is not to be a nabob, sheer stability in the city's population is a feat unto itself. Still, the first truth is that nobody is out there counting the city's population each and every year, so we just don't know.  The estimates are just that, estimates.  Some big debates over the veracity of the municipal level population estimates the census puts out there.  I am not so critical in that it is a very difficult thing to come up with a number for the city's population each year.  For the nation, states, even metro regions the estimation methodology gets you pretty close to what reality is (IMHO), but at a local level migration patterns change so much that you can't begin to say for certain what is happening below the county level. The city's population 'increase' in recent years is really the result of a 'correction' where some big group quarters were put into the estimates because they were missed in the 2010 census.  The net result is that the city's decline between 2000 and 2010 was a bit smaller than recorded, but the gains of late would evaporate. 

OK... off the wonk-cliff there...   The PG seems to be on a 30 years ago kick.  10  years ago I wrote: It was 20 years ago today. So here we are 10 years later.  I think all changes we are noticing now were well underway back then, to include the population story, but for certain nobody believed it back then. People thought I was nuts for writing: Young People are NOT leaving Pittsburgh back in 2002. I mean, the PG editorial board didn't believe any of this just a couple years ago: Elusive Turnaround: Reports of Pittsburgh population turnaround are unproven (emphasis added).Editorials never require retractions I guess.  But it was one of Gary's colleague's who once  labeled me a contrarian optimist.  Still, there should be no doubt that in some part the population turnaround at least has been predicted for some time, if not earlier or earlier. For now let's be clear there is no new story here, at the very least we are into our 6th straight year of net positive migration into the Pittsburgh region.

No joke the 1980s were bad.  The Pittsburgh MSA was defined differently back then, but if you take current MSA defintions it still works out that 7-county Pittsburgh MSA recorded the single biggest population loss of any MSA in the country between 1980 and 1990.  The single biggest population loss of any metro area that decade. In the end it was not the number that left but who was leaving. The migration flows were very age-selective, younger workers more likely to leave, older more likely to stay.  I once estimated that in the early 1980s the Pittsburgh region was seeing its 20-something population decline by 5% per year. Those are on par with war-induced demographic trends. Overall my estimate (though you may see it repeated without attribution elsewhere) is that net migration from the region peaked near 50 thousand people a year. If those flows had lasted for very long, there would be no Pittsburgh today.  The population losses impact us even today, but take a look at what numbers we are talking about.  

Metropolitan Statistical Areas with largest population declines between 1980 and 1990


Metropolitan Area
Pittsburgh, PA
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL
Peoria, IL
Charleston, WV
Duluth, MN-WI
Wheeling, WV-OH
Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA
Steubenville-Weirton, OH-WV
Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, PA
Johnstown, PA
Flint, MI
Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA
Saginaw-Saginaw Township North, MI
Decatur, IL
Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX
Source: Decennial Census, various years.[i]

Note just to begin that Pittsburgh's population loss was not just marginally worse than the next listed region... the illusion of ordinal ranking might lead you to think that. In fact Pittsburgh's population loss came close to twice that of the next worse off region. The column getting cut off there shows the net population change as percentage of total population.  Certainly some smaller regions had bigger percentage losses, but Pittsburgh's absolute loss was by far the largest and far worse than Detroit or Cleveland despite both regions being larger.

Again, the single biggest population loss that decade.  Probably one of the biggest regional net population losses at least the peacetime history of the United States. Scary thing it is worse than that.  Colleauges of mine have tried to figure out the real demographic loss of the whole population exodus.  One estimate is that Pittsburgh suffered a direct population loss 389 thousand between 1970 and 2000, BUT the children of the migrants resulted in a further loss of an additional 205 thousand. Ponder those numbers for just a minute. Those younger workers fleeing Pittsburgh took with them their families, and their future families - compounding and extending the demographic loss for the region.

I could ramble on for days on the impact of that population loss...  but anyone still reading has read much of it already here in the past.  The point is that while we obsess on so many other changes in the region, the history is as much defined by the population loss as anything else.