Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Silver process

While the Warhol on Amiga news is pretty neat, there is also this from the new Hillman Photography Initiative and nowseethis.org.  More on that mountain otherwise known as Boyers, PA:

The Invisible Photograph: Part 1 (Underground) from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.

But speaking of photography, follow along my stream of consciousness for a minute. On the other side of the pond, The Guardian ran a story recently on income inequality, and some recent research that the American middle class has fallen behind that of some European nations.  A big topic, but the photo they chose to run with the article was of an otherwise nondescript  Pittsburgh denizen on the 4th of July in 1990. Curious graphic to choose in time or place. Pittsburgh as icon?

The photo was by noted photographer Nathan Benn, who had a book published recently, I meant to, but can't recall if I mentioned it here at the time. Benn had a whole series of Pittsburgh photographs from the same time. One of the most telling post-industrial Pittsburgh transformation images ever, and I do mean ever, is this photo Benn included in the book.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Books I wish I had written

Just discovered: Everything's Coming Up Profits - Wonderful World of Industrial Musicals

and not just for the Pittsburgh angles buried in there, but check out: 1979 Westinghouse ASD show “’79 Fever” ??  or the whole Westinghouse compendium. My favorite is Power Flower.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Shots across the bow

Points for the PG running a long form history of the (various) USS Pennsylvania's.  Brings to mind something someone once wrote on the equally illustrious USS Pittsburgh vs. Typhoon Viper and the sidebar on the SS McKeesport. (sunk 71 years ago Tuesday in the North Atlantic during a convoy during WWII, btw)

The only thing missing (IMHO) from the piece today is any mention of the bow of the USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4), later renamed the USS Pittsburgh, which was loaned to Carnegie Tech and displayed on campus in a display designed by Henry Hornbostel. That display is gone, but a replica of the prow and neomodern bow is built into the design of Roberts Hall on the CMU campus. The original bow has been moved over to Soldiers and Sailors Hall, but I thought there was a plan for a new display of it on the front lawn there. Not sure the status of that. Anyone?

But I can't find any photos of the original display of the USS Pennsylvania/Pittsburgh bow as it stood on the Carnegie Tech/CMU campus?  Anyone know who has any such photo?

That piece probably displaces the thought I had to write something similar on the Navy's first iron-hulled warship, the USS Michigan, built right here in Pittsburgh before being disassembled for shipment to the Great Lakes, and remained on watch for a remarkable 70 years.  Pittsburgh workmanship for sure, aided by service in fresh water.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Not so random walks

It is what it is....


Thursday, April 24, 2014

What Pittsburghers earn

Lots of news of late about rapidly rising wages in Pittsburgh.

Just a factoid of context. Aggregate wage data says little about what any individual worker makes. The latest detailed occupation data gives me this for the 10 highest and lowest paid occupations in Pittsburgh.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Phuntsholing on the Mon

A small vanity reference, but Trib on Monday: Population expansion in Western Pennsylvania hinges on immigrants.Immigration is low in Pittsburgh for sure, but most certainly not nonexistent. A recurring question, but who are the new Pittsburghers? Here is one answer:

Leading Countries of Birth - Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Residence in the Pittsburgh MSA - Fiscal Year 2012 (Source: USCIS)

India 294
Bhutan 287
China 251
Nepal 128
Canada 80
Vietnam 69
Philippines 65
Korea, South 53
Russia 52
Ukraine 52
United Kingdom 51
Mexico 47
Burma 44
Pakistan 44
Uzbekistan 43

Yes, Europe extends to the Urals and the only European countries in the top 10 are Russia and Ukraine. But anywhere in Western or even Central Europe? Only the UK is in the top 15 (at#11) and Mexico, the only Latin American nation in the top 15 is at #12.  Note the increase in Bhutanese immigration is interesting.  Something that has been noticed here in Pittsburgh over the last couple of years. But really it is not a Pittsburgh phenomenon as much as a Cleveburgh phenonomenon.  Cleveland noted the new arrivals in 2008. In Akron they have been talking about their new neighbors from Bhutan since at least 2010. The AP noted the Bhutanese population in Pittsburgh back in 2008.  If you look at the recent trends in the Bhutanese population across the greater region you will see it is more than a Pittsburgh story.  No wonder the news today is of a Bhutanese cricket team being formed up in Erie. The Pittsburgh numbers below might be larger, but Akron and Erie are much smaller regions.

Source: USCIS


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Parrot forever

I was going to restart my tracker, but it's a bit depressing right now, and of course not calibrated for the whole Wild Card modernism.

So to not be a nabob I decided just to post the greatest Pirates video ever:


Monday, April 21, 2014

The year eveyone was supposed to move out of Allegheny County.

What has been the most quiescent of topics over the last year...  the state of property assessments in Allegheny County.  Wasn't the world going to end? Wasn't the competitiveness of Allegheny County going to evaporate if the assessment went forward? Everyone was going to pull up chocks and move just over the border, any border, to escape the spectre of uniform taxation. Remember all that ink?

Seriously...  not worth any follow up? We are now more than a year past the first post-assessment tax bills.  More than a couple years since any hope the new tax bills could be avoided. About time for the flood of folks moving out of Allegheny County to be well in play.

Brought to mind by some minor notes in the ether. One is from the oracle himself. See: Property assessment in Pennsylvania: the Judge behind widespread reassessment speaks out. Some newsworthy thoughts just in that.

If folks were moving out of Allegheny County to the suburbs, then it would show up in the "net domestic migration" stats that get reported every year. Go take a look at the county by county numbers reported last month. Allegheny County has sustained positive net migraton for the first time since I believe to be the 1920s and within Southwestern Pennsylvania, and more surprisingly Allegheny County if faring better than many suburban counties, many of which have seen domestic migration trend down in the most recent year.  Virtually the opposite result from what many predicted by all who opposed the assessment.  

Maybe there is causality here after all?


Sunday, April 20, 2014

That which will remain unasked

The Toland's article today (Western Pennsylvania to get taste of Tennessee-style for-profit health care) reminds me of a lurking, and purely hypothetical, question that is barely left hanging in that. But as a thought experiment....

What if one or more of Pittsburgh's major health care systems sold themselves to a for-profit enterprise؟

What happens then? Just asking.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Start planning your trip now


Friday, April 18, 2014

Tracking the revolution

Updating is all.......


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Suburban Burgh

Something from the archives here, but maybe because I posted it a week before December 25 a couple years ago, I think few noticed it. Urbanologists may take note of this remarkable series of articles documenting the emergent suburban population growth that the Pittsburgh Press ran in 1951. Lots of ink on the topic.  So to repeat:

"Each worth reading in itself and ever more interesting now as history. The question is, what would a comparable series like this cover today?

1              May 7    Growing Pains in the Suburbs  - "flash towns shoot up on good roads"    

3              May 8    Penn Township  - ".. with plenty of jobs available, high school students are dropping out"             

4              May 9    Churchill Patton Plum - "virtually a golfing heaven"       

5              May 10 White Oak  - "one of the major ailments is that old debbil politics"          

6              May 11 West Mifflin - "Homestead loses most"  also "Transportation bugaboo"    

7              May 12 Pleasant Hills   - "Rural area and borough still feud"

8              May 13 Baldwin and Whitehall   - "Township officials missed the zero hour for filing their annexation petition..."

9              May 14 Bethel Borough               

10           May 15 Green Tree and Scott    

11           May 16 Mount Lebanon              

12           May 17 Reserve Shaler Hampton             

13           May 18 Dorseyville Middle Road              

14           May 19 North Hills Ross Richland              

15           May 20 Moon Robinson Kennedy          

16           May 21 Metropolitan Area Needs Master Plan  


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Paleofuture Pittsburgh - flying saucer edition

Only 150 years until flying saucers solve our public transit problems.  The bridges must be museums or something.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Speaking of Canada.....

Just because this probably isn't itemized on any tourist brochure, but maybe it should be:

Made me think someone ought to go film and upload a look at what is up in Centralia currently.. but of course someone has done that.  A bit surreal, certainly off-grid, but seemingly not completely abandoned. Maybe someday it will be reincorporated.There just has to be a reality TV show to film in Centralia these days.

Addendum: Some Pittsburghers have reported on the abandoned turnpike spur already it seems.  WashPo (2005): The Pennsylvania Turnbike


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Permits Past

So I know we all can point to examples of new urban infill in Pittsburgh in recent years, some of which is unlike what we have seen in some time.  But this is the time series for new residential building permits within the city of Pittsburgh over the last 18 years.  

For a city of 300K give or take, those numbers are low. Nothing I have added up, but most years are likely not even enough for replacement for the number of demolitions, major structure fires or plain old unplanned house collapses we have every year. Lots of other things going on for sure (new public housing, rehabs), but most housing markets are driven in large part by private sector new construction which will be reflected in these numbers. Just something to keep in mind before over-interpreting any one or more examples in front of us.

Anyway... I'll get into the reason I'm looking at that later in the week.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Midnight encomium

For those who noticed the news that the actor known as Stephen Colbert is jumping over to take over the Late Show once David Letterman retires.

The broadcaster Colbert is jumping over to is, in legal fact, the corporation formerly known as Westinghouse, founded by George W. himself and based in Pittsburgh for more than a century. Note that what most call Westinghouse today is really just what was once the Westinghouse Nuclear subsidiary of the much larger parent company, and today owned by the Toshiba Corporation of Japan. The corporation known as Westinghouse bought whole the CBS Corporation in 1995 in a transaction many thought pure folly. In what became at least a symbolic reverse merger, Westinghouse decided to become CBS, and eventually shed all of its now extraneous industrial divisions. Someone didn't read that stick to the knitting memo and much of Pittsburgh's economic history was incidental and collateral damage.

Thus the question, is Colbert Colbert?  Not far from the question is CBS CBS?


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

King Coal and beyond

More than steel, Pittsburgh was made by coal. Some say energy in the ground is important again? On that note, a tremendous series on NPR's Marketplace on what is happening to the coal economy.

An English village, 30 years after its mine closed

 When England walked away from coal

Coal country starts to ask 'What's after coal?'

Those and more in their ongoing series of Coal Play stories.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

O Canada

With Canada in the news here so much these days, someone ought to mention some history of Pittsburgh-Canada relations. At one point  Adolph Schmidt, long at the center of all things Pittsburgh renaissance, served as the American ambassador to Canada for over 4 years in the early 1970s.


Monday, April 07, 2014

Ever more economic data to be mapped.....

This may become the biggest time sink for me since Те́трис first came out.  See the BLS' new QCEW (Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages) State and County Map Application.

Just one of potentially zillions of maps you can now generate instantly:


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Few years mean more to Pittsburgh than... 1979?

A year of historic oil prices, industry-sapping inflation fighting, but of course championship baseball, football and not to forget, basketball:


Friday, April 04, 2014

ObjectIndustry permanence?

I am really unclear if this is a news article or a press release of some kind. But from just a couple weeks ago via CNBC was this headline: US manufacturing is coming back—Thank shale

Now mind you, I have no comment on whether that headline is valid or not for the nation.  But I do note that it has little to do with anything in Pittsburgh. With  data for February now out, the decline in regional manufacturing employment is, if anything, accelerating. The year over year drop in manufacturing employment (-3.1%) is a lot worse even than what I pointed out just last month when manufacturing was the worst performing sector of the regional economy. Note also that what had been a running year over year decline in eds and meds employment has gone away. Has not trended back to growth yet, but absolutely even employment in February compared to year prior.We will have to see what that trend holds in the future.

BTW, while I have no comment on the national trends, the Wall Street Journals certainly does and note their recent list of the 5 things we learned from the economic census. Just don't stop reading after #1 as many are wont to do.

Put another way, the proportion of regional jobs in Pittsburgh that are at manufacturing industries has now dropped to near its all-time low. The manufacturing job count in Pittsburgh has given back virtually all of the bounceback that came after the Great Recession ended. Wasn't there talk of 'reindustrializing' (if that is a word) Pennsylvania. I am pretty sure the various marketing campaigns out there have swamped any news coverage (to say nothing of all the data) on the topic.

If that is not clear enough, I have not yet begun to parse! Here is the proportion of national manufacturing jobs that are located in Pittsburgh. Never has such an unvarying trend said so much. You rarely can find an economic trend that appears so stable.

But the stability may be a bit illusory, at least for the future.  With full disclosure, this is taking the same exact data but way blowing up the scale.  How is Pittsburgh doing in recent months? In recent years? Coming back?

So maybe it is more like the inverse of object permanence? Is there a name for that?


Thursday, April 03, 2014

A number is a number is a number

So I hate to do this.... but worth deconstructing a recent viral blog post that obviously has made great note here in Pittsburgh.  See this: The Nation's Most Coveted Demographic Has Been Flocking To Pittsburgh. The headline  comes from a straightforward compilation of demographic data from the 2005 American Community Survey (ACS) and comparing with 2012 data from the same source. Census data is census data; so what could be wrong?

But yeah, I hate to say it, but probably does not work out that way.  A number of things going on here, but first and foremost I refer back to my post trying to explain how the American Community Survey is not intended to be a reference for count data. This may be a good example of why.

That in itself is not the issue here.  In this analysis the population change between 2005 and 2012 was compared, using ACS data to make that comparison.  The thing that was a big red flag for me was the result showing that the Pittsburgh MSA had grown by 2% over the 7 years. I recreated the data and indeed if you just pull up 2005 and 2012 1-year ACS total population counts for the Pittsburgh MSA you get 2,314,937 and 2,360,733 respectively. Works out to a +1.97% gain, so 2% as reported.

The problem is no other data says there has been metro growth here over that period.  Decline may have abated in just the last couple of years, but there has not been net +2% growth.  So what is going on, and how does it relate to the result that shows this disproportionate growth in our 'young' population.  As much as I would love to drive the silver stake into Border Guard Bob, this isn't going to do it.

Ready?  The 2005 ACS data did not include ANY group quarters population.  To be precise, here is the Census Bureau's disclaimer on the 2005 data:
Data are limited to the household population and exclude the population living in institutions, college dormitories, and other 
So how big is the group quarters population in the Pittsburgh MSA?  In 2010 you are talking 62,679K people, or roughly 2.7% of the region's population.  So if you net that out, or add it in, you get back to realizing the population change for the region was a decline of something less than 1%, but certainly not +2%.  So from there you can't really make any of the follow-on conclusions about young people moving into the region.

Then there was the bigger point to come out of that which was that population 25-34 jumped 12% over the same 7 years. So I recreated that and indeed the population age 25-34 appears to increase from 257,715 in 2005 to 289,617 in 2012 according to the 1 year ACS estimates. Works out to +12.4%.  But again, the earlier number does not include any group quarters. How much of the +31,905 increase in that age range are coming from group quarters?  In itself about 5K. Take that out and it still works out to a palpable increase (~+10%) in the age group.  Still some other things going on, and you lose half of the increase if you use latest 5-year ACS data. Basically the range of variation of in the various ACS estimates really makes it hard to conclude there is much increase at all in that population, certainly nothing close to +12%, but I'll go through that in more detail later. Nonetheless, I bet I will be forced to refute the +12% factoid for long into the future.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sic Semper Skybus

Kudos for PG for pulling Skybus photos from their archives.

Skybus, IMHO, is the Rosetta Stone of Pittsburgh's public transit history. If you want to read more on where I get that, read what must be the definitive history: SKYBUS Pittsburgh's Failed Industry Targeting Strategy of the 1960s. by Morton Coleman, the late David Houston and Ted Muller.

The last real vestige of Skybus as public transit (as compared to people movers you see around) is the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) in use on the campus of WVU in Morgantown.  There was some talk of some PRT-like transit system being built for Oakland and environs, but that talk seems to have all faded without any notice by anyone. Made for a good PR at one time I guess.

But I am just catching the most complete Skybus video now on Youtube is a must watch:


And a bit more good news

Sticking with the good news meme....

With the latest data dump, the February 2014 unemployment rate for Pittsburgh is now 5.8%, down 2/10ths of a percent from January. That puts us at 88 months since the regional unemployment rate was higher than the nation's.  But more significantly, the gap between regional and national unemployment rates is widening again. There had been a convergence that, had it continued, may have ended this streak.  Also likely correlated with lower net migration in recent data.  But with the local unemployment rate now 9/10ths of a percentage point below the national rate, the gap is larger than it has been in 15 months.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Morris Buttermaker reporting

Ponder for a moment a number of stories over the last month.

For years, seemingly a decade at least, the Port Authority was on the verge of an existential budgetary meltdown and continued to make "draconian cuts" just a couple years ago. The word of late is that the very same organization has a "solid financial future." We are talking about the same Port Authority right?

The school district even last month was pushing a story the media was reporting of a potential $18 million dollar deficit this year, yet the final count was a $20+ million surplus. Problems deferred, despite again a fairly dire message oft repeated. That is quite a swing in expectations over just a month.

Also perpetually on the verge of a budgetary calamity, the Carnegie Library is reporting calm waters with new revenues from a library tax (a library tax exempt from anti-windfall provisions governments must abide by) and gambling revenues generated by table games dedicated to the library have all worked in some form to put the on a "solid financial footing."

The city of Pittsburgh... seriously once a financial basket case is now arguing over when to leave Act 47 oversight. Certainly an incredibly different public debate from just over a decade ago. And while I am not a fan of the accounting many know, the city is happy to tout how much better funded it pension system is now than just a few years ago.

Add in the demographic story, remember when the modal story was that out of Forbes decrying how "Pittsburgh is A Pit for singles," a sentiment that would be buttressed by our own opeds even. The local punditry could not be convinced there was any positive story to tell. Even the latest news has flat population growth, but again there are more people moving into the Pittsburgh region than are moving out. Our legacy of demographic decline is a long-lasting legacy of how dire the population loss was a generation ago.

And the Pirates are beginning the season with a fan base which knows there is this thing called a post-season. Nuff said.

Taken in isolation, each of those examples is a feel good story in itself, but taken collectively they really tell a different story. Now the modal media coverage of Pittsburgh is about as hagiographic as it can get. Writers of all ilk are now struggling to write the good news Pittsburgh story fast enough. For those with any memory of how Pittsburgh was ever portrayed by the greater world in the past, it's like some form of the twilight zone.

Somehow over the last 5 years or so, everything has been fixed. Some problems deemed utterly intractable just a few years ago have faded away with only passing notice. I really need a dose of unctuous bafflegab to refill the nabob deficit I am feeling. I also am appreciating how many in the public may discount the most dire or warnings some of us repeat. It seems things will all work themselves out. The first question is whether they really did, and if so, did we learn the right lessons? So no worries, good news or bad, plenty of fodder here.

And since it is April 1, I can't resist adding that our savior is not, nor ever was, the cupcake. Don't get me wrong, plenty of problems out there. But with the sun, we will get to them another day.