Monday, November 24, 2014

Cor-ten nevermore

I just don't have time to ponder how much Pittsburgh economic development history all weaves together in just one news item today: U.S. Steel to put headquarters on former Civic Arena Site. Banished forever is the Mellon Arena moniker of course. Moving on.....

Steel, the Penguins, the Hill District and the Civic Arena. So much Pittsburgh history all imploded together into a spatial singularity, it collectively is a bit sublime; and even more impactful on what it means for the neighborhood.  Keeping US Steel's headquarters in Pittsburgh has now, quite remarkably, become subsumed into all facets of the debate on Hill District re-redevelopment.

What I don't think has ever been written has been the omni-decade overview of how many redevelopment efforts there have been in the Hill District.  Many we know about, but many kind of get forgotten quickly.  Some efforts go way back (see photo below), but even much more recent efforts have been banished from memory..  I really don't think there has been one great effort to look comprehensively across the decades to explain how the Hill District has changed.

But back to today's announcement. This new project now pretty much swamps a dozen or so past efforts, or visions might be a better way to think about them, of the Hill District's future  I wonder how money and effort was spent in just working up this blueprint circa 1983:

But the location of US Steel's headquarters obviously still has an emotional tug for the 'Steel City.'   It is often overlooked that US Steel's headquarters through its first half decade of existence was actually in New York City befitting the corporation's genesis in the capital accumulation of JP Morgan. Only in the 1950s did Pittsburgh formally become the headquarters for the corporation.  Then, when US Steel morphed into USX in the 1980s, the headquarters of the holding company for a time was in Texas, only to return to Pittsburgh officially after Marathon Oil was divested. That history is forgotten probably because the  megalithic "Steel Building" seems to be a permanent presence defining Pittsburgh, or at least Downtown.  But in reality 600 Grant Street is a relatively modern building. The building itself only opened in the 1970s and before that the headquarters was located adjacent to Mellon Park.

Politics has long had a role in the location of the corporations HQ.  When air pollution battles were escalating in the 1970s, there was this full page ad blasted into the media. Begs a question of what would have happened if pollution control efforts had been derailed?

Old debates?


I forgot about this graphic from few years ago which is incredibly apropos to the topic This advertisement (circa 1961) presages just how intertwined the history of U.S. Steel and the Civic Arena have always been.  U.S. Steel asks us to "Look what the earthlings built!" but read the subtext as well.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Old is new is old again: Pittsburgh immigration

Just connecting some dots across the decades....

Last week PG had this story: Restaurant industry largest employer of immigrants in U.S., but not in Steel city, a story that has struck such a chord it is being republished all over. I guess we don't eat? The testable hypothesis it suggests is that Pittsburgh has fewer restaurants per capita than you might expect compared to other cities/region. As much as I'm tempted, I'll let someone else try and model that. Then the PG passes on, via our PT friends, the factoid that indeed Pittsburgh remains one of the least diverse places in the US.

Any 'new' news here? Is the recent data any different from the past is the question? Consider that it has been more than a few years since @danfitzwsj wrote: In Pittsburgh, welcome mat is out to immigrants.  Do any of those themes sound familiar with any of the stories/initiatives of today? But you should have seen the e-mail I got from that story with people insisting a flood of new and mostly undocumented immigrants were already coming to Pittsburgh.  Remember that was almost a decade ago. I am sure that with a minimal bit of effort I could find older references that say much the same thing a decade before that.

I always wonder why there are there so may stories always about the new immigrants coming to Pittsburgh and only very rarely does anyone focus on the hard question of what might be keeping our immigration numbers  so low. Maybe the extra efforts we go through here?  Remember this telling NYT piece: Altoona,with no immigrant problem, tries to solve it. Or a bit closer to home if you insist, there was this narrative from the South Side: The other side of the fence. More recent, as in today, here is a piece of a Pittsburgh-catalyzed immigration story in the HuffPo: I'm a Not-Quite-Legal Alien in the U.S., and it sucks.So no, attracting more immigrants to Pittsburgh is a lot more complicated than putting up 'Come to Pittsburgh' billboards at JFK (not that I've heard of anyone doing that... yet?)

But going back to the first link on immigrants in the local restaurant industry.  More than a decade ago I once had a call from a New York based journalist on this topic of immigration in Pittsburgh.  When I explained how off the chart low our recent immigration numbers were, their immediate, and to them obvious, question was "but who drives the taxis?"  An interesting question again today is it not? Maybe more so than what is going on in the restaurant industry. In a lot of regions recent immigrants make up most taxi drivers. Certainly an overlooked angle on the emerging paradigm of crowdsourcing taxi service. At least it is not a debate here, as it is elsewhere.

Every time this topic comes up, I get the comments that insist everything is different now. In some ways yes, but in a lot of fundamental ways no. If there is something different these days, at least in the decade-perspective; t reallys is true that the new immigrants to Pittsburgh are very different from the past. (or see WSJ: A fading vision of the old world)


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

World War II Vets in Allegheny County


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The race that wasn't

One of the things about this election cycle in Pennsylvania was just how sparse the races were.  Other than for governor, there was no major senate race, for example.  Most ballots voters saw were about as short as you ever get. Not even many referenda bouncing around to pad ballot choices to be made.  Since the gubernatorial race was itself so uncontested by all accounts heading in, not much there either.

Except there were all of these races for state house (the General Assembly) and state senate.  Lots of talk some make, but few take action to change the size of the legislature in Pennsylvania which has 204 house seats and 50 senators. But if you want one reason why so many sitting legislators look askance at any effort to change the size of the legislature, look at the effort they need to make to say in office.  Of the 203 General Assembly seats, 108 of them were uncontested on Tuesday. Literally only one candidate.  Here is a quick map of all the General Assembly districts which had only one registered candidate. For folks in all those 108 districts, the effective ballot they faced was even shorter than it appeared. My guess is the large number of districts results in smaller and and more homogeneous districts that have little incentive for both parties to compete in, so they don't. Creative redistricting cartography only reinforces that result.