Um, building permits in the city of Pittsburgh anyone?
It is one of those metrics that means more or less than may seem obvious. This all is from data collected by the Census Bureau on residential construction permits, so theoretically a great leading indicator of construction activity in the near future. The huge spike in building permits issued in 2015 could be indicative of a lot of new units coming online soon, and possibly of a population spike (spike-let? if that is a word) to fill said units. If you look back over the last 20 years, the next two largest numbers (367 in 1999 and 641 in 2002) each reflected notable events in Pittsburgh real estate history. One is likely for plans for the initial Summerset development and the earlier Downtown residential units that boomed in the new century, respectively.
OK, deep breath.
One huge caveat (yes all real data has caveats, live with it) that may at the very least make the spike less extreme in context than it appears.. This data is self-reported by individual municipalities, so it really just reflects data the city of Pittsburgh sends to the Census folks each year. The data has a breakdown of building permits issued by size of structure and also the total estimated construction value. I have pointed out in the past the curious anomaly that the data for the city of Pittsburgh showed zero new building permits for multi-unit buildings with 4 or more units for any year between 2005 and 2013. Since casual observation can come up with examples to dispute those zero values, so you have to assume something was amiss in the data itself. I think the city kind of missed reporting building permits on larger construction for many years, even though the data should have been included.. I also think that datum of 100 for 2013 is revised and a bit to round for me - wortth checking, You can read some of my musings on this issue in this old post here. Others have opined that the building permits in the city also not reflect renovation activity leading to new habitable residential units as well. So some of the past data may not be as low as it appears, but it is hard to imagine the reality gets close to that 2015 data no matter.
So take it all, like all extreme data points, with a grain of salt, but still at the end of the day it is hard to miss that 2015 is a big number compared to any year in the past. Even if all those units don't actually get built, is the filing of so much construction activity an economic metric of note for the city unto itself?
See, I didn't make you read all the way to the end to get to the punch line. There is a secret question however? Why was I even looking at this data this week?