Thursday, December 29, 2005

Death of a Suburb

Levittown, NY, the nation's first suburb, is dying. There are plans afoot to save it: "In the 70's there was the death of the cities, and we're 20 years away from the death of the suburbs. But we can avert that, we can fix the problems and have a renaissance." Build this glitzy thing, add that currently popular type of shopping experience, and everything will be well again. Call it the single-bullet theory for top-down real estate development.

Real Estate is to a large extent about perception rather than quality: cashing in on human vanity and selfishness, the latest trend and favorite stereotypes. Exurbs lure in the middle-class slob and his vain wife with promises of exclusivity, styrofoam Georgian Pediments over the front door, and good schools. Urban areas draw in chic yuppie looking for a trendy 'industrial loft' amidst other trendy, young, sexually active Boho's. How do old-stock suburbs with their small aged (expensive) houses, ageing populations and mediocre schools win this popularity contest? Chances are, they dont.

Levittown does have some natural advantages over newer exurban paradises further out the interstate. Buildings are of better quality, its closer to the city, and existing infrastructure can be repaired at less cost. By providing adequate mass transit, providing a walkable environment, diversifying housing stock and providing government insured home/business improvement mortgages, Levittown might stand a chance. Will the resultant renewal face the same political roadblocks faced in urban areas in the 70's: whitey shouting down diversity of income and race in his neighborhood? Will it ultimately be billions in public and private dollars flushed in another failed government foray into real estate? Will HUD finally be drawn out to the 'burbs to buy out devalued mortgages?

From East Liberty, the whole thing sounds painfully familiar.

Penn DOT's bridge is falling down

Penn DOT knew an overpass spanning Interstate 70 that recently collapsed was structurally deficient, according to the Tribune-Review.

From the Trib:
The overpass was "structurally deficient," and inspectors in March 2004 reported the span was crumbling, said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Gary Hoffman.

Pennsylvania's bridges are in notoriously poor condition. A quarter of all of the state's bridges are rated as "structurally deficient." The national average is 13 percent.

Fixing all state's bridges would cost an estimated $7 billion. Pennsylvania can hardly afford to maintain its crumbling infrastructure, but the state continues to build new roads to the provinces. Like college students with credit cards, lawmakers have used future turnpike toll revenues to underwrite new highway construction.

The Mon Fayette Expressway - a highway that will finally link Pittsburgh to Morgantown and Fayette County (those economic engines!) - will cost an estimated $4 billion (2004). The corresponding debt service could exceed $3 billion, according to an analysis by Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that partnered with several taxpayer advocacy organizations to expose some of the most worthless road projects in the United States.

And to add insult to near-injury...
PennDOT would not provide the results of inspections conducted in March 2004 and in August because the information is not considered a matter of public record, said PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick.

Suck a fat one, Kirkpatrick.

If thats movin up...

Murphy moves out of the mayor's office today, after 12 years of service to the people of Pittsburgh. Bobby O starts next week.


Don't wake up a fat girl in the morning unless you bring her a snack.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tom Flaherty Looks To Past for Future

Tom Flaherty used his swearing in ceremony as the newest judge at Allegheny County Common Pleas Court to paint a bleak picture for the future of the city he helped destroy. The consummate politician ever eager to find a reporter stupid enough to write about his ranting, Flaherty opened his new career as a judge talking about everything but his new judgeship. I dont blame him. The old maxim of talking about only the things you know applies well here, and Flaherty dont know shit about being a judge. What worries me is that Flaherty, the blowhard rebellious Controller given to commenting on everything and anything, will continue in that capacity as a judge.

"Dateline- PITTSBURGH: Judge Tom Flaherty skipped court today to meet Auditor Jack Wagner for a press conference on the Penguins Arena. Both will outline plans for a new arena that neither has any power to implement. Flaherty promised to yell for the next 4 years, and your coorespondent, Rich Lord, promises to faithfully record his gutter politicking in the Post Gazette."

Here's a question for the Post Gazette: Are you willing to quote anyone in any office when they're commenting on policy, even when it is unrelated to their job? Stop the presses, the President of the Class of '06 at Schenley High School is giving a press conference on the Fire Union Contract! Guess Flaherty isnt going to fade away as easily as I hoped.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

He Shoots and Scores...

Mario Lemieux found a casino operator willing to build an Arena for the Penguins free of charge, provided said casino operator receives a slots license from the Gaming Control Board. They'll even turn the $290M asset over to the Stadium and Exhibition Authority upon completion, granting the city an enormous asset free of charge. It seems, for the first time in the City's history, something might actually be built WITHOUT subsidy. Regional check-toting politicos are dumbfounded... no role for the Grant Street Santa? Turns out government need only provide the right mixture of incentives like slots/liquor licenses, cheap vacant property, good schools & good transit links to make development happen? Too bad for them, its a hell of a lot easier to cut a check than run a good government.

All things considered, this developer is getting quite a deal. The obvious is that slots will probably pay for any arena constructed on site rather quickly. Consider the other factors: The developer is getting 50+ acres of primo real estate on the cusp of the Golden Triangle. If the street grid is reconnected as Lemieux plans, this property is worth well in excess of the $290M investment in the arena. This ain't Fifth/Forbes, folks: for once, the city and the Pens have a shitload of leverage.

Hopefully Lemieux and the city will demand concessions from this casino operator for this stadium. The city and the Pens should be allowed to pick their own development team, determine the site plan for the development, and have strict quality control over the construction process. This town can really push for a quality development, leveraging the value of this slots license to build a solid, TAXABLE asset for this city. For all the expenses we will incur in the coming years, from crime to addiction to poverty, the least we can get is a quality real estate development for the city that throws some green into the city's coffers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Pittsburgh Rendell-icans?

Mayor Ed Rendell stunned pundits in the 2002 PA Gubernatorial race, sweeping the Republican suburbs of Philadelphia by touting his cred as Philly's savior. As Mayor of Philadelphia from '92 to '00, Rendell singlehandedly righted Philadelphia's notoriously bankrupt budget, beat back union contracts, and forced new efficiency in government. But the real reason for the "Republicans for Rendell" signs dotting yards from Ardmore to Paoli was Rendell's transformation of Center City and Society Hill. The decrepit neighborhood seemingly transformed overnight from embarrassment to destination, with market ramifications stretching from Washington Bvd in S. Philly to Girard Ave in No-Libs. The Delaware Valley thanked their Mayor by doing the equally unimaginable: voting in a regional bloc for the Mayor of Philadelphia cum Governor of PA.

PNC 3 is a half-baked version of Rendell's Philadelphia miracle. Rendell spent the last 4 years focusing on slots and property tax reform, as Pittsburgh watched its city undergo draconian cuts to public services. As the ship sank, State legislators tried to line their own pockets in the notorious pay-grab. As Russell Nigro found out, this region is pissed off. Most Pittsburgher's dont like ANY state government right now, so the titular head of said government needs a BIG win. Take one huge bank, add millions in state subsidy, and you have a 5th Avenue redevelopment plan. If ya can't earn their love, Eddie, buy it.

Development cycles take quite a bit of time, but the 200k people who work downtown will notice the bulldozers on Liberty and 5th. The economic ramifications of this development will likely not be felt until Rendell's second term expires, at which point he'll be eyeing the White House or Congress. Its a risky thing to gamble one's election victories on soft-market real-estate development: will PNC actually spur development on 5th/Forbes; are we flooding the downtown market with a surplus of Condo developments (500 units this year); will the impact spread beyond that block? This is quite a gamble to get Pittsburghers to make Rendell our Mayor: a real eggs-in-one-basket scenario. Hopefully he mixes this agenda with some pro-active leadership on the City's budget crisis.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Its a York County Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2005

"Jim Crow" Metcalfe Says "Get Out" to Black Vote

Promising to protect the integrity of voting in Pennsylvania, Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) wants to restrict the right of an ex-convict to vote. The legislation Metcalfe proposes restricts ex-con's from voting during the term of their probation, even after they are released. This disporportionally affects urban communities, particularly African American ones, where statistics show youth are sent to prision rather than College. Another neat fact about this law... it requires an ID card of some form at the poll. Unlike suburban districts like Metcalfe's, many people urban neighborhoods dont drive and never had a need for a driver's licence or ID card. The only thing missing from Metcalfe's law is a provision for a poll tax.

Why would Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry Township take such an interest in the voting integrity of poor, urban, predominantly black districts? Gerrymandering in 2000 solidified Republican majorities in Congress and the state house, but Republicans have no defense against voters in state-wide elections. In 2004, ACORN and the Urban League registered and mobilized thousands of urban voters to the detriment of Mr. Bush. Metcalfe doubtless has an eye towards 2006, where Rick Santorum faces an uphill battle against Robert Casey. Casey will doubtless benefit from the urban vote.

As if to highlight just how stupid Metcalfe is, Rendell will doubtless veto this legislation, leaving Republicans explaining to the black voter why they work so hard to supress the urban vote and Democrats crowing about another victory for Civil Rights. Metcalfe really hit a home run with this: not only is it bad legislation, its bad politics. I would say something about how disgustingly immoral and undemocratic such a transparent attempt at voter supression is, but such moral judgements have ironically little standing with good, God-Fearing men like Daryl Metcalfe.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Just War

In 1941, the world was bleeding, dark and dangerous: Pearl Harbor, the London Blitz, and the occupation of France, Poland and China by Fascist regimes. The United States military was woefully unprepared to protect this nation, let alone our allies, from the confident, organized forces of Fascism. Freedom, it seemed, was dead.

Yet before the assembled houses of Congress stood a resolute Franklin D. Roosevelt, outlining the differences between Fascism and Freedom. Roosevelt told Congress, told the Nazis, told the world that
America's inherent moral foundation, our belief in Freedom and Humanity, would carry America to victory over Fascism. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms became a symbol of American idealism. Seven bloody years later on December 10th, Eleanor Roosevelt would sign the first ever International Declaration of Human Rights, enshrining her husband's vision in International Law and lying the first foundations to the benevolent Pax Americana.

The 57 years since Elanor Roosevelt signed the IDHR has been the longest period of peace and prosperity the world has ever known. In America's world, war is rare, poverty and disease fast receeding, and Democracy spreading like wildfire. How then have the Europeans become the inheritors and guarantors of our legacy? On the 57th anniversary of the IDHR, Condi lobbies to protect America's Freedom to Torture: Abu Grahib and Guantanamo representing her vision for America. 57 years to the day, China has undertaken one of the bloodiest supressions of its own population since Tiananmen Square, and I seriously doubt we will respond in any tangible manner. Looking at the Machivellian nations that twice sparked Worldwide War, do we differ? Is this a truly Orwellian Animal Farm moment, where the animals eventually can't distinguish between the pigs and the men?

America's strength has never stood on its ability to inspire fear: only a Fascist and a Criminal lives by the sword. America's strength lies in its ability to inspire hope in mankind. A hope that drives men to live, to fight, to secure and safeguard freedom for himself, his neighbor and his nation.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

60+ Years of Anger

For those desperately missing their Maureen Dowd fix since the NY Times made her "Premium Content," the Top 5 e-mailed articles of the day included a little anti-war gem for the disaffected liberal.

Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, a virulently anti-American British author, took the opportunity of his acceptance speech to rail against American Imperialism post-WWII. Apparently not appreciative of the benevolent peace and prosperity enjoyed under Pax Americana, he claimed that US abuses were as egregious as those of our Soviet counterparts, simply not as well documented. Elated lefties took this opportunity to read the article, and then e-mail it to all of their friends, whom had doubtlessly already read it and e-mailed it to their friends, whom had doubtlessly already read it and...

Harold Pinter railed that Americans are fat, lazy doupes who mindlessly eat the propagandist slop fed to them by the government. Fighting back a yawn, I'm simply surprised he has managed to stay this angry for over 60 years.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Collegiate Football Kicker Scores City Council Presidency

As if Bobby O'Connor weren't enough, Pittsburgh City Council elected Luke Ravenstahl as leader of their austere body. With minds like O'Connor and Ravenstahl at the helm, Pittsburgh can expect the Ship of State to finally be steered into calmer waters...

Ravenstahl took the podium to accept the position of President, evidencing his intense bout with diarrhea with little more show than a look of intense concentration. 45 minutes later, his first act as council president was to authorize a payraise for
city janitorial staff.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

All Aboard

This morning I made plans to take a train from Pittsburgh to State College. Amazingly enough, Amtrak's optimistic schedule has promised to provide me safe passage to the State College area in 2 1/2 hours for only $20. Though no bullet train, I must admit that I was impressed... that was, until I realized the train only provides service to Tyrone, PA, not State College.

Tyrone, a forgotten hamlet at an old Pennsy Railroad junction, is 32 miles from State College. Amtrak follows lines drawn by Pennsy in 1850, servicing Altoona railyards and Cambria Steel in Johnstown. Amtrak continues on Pennsy's original 19th century route at Tyrone, bypassing what the then insignificant, rural academic enclave at State College. That insignificant enclave is now North-Central Pennsylvania's fastest growing economy, while population washes out of Altoona, Johnstown and Tyrone with all the ferocity of the Conemaugh River through a burst dam.

Because of struggling towns like Johnstown, and booming towns like State College, Pennsylvania has a highly dispersed population without access to transit. Amtrak needs passenger-dedicated lines that connect to Central PA's principle cities and towns, while providing swift east-west service to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If it were possible to cross the state by train in 3 hours, people might opt to take the train cross-state. As a result of this thru-traffic, struggling markets like Johnstown might benefit from increased, reliable transit access. Furthermore, such service would connect these towns to Philadelphia & Pittsburgh Intl' in the same way the Eastern Corridor provides Hartford, CT and Providence, RI with access to Logan, JFK and LaGuardia.

Pennsylvania is historically and geographically responsible for providing for trans-Appalachian travel: a responsibility that has yielded great benefits in the past. With air travel overburdened at the largest airports, cost prohibitive at smallest, and time consuming at all, we should look to providing cost-effective, reliable transit options statewide.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Little Too Nice

Gentrification has long been a word people not-so in the know used to discuss rising urban markets and its effects on the poor folk living in the path of development. Cue bad background music, enter clutch of 'concerned' 20-somethings sipping martinis.

Vodka Martini w/ Lemon: "Well, they are just displacing the poor for the rich, and I think its disgusting. Rich developers just seizing land like that, and damned be those who called that neighborhood home!"

Shaken, Not Stirred: "Really, it is repulsive. Hey, I really enjoyed talking with you, and was wondering if I could get your phone number so we could meet up again sometime."

Philadelphia has been facing a unique front on this war in the Gray's Ferry section of South Philadelphia. Long a ghetto in the shadow of the Philadelphia Gas Works /Sunoco Refinery, Grays Ferry wasnt a shoe-in for successful real-estate development. A recent conversion of nasty barracks & towers public housing into something resembling a neighborhood has changed all that. Nearby residents look on with envious eyes, and Philly's martini-set are talking about the big G in Gray's Ferry: Gentrification.

Frankly, gentrification isnt all that bad of a thing, as long as it doesnt cut existing residents out. I cant say or see how things will proceed in Gray's Ferry... but shit, the place has no where to go but up.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The first and second seal have been broken

Is the administration trying to lose this war? I can no longer tell.

And in other news of the weird...the Guvernator named his predecessor's cabinet secretary as chief of staff. The appointment of a Democrat is sure to enrage the GOP. Hey Pat Roberston, did you know she's also a gay, abortion-rights activist?