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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Five Innovation Myths Applied to Urbanism by Brendan Crain

[ I'll remind you again that Where is an awesome site. Here's another sample from it by Brendan Crain for you - Aaron. ]

A recent CEOs for Cities post pointed out a great article by Dev Patnaik that outlined five common mistakes made by businesses looking to be innovators. All of them, in one way or another, dealt with the myth of the silver bullet, and the article made a clear and concise argument for the importance of institutional context and diversified methodology. The myths that Patnaik does away with are all important for urbanists to consider as cities work to position themselves as both innovative places and as incubators of economic and technological innovation. On top of that, responding to context (cities each have very different conditions, physically and economically) and diversification (urban problems are both numerous and intrinsically interconnected, and there is no one solution to anything) are particularly applicable. The following is a breakdown, in urbanism terminology, of Patnaik’s ideas.

• Over-reliance on high-profile, “sexy” projects

The Guggenheim Bilbao made just as big a splash in the fields of urban planning and policy as it did in architecture. Now, it’s a commonly-held belief that cities can build megaprojects that will catapult them into the international spotlight and trigger a surge of prosperity. In reality, even when such projects are independently successful they are never the silver bullet that was imagined. Chicago’s Millennium Park, for example, is by all accounts a huge success as a public space and tourist attraction. Still, it was a financial fiasco, and the glamour and goodwill afforded the city by the park is now being squandered by the miserable failure of the city’s transit system — a battle in which the City of Chicago is too strapped to play any meaningful role. Big projects can be important to cities, but it’s even more important to pay close attention to what trade-offs will need to be made in terms of basic services (transit ain’t the only thing hurtin’ in Chicago) in order to pull off a good piece of stunt urbanism. Millennium Park is an innovative piece of landscape architecture, but as an urban regenerator it’s as archaic as they come.

• Unhealthy fascination with unique, charismatic civic leaders

Michael Bloomberg, Gavin Newsome, and Ken Livingstone all command a considerable amount of media attention for their efforts to improve their cities. This innovation red herring is especially potent in urbanism: everyone loves a superstar mayor. And while these mayors can teach us a lot, it is important to remember that the best and most innovative mayors from the past (Jaime Lerner is a prime example) were willing to take risks; that is to say that great mayors have often made names for themselves by bucking trends and trying new ideas that were responsive to their specific cities rather than following standard procedures being replicated, cut-and-paste style, in other cities.

• Misapplication of other cities’ approaches

Building on the previous point, it is often assumed that because Idea X worked in City Y, it will be equally successful in City Z. This is absurd. Take, for instance, the public transportation system in Medellín. The city’s 3.2 million inhabitants live in a long, narrow valley. While the central part of the city, located in the lowest and flattest part of the valley, is served by a standard subway system, the densely populated neighborhoods that climb up the western hillsides are served by the Metrocable, a cable-car line that has become very successful both as a transit line and — to the delight of city officials — a tourist attraction that has helped (along with other projects) to lower crime and improve the economic outlook for the neighborhood’s poorer residents. The lesson to be learned here for other cities is that unconventional transit options can be worth the risk if they are properly tailored to the needs of the community. The misapplication of this lesson would be for a flat city to assume that building a cable car would be a good idea since it worked in Medellín. This is a relatively simple illustration, but you get the idea.

• Descent into a cycle of self-recrimination

Pittsburgh, the oddball city so dear to my own heart, is the poster child for this kind of thinking. Many Pittsburghers labor under the assumption that their city is suffering because it is unable to hold onto the talented young people who graduate from major universities in the area like the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University. (In fact, Pittsburgh has an unusually high rate of retention of its young natives). Pittsburghers see Creative Class capitals like San Francisco and Austin attracting large numbers of young creative types and makes the assumption that it is not cool enough to compete. Untold energy is put into trying to make the city cooler and more attractive to young people. Meanwhile, the draconian tax system that discourages start-ups (the number that exist regardless of this fact is a testament to the city’s unrealized potential) go unchanged because Pittsburgh fails to realize that music festivals and extensive bike paths aren’t going to save the city. The Burgh was a global hub of commercial and technological innovation at the turn of the 19th century. To be successful today, all cities (Pittsburgh included) would do well to look back at their strongest points and learn how to replicate that kind of success.

• Resignation to superficial changes

Patnaik uses the example “Let’s just paint the walls purple” to mock companies’ shallow understanding of the funky interiors of creative business HQs — most famously, the Googleplex. Cities have a long and storied history of believing in the power of cosmetic changes only to be let down by the results. A phenomenon that you might call Trinket Urbanism had a death grip on North American cities until relatively recently as every city rushed to have their version of one-off amenities built in other cities. Baltimore’s Festival Harbor spawned a gazillion of those so-called “Festival Marketplaces.” Arenas were all the rage throughout much of the 1990s. Making a city more attractive is certainly not a bad idea, but there is a dangerous perceived correlation between beautification and prosperity. Flowering medians do not a center of innovation make.

Links:
Innovation Mistakes (CEOs for Cities)

Five Common Mistakes in Innovation (Business Week)

This post originally appeared in the Where Blog on October 31, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

40 Comments
Topics: Economic Development, Public Policy, Strategic Planning

40 Responses to “Five Innovation Myths Applied to Urbanism by Brendan Crain”

  1. Great post, though I do take a bit of issue with point 2. I agree that to much reliance on charismatic leaders is problematic, however it is a long standing practice in urbanist planning circles. Also I’m not sure the examples used here have turnbed out to be the best choices in hindsight.

    While mayors like Ken Livingston and Michael Bloomberg were/are considered superstars, they have used this status to take risks, buck trends and try new ideas that lesser known mayors could not have. Indeed even Jaime Lerner used his status as a local star-chitect to get elected and implement many of his policies. While they may not have been always successful (i.e. congestion pricing in NYC), they definitely translated their celebrity to improve their cities in tangible and lasting ways.

    If other mayors are guilty of practicing cut and paste urbanism, it is—in part—because these superstar mayors created something worth copying in the first place.

  2. John Morris says:

    I agree with Brendan. Given the quality and number of it’s colleges, libraries, museums, old money, and large base of corporate headquarters, quality housing stock etc- Pittsburgh is a relative underperformer. Yes, it’s not doing that badly, but it should be doing really well.

  3. Thanks Aaron!

    @John: Just saw this yesterday at Burgh Diaspora, seems pertinent > http://burghdiaspora.blogspot.com/2011/06/uberburgh.html

  4. David says:

    Good article. I will incorporate some of these points into my presentations. I am often asked to identify a downtown in other city that serves as a model for the downtown where I work (Raleigh). I reply by saying that I aspire to create a complete downtown for Raleigh, (then I define what that means), as opposed to saying that we’re trying to become like a downtown in another city. Revitalization of a downtown doesn’t come about that way.
    David Diaz, President & CEO
    Downtown Raleigh Alliance

  5. Thanks for the comments.

  6. John Morris says:

    Brendan, I know I should know this, but what are the specific tax rates/laws that effect startups in Pittsburgh?

    What you say certainly rings true–given one of the leading tech schools, the start up situation should be much better here. I know, it’s getting better.

  7. John Morris says:

    The whole mythology that Pittsburgh was left with no assets to fall back on is very self serving. More than a little of this has to do with the hard left, anti capitalism. For example, unions and many very hard left groups still have a considerable investment in The Mon Valley-which they use as symbol of “exploitation”.

    The sum result of all this-whatever the motivation is to try to blame “the robber barrons” by ignoring the assets they played such a big role in leaving-and to give a free pass to the people who have controled the decisions since then.

    The entire Urban Renewal/Renaissance period when real honest, vast crimes were commited is just passed over. Pittsburgh is mostly attempting to recover from this so called “Renaissance-I II with whatever has been left of the city.

  8. John Morris says:

    A good example of this is Braddock. The mill is still there providing a small number of good jobs.

    We are supposed to blame the loss of the steel industry jobs while ignoring just how close Braddock is to Pittsburgh.

    We are also supposed to ignore the biggest single factor in Braddock’s fate which is that has been in the path of a planned expressway for the last 40 years. I wonder why the plans by the government and DOT to destroy almost 200 hundred buildings in a town with not many more isn’t mentioned?

    Moronic plans like this were very common around here–and many of them are still around.

  9. Hm…when I’ve heard people talk about the causes of Pittsburgh’s hard times, I generally only hear about outsourcing and the collapse of the steel industry; is there a local narrative that puts blame on the Carnegie-Mellon-Heintz crowd? I’ve always thought that the false argument in Pittsburgh was the one about the perceived need to keep educated young people from leaving (when in fact leadership should be focused on attracting young people from other cities).

    As for the tax code, you should shoot an email to Jim Russell over at Burgh Diaspora–I wrote this post so long ago that I honestly can’t remember exactly what I was referring to in that section, hah!

  10. George Mattei says:

    Good article, I agreed with most of it.

    I do think that there is this somewhat mistaken concept about tax rates, though. Many people seem to believe that the effect of tax rates are linear-that is lower taxes = more jobs = better economy.

    I’m not an economist, but it seems to be much more complicated than that. I agree, that ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL, lower tax rates will win out. But all other things are never equal. Even very similar cities can have aspects of their economy, personality or even weather, that change the calculus.

    I tend to believe that tax rates can cause a place to fail if done improperly, but cannot make a place successful in and of itself. So I think the question our leaders need to answer is this-is the tax rate in a certain place a major disincentive to investment and jobs there? And by major disinvestment I mean is it such a bad tax structure that it squelches what would otherwise be a good choice for a company to invest and create jobs?

    When you do this, taxes become very local, kind of like real estate. Some places can support higher tax rates, and indeed would fail without them. New York is the perfect example. You could get rid of all taxes in the City, but that would not in my opinion increase economic growth much. In other words, you can’t just lower taxes and make New York compete with growth cities like Houston. There are so many other factors, lower land prices, lower labor costs, location near energy hubs, etc, that make Houston more of a growing economy. Oil companies aren’t just going to get up and move to New York because their taxes are low. Hence taxes cannot MAKE a place successful.

    New York would be a disaster, though, if you significantly cut taxes. You can’t have a hyper-dense city of that kind without massive infrastructure and services that are maintained. That costs a lot of money. The companies that need or want to be in New York would flee.

    On the other hand, if Houston adopted a New York-style cost system, the likely result would be companies fleeing to Dallas or Austin or some other nearby city with a lower cost structure.

    I don’t know what the tax system in Pittsburgh is like, but I would ask some very hard questions before assuming that it’s the tax rate that is causing low growth. The fact that Pittsburgh 1) has a fairly good start-up community and 2) its not causing it to be a growth-magnet may just as likely be the impact of continued loss of manufacturing jobs, or some other factor.

  11. John Morris says:

    “Hm…when I’ve heard people talk about the causes of Pittsburgh’s hard times, I generally only hear about outsourcing and the collapse of the steel industry; is there a local narrative that puts blame on the Carnegie-Mellon-Heinz crowd?”

    Well, it’s usually not stated boldly, but the implied narrative shared by many inside and even more outside the city-is that Pittsburgh was a poor place left with few assets to fall back on when the Steel industry collapsed.

    Terms like “Pittsburgh Renaissance”, “Pittsburgh comeback”, “Pittsburgh Miracle” very much are based on a myth that the city itself wasn’t left with much.

    This narrative is actually quite true for many of the company towns in the Mon Valley, or in West Virginia-based on mining or very heavy industry which were left with little beyond a ruined environment. They rightly feel that the “barrons” took a lot of the money and lavished it on the nice architecture, schools, museums in the city of Pittsburgh or donations to institutions outside the region.

    Pittsburgh itself had a very strong potential base to fall back on-and should have performed much better than it has.

    All the popular naratives fail to ask why that didn’t happen sooner and downplay or evade the post war period of useless sprawl, The destruction of the Lower Hill, The near destruction of the entire North Side and East Liberty and the failure to transform many post industrial areas like The Strip–which is the real reason the city’s tax base remains so fragile.

  12. John Morris says:

    Just the fact that Pittsburgh reached it’s peak population around 1960 while the real regional steel industry collapse didn’t start till the mid to late 1970’s is a good clue that there are some other issues involved.

    Like in most other cities-urban renewal and what Mindy Fullilove describes as “root shock” is still very much a very unexamined issue.

    However–Pittsburgh seems way behind many other cities in coming to grips with this history. I mean NY hasn’t dug up Robert Moses’s grave and burned his body-but it has pretty widely acknowledged the actions and thinking back then as seriously mistaken.

  13. Ben Houle says:

    In the same vein as the “Over-reliance on high-profile, “sexy” projects” is the over-reliance of a high-profile event as a savior. I saw this first hand in Detroit (although the City could fit into a few other of the above failings) when they were awarded the 2005 Super Bowl. In the post 9/11 days, this provided a shot in the arm for the City and an influx of some interest and money. There are positive remnants of the surge today (Campus Martius, Washington Boulevard, Book Cadillac – now Westin – renovation), however overall the energy was not extended past the immediate central business district. The projects that were enacted were still done according to the ‘who you know’ network of the City (lookup what permits were pulled to build Ford Field – it’s astonishing). The event did not serve to bring the surrounding popoulations together in any form of support or pride. Then followed years of debauched political issues. Although I am a native Indy resident, I still root for detroit after my time there and would love to see it capitalize effectively on all of it’s positives, but the most lasting memory I have is of the Michigan Central Depot continuing it’s decay into oblivion. One more phantom silver bullet.

  14. John Morris says:

    The difference between me and others on this thread, is that I am not giving the people who rely on many of these myths a free pass and assuming their motives are pure.

    The reliance on fad projects and large scale quick fixes and the like are very likely related to…

    A) City leaders either incompetent or unwilling to do the basic blocking and tackling needed to provide good basic services and reasonable business climates.

    B) City leaders, academics, consultants, union leaders, connected contractors and developers who stand to gain by these large scale projects-which so often involve taking other people’s property or tax dollars.

    Of course today with the potential to use Federal or State tax dollars to fund your “investments” makes things even worse.

  15. Jim Russell says:

    I remember the chirping about taxes undermining entrepreneurs. Then there is the bit about too little venture capital or Pittsburghers being too risk averse. The person to ask about this is Mike Madison at Pittsblog.

    Personally, I put almost no stock in the lower taxes argument. I doubt that is the reason for a lackluster startup economy.

  16. John Morris says:

    How many times do we hear a local leader criticized for not applying for some federal grant to something–anything-just cause the money is there?

  17. Just a point of clarification:

    (a) I quite honestly don’t remember what I was referring to re: the “draconian tax system” but I can tell from the wording I had something specific in mind;

    (b) That being said, I can tell you this much — I wasn’t arguing for lower taxes, just a simplified tax system. I think taxes are great; I just don’t like it when there are more rules in the tax code than Leviticus. Keep it simple.

  18. Joel says:

    Brendan, I question your conclusion that Millenium Park was a fiasco. It was VERY expensive, but its impact on the downtown and Chicago’s reputation has in my opinion been of much more significant income. In other words, it was much dollars well spent. A big risk, though, which you laud in other mayors later in your column.

    I also question your conclusion that the impact is being squandered by the state of the public transit system. Those are two different things, and stand or fall on their own merits.

  19. The point being made about Millennium Park was specific to the date. If I remember correctly, this post was written in the midst of that series of Doomsday warnings that the CTA put out about massive service cuts and fare hikes (some of which did eventually go into effect). My point was that so much money and effort had been spent on getting Millennium Park built that the city wasn’t in a position to do anything about that particular mess. It certainly wasn’t the only factor, but I’d argue that it played a role.

    To be fair, this was written 3.5 years ago, and in the intervening years my attitude toward Millennium Park has softened quite a bit. I think it’s a stellar public space, and in the long run it will probably have been worth the cost.

    Still, look at how much civic effort went into Millennium, then explain to me why Little Village *still* has such low access to quality green space when they’ve been fighting to get a much simpler park built for years. You can’t rely on a sexy downtown project to boost the whole city. Daley was very downtown-centric in his approach to improving Chicago, and it shows. Hopefully Rahm will take a more neighborhood-based approach to balance that out a bit.

  20. Joel says:

    Can’t argue with the inequity in Little Village or other underserved neighborhoods. Here’s the kicker, and a challenge to other cities trying to fund similar improvements: Millenium Park attracted substantial private donations. A major reason was its central, “high profile” location. Tough to duplicate in the neighborhoods.

  21. To use sports analogies–many urban improvement schemes remind me of a baseball team loaded with big powerful sluggers who can crush the ball out of the park if and when they can connect on it, but all of whom are mediocre hitters otherwise. Many cities are looking for home runs, when what they should be looking for is to get guys on base–i.e. fundamentals.

    This is especially true when you consider that unlike baseball, you’re not limited to three outs per inning.

    Of course, fundamentals don’t attract much in the way of press; and are less likely to involve rentiers getting paid.

  22. Wad says:

    I’ll add a sixth, and continue with EngineerScotty’s sports metaphor: The burden of high expectations.

    Distressed urban areas, in particular, crave a cinderella story and impose the belief of a turnaround on a solution.

    Unlike Scotty’s slugger analogy, this would be like the sports team that hires a marquee player or a hot rookie prospect to carry the whole team. A LeBron.

    If a solution is to be pursued, does it have to be successful? Conversely, if something like Chicago’s Millennium Park ended up being a total money pit, does it have some redeeming value to residents or tourists even if it didn’t meet political or financial benchmarks?

    This overlooks the kind of success that thrives when it isn’t watched, such as a declining neighborhood that gentrified on its own, or the unknown success of how one generation’s folly can be embraced by another in the future. Think of architecture dismissed and derided when it is contemporary but then becomes appreciated and treasured when that particular style is an endangered species.

  23. Rod Stevens says:

    I’m always surprised at the focus on tax rates. I live out where, where the property taxes are much lower, so perhaps that explains some of my lack of understanding, but I also think people tend to focus too much on cost, when they are not thinking about upside inducements, like great networks of suppliers, customers and interesting people. I’ve been to some wonderful places, but they are so outside the routines of commerce that there would be little stimulation or contact with the new. Yes, the net can do some of this, but it’s no contact for coming in touch with change face-to-face, or hearing about the latest event, food or way of doing business from a friend at a cocktail party. And in the really great places there is the energy of people saying, “I really want to…” followed by the business they want to start.

    This doesn’t have to be in big cities. It just has to be at the clustering of talent and activity. In the city of Napa, for example, “start-ups” means new food ventures. I’m working with UC Davis to create a cluster of R&D there in food, fitness and the environment. The common language is both scientific interests and values- if people are too different they don’t have anything safe to talk about when they go out to lunch. Forty years ago the timber communities of Oregon were vital places where everyone knew the business of logging and mill work. Unfortunately that business was built on an unsustainable logging practice. There was value added at the time, but the fundamental resource was being exhausted. Today if we want to have a great, thriving place, it has to be built on both supply and need. Pittsburgh, Chicago, Indianapolis- the central question for these places is what they do really well, and how can they make life more attractive for the people who work in those specialized industries? It’s not just about amenities, it’s about creating good business life.

  24. Chris Barnett says:

    “It’s not just about amenities, it’s about creating good business life.”

    That is where one must consider clusters/networking/talent, incentives, and tax rates.

    A city like Indianapolis has looked at what we’ve got lots of, and do well: advanced manufacturing, life-sciences, logistics, motorsports, and specific corners of IT.

    All but the last are rooted in historical and locational strengths and are evolutionary rather than a whole new thing. Indianapolis is an historic manufacturing center for the auto and auto parts industries and (as a result) a motor racing capital; the presence of Lilly planted the seeds of Dow Agro’s huge operations and some new bio-science and medical-device startups. Being “The Crossroads of America” and having FedEx’s second-busiest US hub has led to tremendous growth in logistics. Only the sector that includes Exact Target, Angie’s List, Compendium Blogware, and other “software as service” companies is really new.

    The local/regional economic developers concentrate incentives to locate or expand here in the areas listed above.

    The whole thing rests on a state budget and tax structure that is limited in scope.

    It doesn’t rely on slugging, but on fundamentals. All this gets lost behind the wonderful “Downtown Revitalization” and “low cost of living” stories, but it’s really the driving force in the metro area’s growth (and job growth compared to Midwest peers).

  25. Jim Russell says:

    I’d like to see some (any) evidence linking talent migration to tax rates or tax regime.

  26. Annalisa says:

    What a great article, thanks for sharing. I’m a native of Pittsburgh, so of course my heart strings are tied around it’s unique beauty. I also visit Chicago quite a bit. So mentioning those two cities caught my attention. As I read down through the comments there are some really insightful/heartfelt additions to the the article. Thanks to everyone for their contributions. I have a specific question of clarification for John Morris you said, “All the popular narratives fail to ask why that didn’t happen sooner and downplay or evade the post war period of useless sprawl, The destruction of the Lower Hill, The near destruction of the entire North Side and East Liberty and the failure to transform many post industrial areas like The Strip–which is the real reason the city’s tax base remains so fragile.” I agree that these neighborhoods have allowed themselves to be the victim of time. However, the Strip District is one of my favorite places to visit. Every time I go to Pittsburgh the Strip is on the list of places I have to go. I think the fact that they haven’t transformed it makes it quaint and nostalgic. What are some of the improvements you would like to see in the Strip?

  27. Chris Barnett says:

    Jim, I didn’t suggest that talent follows tax rates. I suggested that in Indianapolis, jobs follow established clusters which are supported by tax incentives and an overall low-tax (and as Aaron has pointed out, low-services) state fiscal climate.

    The “evidence” is strictly correlation: Indianapolis grew in jobs and in population 2000-2010 while running a targeted local economic development effort. It would take a better economist and statistician than me to prove causation, but here it does seem that people follow jobs to Indianapolis.

  28. Chris Barnett says:

    *jobs follow growth in targeted established clusters*

  29. Jim Russell says:

    Chris,

    Luring jobs is a complicated story. The efficacy of tax incentives is murky at best. As for influencing talent migration, there are good studies out there.

    Something worth considering:

    http://www.changinggears.info/2011/06/24/northwest-indiana-lures-jobs-from-michigan/

  30. GeoJunk says:

    I think it’s important to consider that sometime mega-projects like Chicago’s Millennium Park are not fully used or appreciated for many years or decades after they are built. I’m sure New York’s Central Park did not come into its own until several decades after it was set aside by the city. Although Chicago is already built up around the park, it still may need time to “come into its own.” Once it does there is no doubt future residents will laud the foresight of contemporary planners.

  31. Thad says:

    How is Millennium Park underutilized? There is always something happening there, like the Taste, Symphony in the Park, Movies in the Park, kids playing in the fountain. Everyone who visits has to take a picture at the bean.I’ve been there a few times during the week while running errands and there are always people there hanging out, reading a book, doing art, eating lunch. I think a mega park that is free of charge is better than something else like a stadium or something that is inaccessible to a good portion of residents.

  32. John Morris says:

    To be blunt about it–Pittsburgh needs normal, plain cash generating, mostly taxable development and the Strip is one of the few places where this can and should logically happen.

    If you think it’s quaint the way it is and want this mostly dead area of underused buildings and parking lots to stay–perhaps you should put some (like a lot) of your own money into keeping the city afloat? If you are a city homeowner, you see this in your high property tax bills.

    Needless to say, the absence of a significant population in The Strip is also a very big reason the downtown has been dead and also why transit cannot come close to covering it’s costs.

    This is the general attitude–particularly among the large percent of non taxpaying non city residents who feel god gave them the right to have this place empty just so they can park their cars on Saturday and buy some sausage and a Cleveland Sucks T-Shirt.

  33. John Morris says:

    Sorry this is the full comment in response to Annalisa.

    “I think the fact that they haven’t transformed it makes it quaint and nostalgic. What are some of the improvements you would like to see in the Strip?”

    Yes, it is quaint and nostalgic.

    Putting this in some context, Pittsburgh is only around 48 square miles in land area of which a very, very high percent is made up of steep hills or hollows.

    Pittsburgh is also home to a very high percent of non tax paying non profits. Already, the North Shore’s use has been granted over to mostly non income generating uses like stadiums (that is to say not generating enough income to even cover their maintanance costs let alone construction costs.) Then we have the remaining central North Side which has Allegheny Center- disasterous-clustf– that is very hard to fix.

    Moving to the lower hill–we have highways and mostly more of the same.

    To be blunt about it–Pittsburgh needs normal, plain cash generating, mostly taxable development and the Strip is one of the few places where this can and should logically happen.

    If you think it’s quaint the way it is and want this mostly dead area of underused buildings and parking lots to stay–perhaps you should put some (like a lot) of your own money into keeping the city afloat? If you are a city homeowner, you see this in your high property tax bills.

    Needless to say, the absence of a significant population in The Strip is also a very big reason the downtown has been dead and also why transit cannot come close to covering it’s costs.

    This is the general attitude–particularly among the large percent of non taxpaying non city residents who feel god gave them the right to have this place empty just so they can park their cars on Saturday and buy some sausage and a Cleveland Sucks T-Shirt.

  34. John Morris says:

    The Wikipedia puts the actual land area at 55.5 sq.

    Anyway, a very high percent of this is very difficult and expensive to build on and not centrally located.

  35. Thad says:

    @John: I don’t think we Annalisa was referring to the empty buildings and parking lots as quaint, but the overall environment, architecture and building stock. She probably doesn’t want it to be transformed into some generic neighborhood found in every urban setting.

  36. John Morris says:

    Well, sadly the combo of underused old buildings and parking lots is a big part of the average American urban landscape.

    The two are intricately connected since a lack of residents and density of use means that a high percent of people who do come will have to drive and park.

    Personally, for Pittsburgh’s basic survival, it needs to use and develop this land more rationally. It’s not brain surgery, but it does mean accepting that what was is history and mostly doesn’t work today.

    Does this mean tearing down most of the old buildings?Hopefully in many cases not, but it does mean accepting a landscape that is different–and also includes many new infill apartment buildings and offices as well as conversions.

    One cannot just judge an area on it’s historic or nostalgia value without looking at the practical negative effects this lack of devevlopment has had on the rest of the city and it’s tax base.

    This is really where the rubber meets the road. People who advocate for sustainable, walkable, transit oriented cities and really don’t want sprawl must actively work to allow and promote pro growth infill development in the places where it really can work.

  37. Jennifer Lemming says:

    There seems to be a tension, even at times conflict, over developement that occurs naturally, arising organically to the individual cities needs, and people who just want to build something (or “facelift) just in order to get people to spend more money in that city.

  38. Annalisa says:

    @Thad, yes that was more like what I was meaning when I said that the Strip district was “quaint and nostalgic.” But you make a lot of great points John. It is easy to tell that you are very passionate about your views. Thanks for taking the time to share them. I guess as a “displaced” Pittsburgher (no longer living in the state), I see things now as an outsider. I don’t want Pittsburgh to turn into just another “modern” city. It has a lot of character. But, there has to be a dose of practical, and in order to sustain it must be able to be a place where people can live. John, are you on any boards or commitees for development in Pittsburgh? If not, you should be!

  39. John Morris says:

    Have had trouble commenting on here. I hope I was not considered too out of line.

  40. John Morris says:

    Thanks for your comment Annalisa.

    No I am not on anny boards and dont actually feel qualified to be on them.

    I do have a blog which i hoped might gain a few diverse posters and be a good forumn to share regional design best practices and discussion.

    My viewpoint is I hope very, Jane Jacobs like in that I think it’s very important to kkep a very close eye on the street and what is working.

    In the case of Pittsburgh I think many of the false distinctions as to what is the “downtown” and what is not has been destructive.

    For example, the South Side is now home to major Headquarters like that of American Eagle.

    Yes, I am somewhat concerned about a “generic” Strip, but much more disturbed by thr ugly and economically destructive highways that are every bit as generic.

    BTW, on your next visit you will see that a good number of conversions have already happened. The Armstrong Cork building is already done and I believe mostly a sucess. Nearing completion are several other new conversions like that of the former Otto Milk Factory. Some of these do look fairly generic and have add ons that undermine the building’s original character. Still, if fully rented they will go a long way to creating some residential critical mass.

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