Sunday, July 23, 2006

Walk the walk

While heated debates rage on at this blog and others over the best means to redevelop Pittsburgh, a sprawling suburban community begins to wake up to the benefits of walkable communities. Suburban apologist Joel Kotkin--who also happens to be one of the most astute critics of modren urban redevelopment policies--wrote about this last year, and here were my thoughts then.


Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

here's what kills me about pittsburgh...yesterday i pedaled from my home in avalon (luckily i dodged the border police) to the civic arena to buy some dixie chicks tix from scalpers. got a good deal ($65 seats for $50 each).

then i wheeled to lawrenceville to visit j. morris' art gallery, nice place with lots of interesting stuff. glad i saw it once because he sounds as though he's ready to head for his next urban utopia — and i'm not about to support someone with his attitude about suburban scum. i also visited a friend who says his affordable home that he bought 5 years ago for $65,000 just might go up for sale soon at $180,000 even though he's done not a damn thing but paint the living room since he signed the deed.

okay, so back on my bike to meet my wife for dinner at christo's on sixth street (yes, she did drive and i stowed my bike in the car). apres dinner we walked "all the way" to the arena for the show...a grueling 10 minutes indeed.

following a great show (with natalie mains trying to tell a story, stumbling and than saying "i'm just like the president i forget the right words to say") we stopped for drinks on a place called nine on nine, at penn and ninth, then for another round at bossa nova before sneaking into the garage and driving back to suburbia with the lights off until we crossed into bellevue.

the point is that downtown pittsburgh and many of its neighborhoods are walkable and bikeable. and so what if a couple of middle aged people (or any other age) drive into the city (all of it, not just downtown) 12-15 times a month to enjoy what it has to offer...and let's not forget many more bike trips.

my contention is that i do a lot to support the city on levels both small and large, whether i'm sipping a coffee at the quiet storm in garfield (they let you bring your bike in) or dropping a hundred bucks seeing a show and having dinner and drinks. god, i bet most of the city residents who blog don't do much more than pay their taxes and order some chinese takeout once a week or shopping at the local giant eagle.

seriously, what constitutes supporting a city...merely living in it and paying taxes...or making use and enjoying all that it has to offer...whether it's a food coop in the east end of subsidized baseball park? or is it something in i've said before...too much talk on these blogs falls into the black and white category. either or. my way or the highway (a one way route that leads the scum back to suburbia).

3:42 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

hey J. Potts: i wasn't including you in the either/or crowd. just making a general statement.

4:15 PM

Blogger John Morris said...

Well anyway, Sean.

I still think honesty is the best policy. The scum line was not generally directed to you. It apears that the cap doesn't quite fit your head. But it fits an awful lot of them.

As far as how much I spend. Not much, I am broke which is sort of why i am here. an awful lot of the nice people around here are broke.
I bet my life on this one and I think I lost. Just for a little dope on how things are going around here. It's mostly hype at least from a business standpoint. There has been a lot of wonderful rehabing of homes and so as a housing area, it is much better. But I know a lot of the business people here and most of them are bleeding. The coffee shop on my block is doing ok. But few of the other retail or gallery things are.

I think the area works well for stuff like business to business or non retail. people tell me i have to sell stuff on e-bay or something.

When I came, I thought that the area was well situated in relation to the downtown and in a normal city it would be. But not here. I also was very high on the prospects for housing in the downtown and strip. But now I see how little commitment there is to that now.

As far as me leaving. It's not to likely. The utopia was sort of in my head. A place that people would be left free to live where they wanted. I have to admit that I picked Pittsburgh over other places because so much of it seemed so empty. I thought that someone like me would be apreciated. It just doesn't seem that way now. the kind of a city I want to live in is just sort of not legal anymore in most places.

6:33 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

This may be the second version of this comment that pops up, so forgive me.

Yes, I doubt that any of the restaurant or bar owners in the city will be hanging "City Residents Only" signs in their doors anytime soon. I've only lived in the city for three years. But before that, my wife and I spent plenty of time and money in the city limits.

I do believe, however, that many of Pittsburgh's recent redevelopment projects have been too focused on visitors. A city will thrive only if it is a desirable place to live--it cannot count on being merely a "destination."

6:35 PM

Blogger John Morris said...

That's really all i meant to say. Pittsburgh seems to be mostly betting it's existence on occasional visitors to a large extent at the expense of the things that would apeal to residents.

I think that the first part of this fist fight I had with Sean concerned the stadiums and the parking around them.

6:42 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...


stop it. you almost have me feeling sorry for you...but you're a 40 year old man, not a 21 year old kid out of art school. no matter what you were expecting, this town's always been conservative regarding the arts...look at the success of the CLO and the plays the public theater produces. and why in the hell do you think andy warhol fled town? but that doesn't mean that something edgier can't catch on. it takes a while sometimes. don't you know that most new businesses don't turn a profit for the first five years? and don't you know that most of the gallery owners here have other incomes (like a working spouse) to buffer those business losses?

seriously, your gallery has nice stuff at reasonable prices. but you'll get nowhere bashing potential customers based on where they live.

honestly, you're views come off like a bad parody of a seriously bad woody allen rant about the (non) existence of intelligent life outside manhattan.

6:44 PM

Blogger John Morris said...

I actually came here looking for some. Being here has made me have a lot of doubts.

It's true that I should have had more cash. But when you see that almost everyone in an area is bleeding and that all of the businesses you thought were viable are just charity work well it kind of makes you wonder.

7:11 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...


it's the same many coffee houses can lawrenceville support...i think there are three "hip" type places, not to mention the traditional joints like pete's place and others. and how many "out there" restaurants will survive on butler street...or art galleries...or retro furniture stores...hell, this is still a neighborhood where the dollar store and bowling alley pack them in...maybe pittsburgh still lacks the population and sophistication to support boutiques and galleries that occupy 2 out of 3 storefronts...or could it also need "visitors" from ross twp...or fox chapel...or mt. lebanon...who come to the city to plunder cheap art work and sample some delectable you can't find on the Thank God it's Applebee's menu.

one boho coffee shop is fine...even a second might work...but starting at 38th i think there actually might be four such places in lawrenceville by time you reach 46th it really that tough to make it along butler street without a caffeine jolt every two blocks?

it takes all types to make a city work...people who live there...and visit there. don't shut your doors and mind to the outsiders...they might just keep you in business.

honestly, most people like pizza. but you don't see a pizzaria every two blocks. except maybe in bloomfield, if you count dominos (i don't)

as lawrenceville starts to lose its "functional" shops...hardward stores, shoe stores, pharmacies...even the greasy favor of the art venues/trendy eateries/antique store and will lose its local customer base and will need to rely on carson street does now...and if penn ave in garfield becomes another version of a transformed butler street with galleries and the rest, what happens to those businesses in many starving artist galleries can that neighborhood support...unless an amazing influx of affluent residents with something more than middle of the road tastes flood the area?

if you're looking for a nyc state of mind in pittsburgh, you best head to squirrel hill, where you can find people chatting at the outdoor tables at the starbucks after 11 p.m., even on a work night. sometimes, carson street has that club scene feel of an all night party. but in sq. hill, the late night activity is part of the everyday life style. southside if about no-string hookups in a way...sq. hill is about more meaningul connections.

12:08 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...


yes, PNC park and Heinz Field might be visitor attractions...but both teams that play in those places have long histories here. the city didn't build those places to attract teams and fans...but still, okay, they're visitor attractions...however, i fail to see how the downtown development isn't trying to attract residents...and damian soffer said in a certain magazine article that an important component of the SSWorks project was the residential aspect...and aside from his lofts, housing around SSW sprouted up in huge housing has done on the South Side for the past E.Liberty i wouldn't say that whole foods, home depot and walgreen's are first day tourist attractions...yes, i go out of my way to shop at whole foods...but i've never stepped inside the home depot or walgreens.

on the n.side washington's crossing is a nice residential that has seen phenomenal increases in housing prices and the apts at the ninth street bridge are churning along nicely.and the heinz lofts are exactly a youth hostel or hotel.

in the strip, the cork factory is residential and the cultural district project leans heavily on the housing side.

so really, i am puzzled by your perception that many of the city's recent projects focused on bringing visitors to town.

12:23 AM

Blogger John Morris said...

What was the All Star game gonna save our city crap? Talk to Jonathan, it seems like he sees it the same way.

5:07 AM

Blogger John Morris said...

Few of the downtown project's propose anywhere near enough housing relative to retail. Just the bare minimum. I would estimate that a downtown population of 10,000 is the lowest number if you want to make the place viable. Then hotels on top of that.

Tell me. Do you think the people who put those stadiums there gave a -- blank about thier effect on the North Side?

And what the hell is the casino thing about? Is that some great amenity for Pittsburgh residents?

We are talking about a city that can't connect it's central districts with a viable transit system and yet somehow always finds money for these mega projects and all the highways and parking lots they need.

5:34 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

First of all, I'm not counting any of the residential projects, though I do believe, as you know, that high-end housing should not qualify for public subsidies. (I will make an exception for bona fide infrastructure improvements, especially given the age of this city's roads, sewers, etc.)

The convention center is a prime example. As is the previous mayor's plans to redevelop Downtown (some of which came to fruition--Lazarus and Lord and Taylor, I'm looking at you) and for that matter, the expansion of Station Square, which did receive tax-increment financing.

I don't have a problem with the stadiums being in the city. I'm glad they are in the city. I am not glad tax dollars went to help build them. For all intents and purposes, those facilities are owned by the teams, who reap nearly all the profits from all the events that take place in them. But since they technically are public facilities, no property taxes are collected. And I think we both know that the North Shore connector is not being built for the benefit of residents, even if many of those people who attend games do live in the city.

Perhaps it was too sweeping a statement. But nonetheless, much time and money has been wasted trying to turn this city into a tourist attraction, rather than a decent place to live.

6:52 AM

Blogger John Morris said...

Absolutely! NY is a tourist attraction because it is a great place to live and not the other way around. In all honesty, NY sort of abuses it's guests or at least tries to make sure they are paying thier own way.

7:36 AM


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