Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pittsburgh Prophet Tom Murphy

We have another former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy sighting, this time in Shreveport, Louisiana:

Pittsburgh's success began after the city was devastated by the loss of the steel industry. It really had nothing to lose when leaders proposed turning 10 blocks of downtown — once the "red-light district" — into an arts and entertainment district, now home to 15 "legitimate" performance venues and a host of restaurants and galleries.

The district is partly funded by a half-percent sales tax increase, which guarantees that arts organizations have some revenue.

Also contributing to its success is the proximity to other attractions. All of the city's major sporting venues are located across the river within walking distance.

Could Shreveport-Bossier do that? Maybe. It would take some serious soul-searching and philosophical discussions about where we want our tax dollars going. We're not convinced one way or the other, but we should talk about it.

The good thing Murphy noted is we already have many pieces to a thriving arts community. We have beautiful buildings like the Strand Theatre, successful venues in the Robinson Film Center and Artspace, and a few popular bars and restaurants. But there seems to be little cohesiveness between the entities.

One thing they did share was a sense of frustration at a perceived lack of support from the city, particularly from local government. Correct or not, that perception should be addressed, and arts should have a place in future plans for the city.

"You have the pieces. You have the legacy," Murphy said. "What you don't have is the community will."

"Pittsburgh's success ..."

I still imagine everyone rolling their eyes when they read those words. The fact is that other cities want to emulate Pittsburgh redevelopment. Why? Before trying to answer that question, keep in mind that Pittsburgh is still trying to shed its smoky, dirty, economically depressed national image. You can't blame a clever public relations campaign for the perception that Pittsburgh is successful.


Schultz said...

Murphy hit the nail on the head. When it comes to downtown revilization Pittsburgh is definitely a model for other cities to emulate. When I moved here in '96 Liberty Ave was still the red light district. I can't recall any good restaurants in the downtown area back then, and while some of Murphy's ideas revolving around downtown Pgh flopped (the big department stores have been a big disappointment and we are still waiting on the Fifth-Forbes corridor to come to fruition), I think Murphy gets credit for being the catalyst for downtown development. With that said,the city's population is still declining and with its aging population I don't think it has bottomed, but even though I agree that downtown Pittsburgh today is much much nicer than it was when I moved here 13 years ago.

Mark Arsenal said...

Not arguing with the point of your post, but I am a little peeved that the economic activity of a Red Light District is considered bad, but the economic activity of bars and restaurants is considered good.

It could be argued that the same amount of economic success could be generated by convincing people to spend their money on sex rather than obesity or alcoholism ;) It's *my* preferred vice, anyway.