Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Pittsburgh Way

I shouted into the Burgh Blogosphere inquiring about the relationship between über planner Paul Farmer and Pittsburgh's comeback. Chris Briem kindly informed me about Farmer's role in the planning department. Not that I'm a scholar of such things, but I can't recall seeing the name "Paul Farmer" associated with the reshaping of a struggling Pittsburgh. A little bit of research yielded this gem from 1998:

Paul Farmer's reputation as a visionary planner is what first caused Minneapolis officials to seek out and court him in 1994. Farmer had already served 14 years as deputy planning director in Pittsburgh when he accepted the Minneapolis post. He'd worked as a planning consultant in Canada, India, and Germany. He'd taught urban planning at several universities. In Pittsburgh, Farmer led the charge to redevelop 35 miles of waterfront, install busways and a light-rail transit system, and transform contaminated land into parks, businesses, and residential neighborhoods--all projects that city leaders have long been anxious to see happen in Minneapolis. ...

... When you came to Minneapolis, it was clear why the city wanted you working here. Projects you steered in Pittsburgh--light-rail transit, the riverfront, downtown improvement--have had city councils across the country drooling.

Reverence for the Pittsburgh transformation is already, at least, 15-years old. More recent media love is just catching up with what is an APA legend. The linked story concerns the "firing" of Farmer from his Minneapolis post. In retrospect, he lived up to his reputation and his Pittsburgh legacy was still viewed favorably towards the ending of the 90s.

That Farmer's name, along with Tom Murphy's, doesn't come up now is most curious. Why isn't Farmer more celebrated? Because he is a Shreveport, Louisiana native? I guess Luke Ravenstahl deserves all the credit.


Anonymous said...

Paul Farmer (APA CEO), Bob Lurcott, John Rahaim (Director of City Planning San Francisco AND Seattle), Caroline Boyce (AIA Pennsylvania) and so many other pros...They planned Pittsburgh back thru a depression with far less resources than we have today. Sustainability, Preservation, Riverfronts started with these planners and preservation professionals. An era when a planner meant having real credentials. Look at the resumes of the current department...sad...

Farmer and Murphy fought like crazy but there was respect for the profession unlike today...Major Planning and design take decades to happen...we are reaping the work of the last generation of leaders.

Jim Russell said...

Anonymous 12:11 AM,

Thanks for telling this story. In fact, you should write a book about it.