Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Is Pittsburgh An Urban Redevelopment Model?

I feel out of place making any comments about former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy. But each time his legacy pops up over at Null Space, I'm perplexed. Outside of the Burgh, Murphy is an urban redevelopment legend (not in an infamous way). He is the force behind an upcoming Baton Rouge trip to the city next September:

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is leading a delegation to the city in September. It is one of a series of trips that has plumbed the secrets of success in other areas, from Austin as the high-tech capital of Texas to the similarly situated Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. However, the BRAC trips also have looked at other cities with claims to fame in transportation (Portland, Ore.) and community redevelopment (Richmond, Va.).

In Pittsburgh, the emphasis is likely to be both on economic renewal and redevelopment of neighborhoods. A newly formed Redevelopment Authority in Baton Rouge has looked to Pittsbugh’s inner-city projects as a model.

Believe it or not, Pittsburgh is held up as an example of best practice. The PR spin that occurred around the G-20 Summit has done wonders for the Steel City's image. However, the redevelopment success was noted widely years before the event. But the story didn't match the stereotypes.

Nowhere is that more true than in and around Pittsburgh. Familiarity breeds contempt, the dominant mood swing in Rust Belt cities. The entrenched cynicism can be overwhelming at times.

I think Murphy is the victim of a serious outmigration hangover. One looks at all the money spent, the big ticket items, the boondoggles and still sees a shrinking (and bankrupt) city. Murphy failed. So why all the love and admiration beyond the pale?

Because Pittsburgh, on the balance, succeeded where most other cities have failed. The last thing to change is image. Along with that will come more inmigration. After that, more outmigration. The natives will bolt en masse sensing that their hometown has jumped the shark.


Unknown said...

When the natives leave, they won't go far. They'll end up out on the fringes of the metropolitan area -- particularly in Armstrong, Fayette and Westmoreland Counties -- while the newcomers cluster in Allegheny, Butler and Washington Counties. (I'm still not sure what will happen with Beaver County.)

Tom Mc said...

I think Mayor Tom deserves some credit, since he had a vision. To me he succeeded putting a new coat of paint on the city. I moved here in 1998. The differences are enormous in 12 years. The apple shines, but the core is still rotting. I feel Mayor Tom thought as many government officials believe that you can grow your way out of structural fiscal issues. It's is sad that 47% of the Cities fiscal budget goes to forward obligations. Out of ~$450M, $210M goes to borrowed or promised money. This fiscal issue has many more years to play out. Here is to hoping the shine doesn't come off the apple before the core has healed itself.

--Twelve year city resident.

Richard Layman said...

The issue is stabilization in the face of shrinkage. There is no question that of the major center cities facing regional decline with extra-precipitous decline in the center city (St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland) or center cities declining significantly despite relative regional prosperity (Philadelphia, Baltimore) that Pittsburgh is doing by far the best.

But it is also helped by having some key universities and institutions (Carnegie) as well as committed foundations, plus committed neighborhood and citywide organizations (e.g., the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation). Plus some remaining large corporations.

Those elements predated Mayor Murphy.