Pittsburgh’s Third Renaissance: Nailed It


It’s a rare thing for pundits and pontifs to get such big things so dead-on correct.

But this entire editorial turned out to be pretty deep:

We are hesitant to call it an unprecedented period of construction — this being a city that has undergone not one but two urban “renaissances.” But no one should be surprised if the name Renaissance III surfaces more frequently in connection with all the digging, erecting and eventual ribbon-cutting that’s about to go on around here.

Pittsburgh is rebuilding again. (P-G, March 27, 1998)

Today’s observers will have to overlook the wince-inducing mention of Lazarus department store. By my count, many of us still think of twelve out of the piece’s 14 specifically-cited initiatives as “new,” and as big parts of our present civic successes.

So before we all fully embark together on this leadership-inducing journey, let’s all raise our glasses. Here we go, Pittsburgh! Here’s to fifteen more years of accolades and accomplishments rivaling the last!

28 thoughts on “Pittsburgh’s Third Renaissance: Nailed It

  1. Anonymous

    You mean like the new $400 million PNC tower that has a solar chimney and breathes? Or do we just ignore things don't meet the narrative we want to portray?

  2. Bram Reichbaum

    I was about to say, that PNC green thingy applies. And did the Alcoa joint get subsidy?

    I remember once a wise man saying, “I don't like subsidies either. If we could do these projects without public subsidies, we would.” Now, I'm jealous to protect the cost-benefit balance from flying way out of control and don't think the public needs to be a pushover, but I doubt many people care whether their workplace once upon a time had a TIF — as long as it's still in business.

  3. BrianTH

    I think Bram is right that the best hope for the challengers is “He doesn't deserve credit for this,” and not “Despite all appearances to the contrary, things are actually going really crappy.” In addition to such a view being easily rebutted (as was immediately done above), few voters like a Debbie Downer even when they are right.

  4. Bram Reichbaum

    BrianTH – It also has the advantage of being substantially true. Maybe they can use the “But our legacy costs still aren't really being addressed” gambit and the “Because of that our neighborhood infrastructure will just keep crumbling” gambit, but that's about it.

    (Yes, Ravenstahl tried to address pensions and infrastructure with his Lease — but if he says so he again plays right into the Wall Street Investment [cough hork swallow] Bankers gambit.)

  5. Infinonymous

    Did not the URA assemble property for the Tower at PNC Plaza, and who among us would not wager that the URA — and taxpayers — sustained a loss (likely corresponding to PNC's benefit)?

    Was Bill Peduto successful in defeating the entirety of the eight-figure public subsidy package that was attached to PNC's plans?

  6. Infinonymous

    The Infinonymi do not go to prison.

    The Infinonymi have, however, put people in prison.

    The invitation to return to the fray is kind, but InsolvenCity does not appear to be worth the effort. Bigger and more promising fish require frying.

    Happy Inauguration Day, everyone — because this one is a happy day!

  7. Anonymous

    Careful! If you like new skyscrapers, Rvenstahl had nothing to do with it. If you do not like new skyscrapers, he assembled and gave away the land to pnc. This logic will persist throughout campaign, confusing people. Stick to one or the other. He did nothing OR he only does bad things. Otherwise mixed message dilutes our ability to oust him.

  8. Infinonymous

    Thank you, Ms. Gerhardt, but Pittsburgh failed without Infinonymous, and failed with Infinonymous, and . . .

    This point was illustrated by former Pirates general manager Branch Rickey, who is said to have responded to a salary demand and walkout threat from Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner — this is back when the Pirates were a major league club, and fielded a seven-time (consecutive) home run king — with this wisdom: 'We finished in last place with you, Ralph; we can finish in last place without you, too'

    We are confident InsolvenCity can maintain its trajectory with or without Infinonymous.

    Thanks for remembering our Tom Murphy Bridge proposal.

  9. Helen Gerhardt


    But good conversation between fish waiting to be fried in whatever sized pan can make the time pass a little less trepidatiously.

    Sounds like I might not be the only one that will be glad to have you come and sizzle a little with us here in the smokin' tail of the Comet from time to time.

  10. Shawn Carter


    Pittsburgh failed, if we accept the premise, long before us…

    The more I look at the history of public transit here, from 1908 to the present, I see it.

    So I accept the premise that Pittsburgh labors under the weight of its failures.

    I don't accept that any of the current actors are responsible for this.

    We can argue, as we always have, about the role(s) current actors are playing, but the discourse, however uncomfortable, was always better with you…

    But if you've pulled stumps for warmer places, I obviously don't blame you…

  11. Helen Gerhardt


    You write: “I don't accept that any of the current actors are responsible for this.”

    That statement of non-responsibility has a flip side that denies all power to change anything for the better.

    Aren't we all partially responsible? And aren't those with the most resources of wealth, or information or connections or power, to be held more accountable?

    I'm sorry to speak in abstractions – you know the matter that is foremost on my mind these days. I most surely hold myself partially responsible, along with the various community and power structures that helped create the trap, that did not provide my friend the support she needed to escape.

    Once one has seen that one can make a difference for the better or worse, both by action and inaction, how can we do anything but accept the reality of our individual and collective failures? Surely that's the foundation to build from to try to understand how we might do better together?

    Unless we want to abandon all each other fishes to swim or to fry as best we can manage according to our “fitness” to survive – alone.

  12. Shawn Carter


    The more I research it, the more I become clear that, at various times over the last 81 years, monumental lapses in sound judgment and urban/rural planning have placed us where we are today.

    The reason we have a Squirrel Hill Tunnel as opposed to a wider, more efficient highway from Downtown to Penn Hills was we couldn't disturb the factories and mills that lined the north bank of the Monongahela River. You know, the ones that aren't even here anymore.

    Why don't we have light rail from Downtown to the Airport? Because of a breakdown in the relationship between Mayor Pete Flaherty's administration and the business community AND warring faction of the Westinghouse Corporation who were fighting over WHICH of their two technologies would be used to service the rail transit system (Skybus).

    Why was the South Hills given light rail and the East End given a Busway? Why, with a LRT station AT Penn Station Downtown, the most convenient stop for passengers traveling the East Busway to enter the South Hills LRT, NOT in service?

    Why did we build the Birmingham Bridge wide enough to carry an interstate highway across its span connect E. Carson St. with Forbes Ave.?

    Did you know that the Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way has a spur in Homewood that skirts the western edge of Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar before crossing the Allegheny River near the Waterworks (Allegheny Valley)

    Why did Allegheny County purchase, in 1992, the right-of-way abandoned by the Montour Railroad Company in 1984 and give it to a group that turned it into a hiking/biking trail? That abandoned rail line connected the rail lines that follow the Mon/Ohio Rivers from Station Square with the EXACT point on the Airport Parkway where the highway was built intentionnaly wide enough and with a wide enough median to accomodate LRT or commuter rail to the Airport, which was also designed with rail transit in mind.

    Did you know that in the 1960's, Interstate 79 from Washington, PA, the Parkway West and the Parkway East were not signed I-279 (Parkway West) and I-376 (Parkway East), but, instead, had a single interstate designation, Interstate 70?

    But that because the Penn-Lincoln Parkway (both East and West) couldn't be upgraded to interstate standards because of the tunnels, PennDOT and the FHWA built I-70 through Washington to New Stanton (where I-70 connects with I-76 and joins the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike?)

    Why is it that Pittsburgh has BETTER public transit in 1960 than it does today?

    The answers to ALL of these questions will demonstrate that many of the largest failures of vision in the past 100 years of this City had NOTHING to do with ANY of its current officeholders.

    And many of these decisions are simply too damned costly to attempt to implement now.

    In fact, most of our current transit/transportation studies are simply updated versions of plans drafted in the 1950's, but died for one reason or another and are now just too damned expensive.

  13. Helen Gerhardt

    Wow, Shawn, sincere thanks for all those leads for further research – I'll dig in and do my homework that both you and Chris Briem have given me.

    I'm going to have to wait to pull out my light saber and duel you on how present actors might do better together until all my big chores are done tomorrow night.

    But yeah, needed changes will be prohibitively expensive unless we get some of that Death Star and space-ship money flowing back into rolling rubber wheels and down-to-earth street-scapes.


  14. BrianTH

    “It also has the advantage of being substantially true.”

    Well, yes and no. The sense in which Ravenstahl doesn't deserve much credit is that macro conditions were moving in Pittsburgh's favor anyway, and to the extent mayoral policy has mattered at all, the laudable policies have mostly just taken the form of providing support to ideas that originated elsewhere, or were already in motion here.

    The thing is, that may be enough. When macro conditions are in your favor, pushing grand and original schemes might not be necessary or wise, and conversely merely saying “yes” to the better ideas of others could well be more or less what the moment calls for.

    Of course this is sketching a vision of an incumbent who will be tough to beat largely because he managed not to stand in the way of macro conditions that happened to be in his favor. But that is a well-worn path to reelection in American politics, and I don't think we should be surprised if it happens here.

  15. Bram Reichbaum

    To tell you the truth, my most fervent base desire is an election in which differing visions are made plain and are compared and contested clearly. And that one of them clearly wins out. I don't think I could take another dumbly covered election where the loser has excuses and the winner doesn't have a mandate for A, B, C and D.


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