Transforming the ‘Burgh: Riding this Beast

Nova Place. The old Allegheny Center. Feast with your eyes, upon the drawings!

Super that we’re doing something about Allegheny Center after all these years. In the depths of 20th century American “urban renewal”, that was somebody’s idea of a classical Athenian paradise adjoining an indoor mall. A wide public crossroads, planned centrally, a lot of tall apartments for residential density, with cultural resources and libraries and sculptures within, and tables for chess and enlightened sociability.

Allegheny Center has long been regarded as a disappointment. It is known. Whether that is fair or not may turn out to be a bit more nuanced.

But now the City is doing away with much of that. The Peduto administration is proposing turning it into an innovation works, a 21st century technology hub, a high-end campus, featuring the “right kind of office space” and restaurants, but with an emphasis on a new urban fabric with community reconnections.

Even still, the North Side street grid will not reemerge — re-Complete? — and it is all still very dirigiste, under the stewardship of Faros Properties.

We are reinvesting in Allegheny Center, to be sure. Updating it. But are we actually changing what it is? Who is to say? It is so early…

And germane to this discussion, apropos even: Pittsburgh’s tech start-up scene does not yet rank, quantitatively.

Right now, there are surely very few bona-fide Billionaires walking around the City of Champions, idly curious, considering wagering a few tens of millions of dollars on a ragtag band of business-plan heroes. That is, compared to Miami, or Silicon Valley / San Jose, or… or Austin.

Yet in terms of Pittsburgh’s potential, in that regard? Possibly…



This is a for-real possibility, a likelihood even. The Comet can see it clear as sunshine: Uber debuts its autonomous car system with footage and data from Pittsburgh’s mean streets, steep hills, outlandish intersections, bicyclists and potholes. If chauffeur droids can make it here, they can make it anywhere. The robots will disrupt the economy, and naturally it will start at the Forks of the Ohio, because this is conquest.

Will Pittsburgh workers be manufacturing the car-bots? Probably not. The wizards of the tech industry will do exceedingly well; their agents, lawyers, dentists, and restauranteurs will be doing brisker business in proportion; and a certain greater number of drones will be required to feed them burritos and sell them pants.

That is your economic development news. What else is up?


Murders are up.

Call us obtuse, but we think murders are up recently because murderers are deciding to kill more people. Our culture remains pretty messed up, tensions generally are rising in this world, absurdities persist, and perhaps sometimes depravity comes in waves. The apparent annual increase in mortal violence may be random, may be cyclical, or may be an early indicator of a general slow increase.

The Comet is not buying any conspiracy theories about police morale, that is for sure. We believe the technologies and tactics which Pittsburgh police are rolling out are bound to defeat 21st century challenges. If anything, we feel a sense of urgency to get all the parts into place, well-trained and field-demonstrated, before some next chaotic and tragic incident threatens to turn into a conflagration.

The old Police contract is being renegotiated. We were hoping for a battle over something more interesting, such as policy, but this is about money.

Police officers deserve a raise, but the city is still skirting the precipice of dire financial distress. Further, it is known that the training and caché of a City of Pittsburgh police officer — not just initial training, but all that ongoing and highly specialized — makes that officer extremely valuable on the open market, as side-details or as a consultant. The job of a big city officer demands trade-offs, but our regional security economy is a system that works.

And incidentally… during the Spring 2015 CPA, officers of varying responsibilities made occasional pleas for a whole new, state-of-the-art training facility — like many of those in very comparable cities, in fact —  and certainly defended their need for good equipment. But nobody ever suggested that their present facilities are in any way “deplorable”, and nothing that I saw or that they indicated made it seem that way.

Conditions at the jail, now? Those might need improvement.


Iggy Azalea is headlining Pride®, the annual Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) celebration in Pittsburgh. This is upsetting to many, as Iggy has not recovered from a series of unfortunate statements which aggravate divisions in LGBTQIA+ communities on matters of intersectionality and classism.

This blogger would only add that Iggy Azalea seems to have purchased and adequately produced one semi-catchy hit. That aside, she evinces a rather uninspired muse with a limited and strenuously commercial appeal.

For a festival whose slogan this year recalls the Beatles (“All You Need Is Love”), this is music for a narrowly-tailored audience. Now, maybe you think we are an old fuddy duddy, and that is more than fair. But if we were in charge of PrideFest, we would move heaven and earth to book The Warning. Now, there is a band that bleeds courage and optimism, and has a catalogue primed for WDVE.

We digress. The news is that many locals are connected in being fed up with how wealthy, CIS-gendered white men can have a narrow and dominating perspective, even in progressive spaces. Too much of that begets an ossified cluelessness.

Just last week, as a matter of fact, we discovered that we have a lot of serious convictions against transphobic bigotry. While that newspaper column was shocking and disturbing to many, to others it merely reinforced the sense of Pittsburgh’s stubborn lack of diversity.

But this time, again, it appears we’ve had about enough. What a resilient, compassionate people we are becoming!

These eruptions to overturn fearful, retrograde, noncooperative cultural attitudes are certainly most welcome, though in a better world they would not be necessary. The Comet is not sure if this widespread humanitarian indignation is yet ripe to be aimed at our 19th century political infrastructure, but these are promisingly progressive developments.

Happy Monday morning, Pittsburgh!

11 thoughts on “Transforming the ‘Burgh: Riding this Beast

  1. David Passmore

    From the distance of decades, I can’t imagine any viable nuance that would have explained the demolition of the Allegheny Market House. What were they thinking?

  2. Anonymous

    I give you credit for pointing out the news stories that we’re: the worst place for startups/entrepreneurs; we’re near the bottom for diversity; murders are up and clearance rates are down. I’d point out two more – the story a few weeks back that the City, County and region are still losing population, and of course UPMC not paying its fair share. That pretty much covers the state of things in a lot of areas. The Mayor’s been in a year and a half now. does he “own” any of these problems if they still exist when he runs again in May 2017?

    1. Bram R Post author

      When one causes a problem, one definitely “owns” it. That might not be the only way… but most of the problems / challenges you mention appear structural, and of the sort for which there are no quick fixes. We could have elected Rick Seback and we’d still be grappling with certain issues. Peduto’s responsibility is to grapple well.

      1. Anonymous

        Peduto has checked out on a couple of items…and I respect that. He’s not taking a stab at the pension debt issue (he can’t fix it), he’s uninterested in taking on UPMC (drain on City coffers with no reasonable guarantee of success), and he’s unwilling to deal with the fact that we have two Public Safety Directors (Huss is actually a great, capable guy who doesn’t deserve to be fired). Good to have a grasp on your limits.

      2. Anonymous

        I agree with you to an extent. But the Administration sure went on some huge PR tours to roll out their initiatives on some of these issues. The two which come to mind are increasing population and decreasing murders/increasing solve rates. Subjectively, they’ve been pretty smug about these initiatives and in portraying our town as a startup haven under his leadership, which (very ironically) the data doesn’t bear out.

  3. Anonymous

    The Allegheny Center news is certainly good news. But can we stop with the fawning over the Mayor? The Peduto administration isn’t proposing anything – a private developer is and the Mayor just retweeted what the developer wants to do. I’m glad the mayor is on board, but it is far from his project.

    1. Bram R Post author

      I assume if the administration already announced support for it — on the day it was unveiled to the public, before it was submitted to any City or civic panels (I guess this real life?) — they already worked with the developer extensively behind the scenes.

      1. Anonymous

        Worked with them to do what? Tweet about it? Seriously, i’m just talking practical reality here. The administration didn’t do anything. A private entity bought the real estate, is paying for and doing the design, will recruit the tenants, manage it, etc. What exactly did the administration DO?

      2. Bram R Post author

        Well if a private company has already paid for the design and the lawyers and everything else, I assume it has also talked with city leaders to discuss things that might be big red flags, and smooth over some yellow flags. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that; maybe Faro hasn’t laid any groundwork. EDIT: And to be explicit: if we get a closer look at this thing and we determine we don’t like it, that would redound to the Mayor’s detriment. Hence, s/he has a powerful self-interest in scrutinizing a development a bit before supporting it.

      3. Anonymous

        It is pretty standard for politicians to support something and for developers to tell them about what they are doing. Then, they do a joint press conference and everyone is happy. That doesn’t equate to the Mayor having anything to do with the development other than having been made aware of it.

  4. helengerhardt1

    Way back in August of 2014, a few major purchases ago, “…Faros billed themselves as the largest holder of rental properties in greater downtown….The company is not alone among new-to-Pittsburgh firms claiming their stake in the apartment market here…”

    Tim Schooley of the Pittsburgh Business Times has been following the pattern of big-time buy-ups of residential properties by out-of-town developers. With globally warmed droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes all trending J-curvedly upward, maybe these investors are getting ready to cater to the “intellectual capital” most financially able to migrate away from disasters toward our rich water sources and more generally stable climate.


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