Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Alright, everybody! Ready to dive in? Here we go, back to the Greater Hill District and Uptown and the Civic Arena and Consol Energy Center and 28 Acres and things of this nature...

City planning director Noor Ismail said the zoning pre-application meeting held Monday was designed to acquaint the team officials with the planning process and the various agencies that would be involved.

"This is sort of a one-time thing," she said. "It is just a cursory review of what they want to achieve and what needs to be done."

Joanna Doven, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, said the pre-application meetings are designed to "cut through red tape" and to make sure the developer and the various agencies involved in the planning are all on the same page. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Some passages are just conspicuously pregnant with meaning. I'd be surprised if the Pittsburgh Penguins weren't already fairly well-acquainted with city government's various subunits and processes along this front. And as we've learned together over the years, one man's red tape is another man's last crucial line of defense. Still, there's nothing exciting in itself about an overview and planning ahead with an eye toward likely outcomes.

The Penguins hope to get approval from the planning commission and city council to designate the 28 acres a specially planned district, similar to those that have been created for the SouthSide Works complex on the South Side and Pittsburgh Technology Center on Second Avenue in South Oakland. (ibid)

This is where it gets juicy. An argument can certainly be made that what happens a few blocks west of Crawford shouldn't be considered in isolation of -- or very much differently than -- what happens a few blocks east of Crawford, if the vitality and livability of city neighborhoods is what comes first. The distinction may not really be so stark, but it sounds like this at least has the potential for being a concern.

Relating to that is what is conjured by "SouthSide Works," and to what extent what we have been shooting for regarding reestablishing connections and building neighborhoods is served by cordoning off real estate for a SouthSide Works / North Shore / Bakery Square style motif. It's one thing to identify a Community Center as a point on a map (and another thing to fund real things to go in to there) yet it would likely be a third thing to plan a community as a community. Of course development and jobs alone make for a forceful-sounding counterargument.


Which bring us to the other piece:

And so it is. This is the thing which was reported to have had trouble getting off the ground last year but now seems to be approaching ferment and fruition. In fact, the train might be leaving the station if you're just finding out about it, but probably slowly enough that you can still hop on with some athleticism.

One thing to look at is the Management Committee (pdf) and its 34 members.

It would probably be a mistake to imagine these 34 individuals sitting around a table and voting on what goes into a master plan which will thereupon be enacted and manifested in the real world. For one thing this is being advertised as a visioning process to guide and inform future activity -- although it's reasonable to assume its results will carry some weight at the old ZBA, planning commission and URA. For another thing, the effects of a Consensus Group or Steering Committee representative objecting to the majority is probably not the same as if someone from the Heinz Endowments or the Hill CDC objects -- and I don't even want to think about what happens if Rob Stephany vociferously objects to the prevailing current.

I don't know the names well enough to evaluate how representative is this committee of the Whole Hill. Time was, that was regarded as being of critical importance in any decision-making body. Right now it's unclear to what extents the goals are to be comprehensively representative of various interests, or to provide continuity with the One Hill CBA movement, or to conform with the eternal law of With the Victor Go the Spoils.


And finally. Most Tribune-Review editorials read as though they are written by an exceptionally intelligent and creative eleven year-old whose parents are Democrats and refuse to buy him an Xbox. But every once in a while that other being grabs the keyboard and takes the words write out of your mouth, only like, you wish:

In arguing for the demolition of the Civic Arena, former Pittsburgh City Councilman Sala Udin says the arena "is more a symbol of genocide than a historic icon." Indeed, the wholesale destruction 50 years ago of the once-vibrant and predominantly black lower Hill District raises a host of questions. But "genocide" is far too strong a word to describe a good-intentioned but far from well-executed exercise in urban renewal. (Trib, Edit Board)

Perfectly expressed. The arrogance with which that redevelopment effort was undertaken did indeed wound hundreds if not thousands of lives and a coherent community. Yet "genocide" -- that's just gratuitously beyond the pale.

The thing is. Udin possesses a canny enough political mind to have known darned well what to expect in terms of a response, and would have understood and appreciated all the objections. The question I can't stop asking myself is: why bang that drum so loudly? It was almost as though he was out to prove to somebody that he's doing everything he can to get that arena torn down.

And it's not even as though the existence or absence of the arena is the central issue.

*-UPDATE: Yes, this was written by some rich Hollywood actor, but it's a pretty fantastic formulation of what lies behind the preservation concept (or what the preservation concept in a sense stands in for).

In terms of the building, the only part I can say with certainty I desire to see preserved is the one big leaf of the dome directly under the metal girders which support it. That by itself is pretty elegant, and would provide space for something to go underneath it. And as Mr. Redwood would say, "We can argue about" what that should be.


  1. Maybe there's a bunch of people buried underneath the arena? Then it would make sense.

  2. Little known fact: one of the reasons the roof is opened so infrequently is that it has a major design flaw, specifically that it requires massive lubrication with fresh human blood. In retrospect, using the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan as inspiration for our Civic Arena was probably a bad idea, but Aztec stuff was all the rage at the time.

  3. A great practical joke would be to open the arena unexpectedly at midnight on 12-21-12 and put on a surprise laser show, perhaps to Tom Sawyer by Rush.

  4. You could trick everyone into coming by promising a band that doesn't suck.

  5. http://web.me.com/robertpfaffmann2/Reuse_the_Igloo%21/Arena_Basic_Concepts.html

  6. I looked over the master plan what gave me pause was this statement" Planning has been going on in the Hill District for decades. The goal of this planning process has been to incorporate all existing plans for the neighborhood (which you can find on this website), and then build on these plans to create a development framework ..." Isn't this more of what is claimed to be the problem, central planning?? Market driven businesses need to set up shop there on their own. Even the Duquesne Pharmacy is more or less a non-profit enterprise.Action is required, not decades of planning, meetings and committees.

  7. Operative word CENTRAL planning. Today planning happens in many ways that are far more democratic and collaborative than in the past. Is it messy, like democracy, YES! Learn to work with it, the alternative is much worse.

    Neighborhood plans reflect common values and consensus about the kind of community it residents want. The problem we have today, is not centralized "Soviet" style planning, but rather "corporate" style planning that delegates planning to the private sector to avoid accountability and maximize control.

    The truth is we need well managed inclusive planning with wise leaders and professionals who know how to get the best of both worlds. We need engaged informed citizens willing to participate.

    Planning is not a dirty word! The best businesses, cities and organizations are ones that plan well.

  8. well let's be grateful that Shop and Save is breaking ground on their Hill District store and not just having planning sessions..anonymous

  9. The planning for the Supermarket has been a decade in planning. planning foresight by URA and Hill...

  10. David Conrad for Mayor


    The motivation of "the preservationist(a)s" as Sala would say with a snarky smile has always been about the righting the injustices by reuse. Symbols of failure are often repurposed in more meaningful ways in Europe, where layers of former regimes and injustices are part of a longer history.

    Lets focus on a unified process for set period of 1 year and THEN make a final decision. See Portland Oregon as a model!

  11. I like what I think of as the bowtie plan (first seen by me in a plan by a poster in another forum). You would preserve the section under the support and the section opposite, creating an arch (from above this would look like a bowtie). You could run a street right through the arch, and also streets on either side paralleling it, and you could have small parks around each base. It would create a cool monument, but not interfere with the proposed sightlines and pathways to Downtown, and would still leave developable parcels on all sides.

  12. The problems I think of with that concept, BrianTH, are A) it essentially multiplies the developable area we are asking the Penguins to tithe by 2 or much more than 2, when every inch is such a tough sell and B) the Hill has parks, fields, etc. I can appreciate the value of small, urban parks and open spaces amid development, but at the same time I would NOT want this to turn into Allegheny Center. By which I mean, some philosopher's dream of an artsy idyll open public gathering thinking chess-playing space, which nobody will ever go to because people DO congregate at Wendys and Starbucks instead.

    Of course those are just snap judgments; I could easily be swayed and corrected looking at the right sketch.

  13. bowtie plan? (first seen by me in a plan by a poster in another forum). Where? Here?: >O<


  14. I don't remember seeing it in a Pfaffmann design. I do recall seeing it in a plan posted by PitHoyafan88 at City Data Pittsburgh:


    Note I don't necessarily support the traffic circle concept, just the bowtie memorial.

    Bram, I think you at right about the doubling of footprint space, but I don't see that as such a big deal as long as you are not talking about too much in total.

    I don't see why it would have to be Allegheny Center type situation. As I noted, you could cram this all into a block-wide rectangle between two through streets, and all the other surrounding blocks could be more or less typical urban blocks.