Saturday, August 3, 2013

Transforma-Weekend: Reading rainbow

Sailor Crafty
by Bram Reichbaum

Required, in fact:

For generations, [Brookings folk] write, we held the view that “the feds and states are the adults in the system, setting direction; the cities and the metropolitan areas are the children, waiting for their allowance. The metropolitan revolution is exploding this tired construct. (NYT, Tom Friedman)

“Washington is dysfunctional politically, and it is not just a momentary thing,” Rahm Emanuel, who gave up being the president’s chief of staff to become mayor of Chicago, told me. “We always said that there’d be a day when all that the federal government does is debt service, entitlement payments and defense. Well, folks, that day is here. (ibid)

Firstly, a nod of the brim to our forebears in the federal government of the 60's and on, who built and struggle to maintain the Great Society.

Secondly, yes, the Brookings set calls for reorientation are partly in recognition that only metro areas are willing to patronize their own mild Utopian thinking and research anymore. But this only underlines a known problem. Cities seem to be the only governments politically accountable to demands for fixing things or improving conditions.

Third, Pittsburgh has its own "entitlement" line-items (as well as infrastructure requirements, capital needs, economic and social development needs) so this all points tremendously to needs to prioritize. In the end we'll need a comprehensive and popular strategy.

While we're at that, we all might as well all learn a foreign language.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thursday: Making Progress

Haunted Destinations

by Bram Reichbaum

Feels like, what do you call it? Moving forward?

This week, four members of council -- President Darlene Harris, Councilman Daniel Lavelle, Councilman Bill Peduto and the bill's sponsor Councilman Ricky Burgess -- voted for the [Larimer] legislation. But two council members -- Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus -- abstained because of reservations about the bill. (Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith and Councilman Corey O'Connor were out of the room when the vote was taken.) (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

A high-impact, humanely wrought and timely proposal is now well-vetted and more fiscally prudent by one-quarter.

A real concern:

But Ms. Rudiak said she's still concerned about the source of the money and that the city will cut out other projects in the pipeline. About $2.9 million in capital funds over six years would be a part of the city's contribution to the project, and she worries about the impact of the allocation on the city's dwindling capital budget. (ibid)

Some perspective: the cap budget was for a time about $40 million annually. We borrowed recently and pumped that to around $80 million, but that boost should wear off soon. Remember not only do we build and renovate structures with that money each year, we also pave and maintain roads with it.

If and when this development starts generating revenue for the City, perhaps we might track it, and earmark the proceeds back into the capital budget? Just a thought.

District 7 presently lacks a Council representative as we discuss the possibility of bumping other projects in the pipeline. Public service message.


What is next?

The Lower Hill Redevelopment Project will be one of the largest redevelopment projects the City of Pittsburgh has ever seen. Specifically, the project aims to redevelop the 28-acres currently occupied by surface parking lots and the former Civic Arena site. The project will receive public subsidy and is subject to a public process and approval by local government.

As of Summer 2013, the Pittsburgh Penguins Corporation is moving through the public process for the project. For a project this large to move forward, the Penguins want to create a Specially Planned District to replace existing zoning with new zoning for future development.

That is according to the HSDC page entitled "Inclusionary Zoning".

Downtown is prepared and able to grow east now. The City and the Penguins have done what they need to do to assure that already. But if the Hill District also rises to meet Downtown and interlace with it meaningfully, each will be able to feed the others' vitality for decades to come. And Downtown could really, really use a strong Hill if it is to become a lively 24-hour community.

How do we encourage that? The Pens have held all the cards since they feinted a move to Kansas City, but city government will soon be able to recapture a degree of initiative through planning and zoning. Making that leverage count will take not only a lot of brokering and negotiation, but also a lot of patient conviction.

BONUS: PWSA and Alcosan are both gearing up to charge ratepayers their share in upgrading our region's outdated water systems. Remember the Triathlon.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday: the Wheels in the Sky

Art of VFX, Vincent Frei

by Bram Reicbhaum

*-UPDATE: After amendments, this phase 1 of redevelopment plan is likely a go.

Despite assurances, residents in and around Larimer are of mixed mind as to where the redevelopment proposal forwarded by Burgess et al would take them.

Ms. Sims [of East Liberty] said she fears the plan will push out the low-income residents to make way for a demographic with deeper pockets. Low-income residents in the area, she said, have been burned by revitalization efforts in the past.

"We're not fighting change," she said. "We see the big picture, we just don't want to get cropped out of it. [They] moved into this area for a reason ... [They] would like to stay." (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

Along the same lines but perhaps having a bit more to do with cost/value, a Post-Gazette Editorial Emanation offers a long and insistent, "Be careful."

Meanwhile in InvestigatePGH news:

Debbie Lestitian, 47, of Brookline, entered the grand jury room of the federal courthouse Downtown, marking the first time in recent memory that a former member of a quasi-independent city authority has testified before the secret panel investigative panel. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

The last time in recent memory the Comet wrote about Lestitian, it was during that which we will now call Stage AE gate, and she had questions of her own.

(And no, I have no idea where the Gateway Clipper is supposed to fit on the cork board. *-UPDATE: Nothing solid.)


Judge Colville said he assumed Judge James could undo the nomination if he agreed with the Ceoffe side, and that he would "chew on" the injunction request and review it with the other judge. "I anticipate, though not make the promise, I will not grant the motion" for an injunction," he said. (Early Returns)

Such restraint is likely to remain the order of the day, but who knows anymore.

BONUS: The SouthSide Works will see more apartment complexes springing up if all goes according to plan, and the South Side Planning Forum and its Design Review Committee are blown away. (PBT, Tim Schooley)

Monday, July 29, 2013

President suggests U.S. replace Invisible Hands with Real Ones, do Stuff for itself.

Kids Activities Blog
by Bram Reichbaum

On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a hyped-up speech about the economy.


In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity.  Whether you owned a company, or swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain -- a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and decent benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and most of all, a chance to hand down a better life for your kids.
But over time, that engine began to stall -- and a lot of folks here saw it -- that bargain began to fray.  Technology made some jobs obsolete.  Global competition sent a lot of jobs overseas.  It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class.  Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. (Text; Video)

The President then laid out a vision for encouraging that which America's social fabric demands, but which markets do not produce: a "middle class" capable of generating robust demand for a stable economy.

To do this he would raise the minimum wage; use the tax code to reward domestic manufacturing and energy production; put more people to work building transportation, power and information infrastructure; lower the cost of getting an education; lower the cost of having health care; and make it easier to afford a home.

In other words, he proposed doing stuff, as opposed to doing no stuff. And he allowed that although stuff occasionally fails or requires revisions, we oughtn't throw the baby out with the bathwater and commit ourselves to do no stuff ever again.

And the media, in unison and quite predictably, shrugged and dismissed the speech as nothing new; as yet another pivot to economic issues, and politically impossible as always.


What was striking was the seriousness of the approach.

The President was resignedly, plaintively clear that these were the same debates on which we have been stuck for the last 30 years. That there are no "new" proposals.

If you have a square peg and a square hole, the only solution is to insert the square peg into the square hole, that is if you are indeed interested in filling holes.

Obama sought to lay a political foundation by implying that with the speed of our national social regression, this is the only debate in America that matters at this stage. On it hinges our capacity to address anything else.

We can be the nation we were until recently or we can be a mere zone, a set of borders, where contracts are enforced but families are pretty much on their own, where a vast majority and therefore the whole nation is going to be needlessly disadvantaged. Like an inefficient engine, we'll simply waste capable people who require assistance surmounting the pitfalls of global competition; we'll either miss them or they'll gum up the works.

Obama bluntly promised that the rest of his Presidency would be driven by this priority, for better or for worse. Implicit was the idea that whatever else may be on your mind, it is not quite this sort of existential American emergency: a crisis of confidence, a rejection of the idea that we deserve to address the most common obstacles to economic participation.

Beth Kobliner
Implicit in the "bargain" the President sees is that if you're worried about getting a job that enables you to pay bills, if your family is struggling to receive medical care, or with rent or qualifying for a home loan, and if college seems like an unaffordable, dangerous luxury -- then you very likely feel justified in placing the great debates of our time on the back burner, such as domestic surveillance, or how to keep a lid on foreign affairs, or the vagaries of whether natural gas is a worthwhile bridge fuel in this age of coal, or the latest trade deal in a world where free trade has been ascendant since Adam and Eve. Those are all problems to worry about if the underlying rationale for this nation is healthy and people are benefiting from it.

Of all the ungovernable quandaries we confront, the dream of a strong and reasonably accessible middle class to drive national economic demand is the one our President, at five-years in, judges to have retained what is closest to a critical mass of support. It speaks to that face of national identity most difficult to surrender. The engine upon which the rest of our capacities turn.

The speech certainly wasn't about Obama's legacy or popularity, so I'm not sure why it is being evaluated exclusively on those terms. Take him out of it.

Instead it was meant as the opening tone of what promises to be a long, relentless wake-up siren that America is overdue in making a decision. What are we? Are we a nation? Are we going to be a nation that thinks ahead and puts one foot in front of the other? That acknowledges that broad domestic tranquility is a valuable, perishable asset that does not simply grow on trees, especially not in the face of global market forces? That can rebuild a bridge once in a while, or maybe even run a bus?

Sooner or later we're going to have to remember we are in fact a nation, and that it's okay to be one. It's better than the alternative.