Tuesday, March 31, 2009
"In addition to linking the two business centers, a transit link also would provide students access to Downtown, which would make the area more vibrant after dark." But will it?
Temporarily living in Arequipa, Peru, a city known for its urban crime, has given me a new perspective on downtown Pittsburgh. Last night, I ate dinner in a crowded hopping restaurant with purse "leashes" on every seat. The idea is you hook your purse to your seat so that random bag-snatchers have a harder time filching your valuables while you're relaxing over a meal. You'd think that this threat would deter the nightlife. However, central Arequipa is a very bustling shopping and socializing destination. Just this week they installed walk signals on the intersections where their ridiculously long walk-street crosses traffic streets - really an innovative compromise to traffic concerns. Alongside these throngs of people are also lots of police officers. Arequipa appears to be sparing no expense on security.
Reasons crime-ridden central Arequipa is more popular than downtown Pittsburgh?
Lots of events, attractions, and shopping. People need a reason to come downtown.
Lots of cops (without billy clubs). People need to feel safe (but not threatened.)
Lots of public transportation. Peru doesn't have mass transit, but it does have a gazillion taxis and mini-buses.
If a magic subway showed up between Downtown and Oakland tomorrow, do you really think that Downtown would become a great destination? No. Downtown needs a coordinated effort between the theaters, the universities, the restaurants, the bars, the police and public transportation. I head to downtown Pittsburgh regularly for movies at the Harris and plays. But on a weeknight or weekend, almost all the stores and restaurants are closed. Downtown feels like a ghost-town because of all the shuttered storefronts not because of the lack of people. The first time I visited downtown on a weekday afternoon (courtesy of jury duty), I was utterly amazed at how alive and happening the city was and how difficult it was to find parking.
Of course, Pittsburgh does have sure-fire ways to get people Downtown after work. The crowds flock to the city for special downtown events - from Gallery Crawls to First Night to Light Up Night to St Patrick's Day to the Thanksgiving Day Parade. But the saddest thing I noticed? Macy's didn't open up their store on the day of the Thanksgiving Day Parade until after the parade started and the crowds had been milling around for an hour. The day after the busiest shopping day of the year, and my family was waiting for Macy's to open in order to go shopping. They certainly don't stay open late for the quarterly gallery crawls. Where did my family eat the day of the parade? Sammy's Famous Corned Beef. Why? They're good and they're always open.
How about this simple idea? The next time the URA helps fund some new retail development downtown, they can add in a caveat, you must be open on the weekends and on weeknights. That's how to get people staying and coming Downtown.
So, in summation, do I want mass transit between Oakland and Downtown? YES! Do I think it will solve all our problems? NO! Do I think there are steps we can take in the meantime to help solve our problems? YES! What do you think?
Monday, March 30, 2009
Yet time and again, school board members exercise more power than we give them credit for. The highlight of questionable school board decision making in history is clearly Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas. However, from religion to evolution to banning of books, school boards often control the future of our children (and therefore our society) more than we expect.
Here in Pittsburgh, our school board members have a history of hacking and slashing at schools without asking for input while parents yell. Then when the school board plans a study regarding future hacking of schools:
I say: Better late than never.
The study already has drawn criticism from school board member Randall Taylor, who said the work should have been done before the district closed 22 schools in June 2006.
Tonight, the school district is holding a "city-wide community dialogue" on the future of Pittsburgh schools. Attendees will receive an overview of the district plans and pass out questionnaires. Additionally, the district is offering free transportation from the area high schools to the location. I think it's a great idea to try to get all these parents in one place and ask for their input.
To the parents of children in Pittsburgh schools, try to attend this show.
To the school board, send these questionnaires home with the report cards. Pass them out at parent-teacher meetings. Get these surveys into the hands of as many parents as possible. Not just to the parents who have the time and energy to show up at your meeting. Also, it's not a "dialogue" if attendees aren't allowed to talk.
To the Post-Gazette, try to publish this information more than a day in advance next time.
To the Tribune-Review, try to publish this information.
As a note: Kudos to the Pittsburgh Public Schools for trying out twitter. In the past month, they have made 72 updates. It's a new and innovative way to attempt to reach parents. Between twitter and tonight's meeting, it seems like the school board is attempting to address their recent lackluster C+ grade from a community watchdog group. Let's make sure they keep it up.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Recommendation #1: I echo Dowd in demanding that we have a complete and properly staffed Parking Authority board.
Recommendation #2: Don't do it now. The State Auditor is currently questioning the recent attempted "fire sale" of a downtown building. Michael Lamb, our County Auditor will inevitably pipe up with an equally practical audit requesting that we not "fire sale" our parking garages in time of economic downturn. Let's cut this off before we spend oodles of cash on a consultant that will inevitably be the uncle of a big city political contributor.
Needless to say, I didn't discover any information on the Parking Authority's website, but I was delighted to learn that they're currently hiring.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
What's next, the Campbell's Soup Andy Warhol museum? The Home Depot Botanical Gardens? With the recent announcement of the upcoming Consol Energy hockey arena, I'm hoping for the Consol Energy Natural History museum, with a special exhibit where you can teach your children how to mine for coal, and brainwash them into believing that there is such thing as clean coal.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Since copying is the biggest form of flattery, I've decided to do a little fact-checking myself.
From a recent Ravenstahl campaign announcement (courtesy of the Busman):
Let's get this straight. Back in June, Ravenstahl vetoed the campaign finance bill that City Council passed. Councilman Dowd voted for this campaign finance reform bill. At the time, Ravenstahl said: "It provides an unfair competitive advantage for the wealthy and will have a chilling effect on the labor movement. It will inhibit the ability of challengers to mount successful campaigns against incumbents." Six months later, in January, Ravenstahl and Onorato co-introduced a joke of a campaign reform bill that is clearly too late to affect this year's election, and has ludicrously high limits. Now, "Mr. Ravenstahl said previously that the proposed campaign finance bill will make substantive changes and could hurt incumbents like him." So which is it? Will Ravenstahl, the incumbent, be hurt or helped by campaign finance reform? We're supposed to believe that Ravenstahl will veto a bill that will help him, yet be a proponent of a bill that will hurt him. Ha.
"Pittsburgh needs leadership, not a desperate politician willing to do or say anything to get elected. That's why and how he's run for four political offices in the last 8 years with no accomplishments to show for it. While he's talking and done nothing, I have submitted campaign finance reform pending before Council and I am reforming Pittsburgh's decades old procurement practices. Politics as usual from Dowd. Try again, Pat."
I've already done a report on what I think Dowd has done right over the past year. You can decide for yourselves if you think Dowd has "no accomplishments to show for it." Additionally, in the past week or so, he has also been continuously calling out Ravenstahl on issues from pay-to-play politics to the PWSA bond issue. I wish he hadn't waited until deciding to run for mayor to call out the incumbent, but it's better late than never.
Things Ravenstahl got right:
Pittsburgh does need leadership. And a lot of us are pretty sick of you, Ravenstahl, the desperate politician willing to do or say anything to get elected.
Personally, I do 95% of my shopping at the Strip. I find that it's hell on Saturdays, but on a weekday afternoon it's a great way to shop. The Strip District is a Pittsburgh treasure. A market house would truly complement and complete the existing offerings - giving smaller shops that can't afford to man a storefront 6-7 days a week an outlet for their wares and giving a new year-round outlet for established eateries and grocers around the county. It would also be a nice escape from some of the cold winter days when it's harsh to be walking from store to store in the Strip.
For weekly shopping the Strip can be intimidating. It's annoying to figure out which store sells the best ricotta (Penn Mac), filo dough and feta (Stamooli's), or chuck roasts (Strip District Meats). But figuring it out is also part of the fun, and once you start, you'll be excited to see which fruits Stan's has on super-markdown this week or which fish Wholey's is practically giving away. With the addition of Right By Nature, most excuses have been thrown out the window in terms of shopping at the Strip. They offer all the basics, including about 20 different brands/styles of yogurt, and they offer 2 hours of free garaged parking if you shop in their store. No more excuses. Get yourself to the Strip, and show these great grocers that with a market house, their business can only increase.
Monday, March 23, 2009
While I expect Peru to exceed Pittsburgh in terms of fresh fruit and the temperature, I'll work on comparisons of political corruption and public transportation options.
Monday, March 16, 2009
How do you pay for these things?
Ever hear of the drink tax?
Or maybe instead we can just add more police? I understand treating the immediate symptom, but this is getting ridiculous. Soon, we'll have more police than bar patrons on Carson Street. Let's treat the root of the problem by stopping drunk driving. Excessive binge drinking is next on the list.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Walking about today, I can't help but realize that today is St Patrick's day, not March 17. While I'm normally a big fan of partying up for any reason, I'm a bit concerned about Pittsburgh-ers predilection for this holiday. Tonight, I will not be driving anywhere and I sincerely hope that anyone who is driving is sober and careful. I'd hate to see pictures of squashed green cowboy hats and bloodied emerald t-shirts as tomorrow's headlines.
Enjoy the parade and public transportation today. Perhaps if the city of Pittsburgh made all the buses free today, the roads would be safer and they could pay a few less cops overtime.
(photo courtesy of the creative commons license posted on flickr by css-pics )
Friday, March 13, 2009
On the flip side of the coin, as null space points out, construction prices have continued to rise in the region in spite of nationwide drops in fuel prices and construction materials. If we have a hope of spending all this shiny new stimulus money, we need more construction workers in this region. The best way to do that? Offer competitive salaries. Wouldn't it be nice if Allegheny County had the highest paying construction jobs in the nation?
In the meantime, if you can hold off on re-roofing your house, you might want to.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I apologize for implying in yesterday's blog post that the authorities only care about locations where condo developments are happening. Clearly at the state level, McKeesport makes it onto the radar. I'll even go out on a limb and assume that local law enforcement contributed to this case. In the least, local informants were key to cracking the case.
If the war on drugs isn't your style, you can join the war on potholes instead. Ravenstahl has launched a campaign to defeat these impertinent cretins who insist on attacking our city every winter. Do your part to destroy this pestilence by calling '311' today.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Seriously, though, I'd rather that a restaurant known for its kid-friendly antics is not associated with drugs in any way even if they're just muscle-relaxants. When drug dealers feel they can peddle in the bathroom, it's a sad reflection on our own police enforcement. People have been complaining about drugs in the downtown area for years.
"I know that we do get complaints from pedestrians and other businesses about drug activity that's an ongoing thing down there," said city police Sgt. William Gorman of the Hill District station, which patrols Downtown.
But now that there's some "positive development" downtown?
"The continuing cooperative effort that has been under way to keep Downtown a destination for families depends in large part on there being confidence in public safety," Mr. Zappala said in a statement. "I and other officials will not tolerate any type of criminal behavior that erodes that confidence and interferes with the positive developments taking place Downtown on a daily basis."
Well, I guess it's better late than never.
But it definitely makes me take Carmen Robinson's words to heart regarding downtown development.
"It shouldn't be just lofts in the Strip District and where the Penguins are building," said Carmen Robinson, a Hill District attorney who also is running for mayor. She said any renaissance hasn't hit Lincoln-Lemington, Homewood, Brookline or Carrick, and vowed to back community benefits agreements guaranteeing jobs and investments to neighborhoods in which subsidized developments sit.
It's great to see police cracking down on downtown drug dealing, but it's sad to see the correlation between expensive luxury condos and police enforcement. Maybe when the "renaissance" spreads to Homewood and Carrick, the cops will clean up those drugs too?
Monday, March 9, 2009
Paving for McArdle Roadway (that scenic pothole-filled byway up to one of the best skyline views in the country) was literally passed over until this blog entry and some accompanying begging. 2 weeks later, the Post-Gazette informs us that McArdle will be paved post-haste.
Public Works Director Guy Costa said the city has hired Mackin Engineering for $170,000 to study the drainage problem and develop a solution. Its report is expected within a month.
But don't stop squeaking now. If the drainage problem is not fixed, the city will continue to waste upwards of $300,000 at a pop to re-pave this major artery every other year or so. And if the wheel stops squeaking, this report will get tossed under the rug for another few years.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
1) His role in the ICA/Debt Reduction debacle. He's taken a stand on putting our piggy bank in a safe place. That's cool. A real outcome remains to be seen. It surely helps my good opinion of him that my buddy Lamb is in agreement with him on this one.
2) His awareness of all those pesky city authorities and his consistent complaints that the city is not following its rules, especially regarding the very important parking authority status given the mayor's grand plan to lease the garages and potentially give us a respite from our very serious pension woes.
3) His class in cancelling a taxpayer-paid mailing with his face plastered all over it. If only Luke had shown that much class on trash cans. (Though I can see a lovely anti-Luke campaign involving "taking out the trash.")
4) His position on campaign finance reform. Dowd is one of the majority of council to vote for campaign finance reform. Unfortunately, the current mayor vetoed that bill. Maybe next year?
5) His negotiations with Lamar. The Post-Gazette gives credit for Dowd for settling with Lamar out of court and re-instating the proper board approval process. Also, I appreciate that while he joined fellow council members in appealing the original zoning board approval, he did so as a private citizen.
6) His grass-rootsness. This summer he planned a series of neighborhood meetings as coffee shops. His entire council campaign was based on "grass roots" support. He also appears to be quite popular on Facebook, which while not a ringing endorsement, shows that he has popular support and probably some charm and charisma to go along with it. If I may reach out to those supporters, I might remind you that you're not a private club. You might want to spread the word to folks outside your own circle.
I think all that adds up to looking pretty good on paper. So, why do you like Dowd?
Stay tuned. Maybe tomorrow, I'll address the incumbent.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
So far in the blogosphere, I can count the blog posts about Carmen Robinson on two hands.
They fall into 2 categories:
1) "Who is she?" (Back in December) From Matt H, Busman's Holiday, Burgher John, and Thoughts on Government.
2) "Hmm... There's another candidate. She seems cool." From Burgh Chair and Rauterkus & Running Mates
It appears Carmen is pretty busy. She may not be buttering up the blogosphere but she's attended the Pittsburgh Hip Hop Awards ("to a roaring crowd"), has thrown a fundraiser, and has a decent website with *gasp* information about herself and her candidacy. Yes, she has had a website with content up since at least December 27. As a note, Lukey and our-savior-thank-god-someone's-running-against-Lukey Dowd still do not have any content on their websites. On top of that, she has a judicial clerkship and is running her own law practice. But you should be reading about her yourself.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Carson Street is a mess. It's not especially pedestrian friendly - and in the vicinity of the Birmingham Bridge, it's especially pedestrian-unfriendly. I frequently fear for my safety while crossing the street in that area. Yet PennDOT and our generous state senators have won the fight to make Carson Street wider???
I understand that this is a heavy truck route. But I certainly don't feel the need to encourage that the home to "America's longest business Victorian National Historic District" be a more pleasant and convenient truck route.
And is it really in our best interest to enable bar patrons to drive their cars more quickly and efficiently after closing hours at the many bars on Carson St? How about we encourage them to take the bus instead?
Carson Street is not a highway. It's a business district. But if PennDOT and short-sighted leadership have their way, I wonder how long that's going to last. If I had my way, I'd shut Carson Street down between 10th and 22nd Streets to cars every Friday and Saturday night except for public transportation. If Austin, Texas and New York City can do it, why can't Pittsburgh? Heck, in my ideal world, Carson would be shut down every day of the week with walking and light rail being your only option for traveling the street. While we're at it, how about shutting down Penn Ave in The Strip every Saturday?
Monday, March 2, 2009
If the school district continues to respond to teacher complaints with action, perhaps there is hope for Pittsburgh schools after all. That's something that the Mayor's office can learn, too.
UPDATE: The above-mentioned changes are effective immediately. However, next year, the school district is making a bold change and moving to a five-point scale, where students receive grades of 1 through 5. And as a result, they're doing away with F altogether?
Let's all cross our fingers and hope that this change was done with teacher input.
Under the new scale, work scored from 4 to 5 will be an A, 3 to 3.99 a B, 2 to 2.99 a C, 1 to 1.99 a D, and zero to .99 an E.