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December 23, 2018

One Pgh : On Thin Ice

If you want change, it takes money. If you're a mayor who wants change, it usually takes a new packaged funding stream. In the hands of the right mayor with a good arrangement, it can be effective. Otherwise it can be a slush fund.

WESA lays out a sloppy start with their reporting, Peduto’s OnePGH Aims To Address Pittsburgh's Problems. So Far It Hasn’t Solved Its Own.

I think "thin ice" is the perfect visual for OnePgh. All the beneficiaries of the status quo - the Foundations, Private Sector, Developers and Non-Profits (CMU, Pitt, UPMC) are represented. They don't seem to know much about it, and haven't condescended to any funding. None of the challengers to the status-quo are represented.

Peduto's program does seem to conflate "resilience" with unity and social justice. There's a lot of marketplace talk in the program, and not much social justice. They talk about workforce but not about population.

It's probably not coincidental that this initiative surfaces after the Mayor and Council have implemented a scheme of approving some citizen orgs and disapproving others; you have to be on the right list to deserve attention. OnePgh is a power play, a money play, and a control play for Peduto's next wave.

The Payments-In-Lieu-Of scheme is difficult but can be a mayor's fantasy if the money appears. Usually, a mayor with a Program writes up the proposal and the budget and submits it to City Council. It's fairly transparent and the people's representatives get a voice. But with OnePgh, there is no accountability or transparency; there's no legislative review or approval. It's just a bag of money coming in and going out.

Finally, we note the program name, One Pgh, seems like a response to the critique of there being Two Pittsburghs. I don't see much in this new program that's going to heal Pittsburgh. Maybe that would be a better name for a better program: Heal Pittsburgh.

December 19, 2018

Blocking Traffic at the County Jail and the Dirty Dozen

More on the subject of Two Pittsburghs.

On October 25, a small group of protesters blocked Second Avenue outside of the Allegheny County Jail, protesting the housing of trans-women inmates in the male population inside the jail.


You can look at the Post-Gazette video and see that the protestors are diverse: black, white, men, women.

According to the Trib-Review, 11 protestors were arrested for blocking the street. Ten were released and continued protesting on the sidewalk; the 11th was held in custody. Quick-and-dirty summary: people blocked a street for a peaceful protest and got arrested.


Now let's talk about the Dirty Dozen, which is an annual slice of the Most Liveable Burgh that takes place just after Thanksgiving (Nov.24th this year).

Cyclists race up the 13 steepest streets in the Metro area - some inside Pittsburgh, some outside Pittsburgh. There's a small nucleus of actual racers, a large complement of enthusiasts who want to ride the hills, and a large number of people who come out to stand on the sidewalks and cheer them on. This is, with few exceptions, a White People Thing. This is a First Pittsburgh event.

The Dirty Dozen relies on squads of volunteers to block the streets the cyclists will compete on. Each street is closed for about forty-five minutes. No permits, no police, no authorities - just people with flags saying, the road is closed for the Dirty Dozen. These are key roads that connect the peaks to the river bottoms. People are delayed and inconvenienced.

The Dirty Dozen is primarily a white male activity. The leadership group is white.

Why do we treat these two groups so differently?

Why can the Dirty Dozen travel around the Metro region, closing streets as they will, and be recognized as one of the quirky things that makes Pittsburgh Most Livable? Why are the people who protest caging transwomen prisoners in the male population at the County Jail arrested for blocking a street?

Smells like White Privilege. Smells like Two Pittsburghs.

December 16, 2018

Half-Life of an Empty Slogan : Use by 12/16

Slogans are generally understood as marketing, and marketing is sometimes understood as propaganda; an implicit, covert attempt to sway public thoughts, moods, and behavior. We see historic examples of slogans serving their people well; for instance, in Britain during WW2 the Prime Minister spoke of Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat.

Recently there was a disastrous massacre of Jews worshiping at their Synagogue. The assailant was very much a product of the Pittsburgh region, of Allegheny County, but nobody wanted to contemplate the Black and Gold terrorist. Nobody wanted to ask, what part of Baldwin was he radicalized in? How did we grow a local-made terrorist?

So the media and the people asserted This is not us, when really this very much was us. We said, we're better than this. We tweaked the local iconography (the Steelers' emblem) and said, We're stronger than Hate.

Stronger than Hate provided a narrative that helped Pittsburgh through the week of funerals and then the weeks of flowers in the street. It let us pretend that the Evil was from Elsewhere when it's really very Yinzer. There's a Most Livable Pittsburgh with happy smiling people holding hands and living in the new economy; there's an ignored Pittsburgh facing poverty, racism, failed transit, and food deserts. One Pittsburgh takes Uber; the other rides a jitney.

Whenever any town picks a slogan, there's a race of time: can local institutions adopt and co-opt the slogan before the slogan is proven a charade and soiled by the marketplace? Churchill used Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat for a long time before Blood Sweat and Tears became the name of a pop band.

But time and trends move faster these days. Pittsburgh's Stronger than Hate seemed to win its race, with adapted logos going on a portion of the city's police cars before the lie was made evident.

On December 16th, the Post-Gazette editorial board wrote a reprobate screed announcing moral equivalency between respecting (and disrespecting) transgender identity and rights. I will not link to it, because I don't want to feed their money-clicker, but you will find it at Pittsburgh's best blog.

On December 16th, the timeframe for Stronger Than Hate expired and the Post Gazette editorial page brought us their diatribe that tells us like it is, at least to them, when it comes to transgender respect and communication. The PG will have you know that you don't have to consider "them" a woman or a man if you don't agree with their self-designation; it's okay for you to ignore preferred pronouns; it's okay for you to dead-name or doxx persons that stand outside of the straight-and-narrow, and at the bottom line Pittsburgh is a very narrow town.

Delta Foundation, the locally acceptable LGBTQ organization which is very much part of shiny new Pittsburgh, has raised no objection to the editorial.

We're back to Two Pittsburgh's: either you're on the very narrow, Most Livable, Booster-rah! side of the Pittsburgh coin, or you're ignored, belittled, deprecated, and what's more this diminishment and marginalization of you is socially approved. There's no stigma for the Up-and-Comers, the problem is all in the Left Behinds.

Same as it ever was. Go Steelers. Ben.

November 14, 2018

Amazon Eats "Local" for Lunch & Real Estate is On The Menu

Amazon's core business is disintermediating previously geo-zoned small-to-mid businesses through economies of scale, computing power, and fullfillment logistics.

In other words: Amazon competes with and replaces "local business". Ask any small-to-midsize retailer. Amazon doesn't need a local footprint; in the retail market they use UPS, USPS, and Fedex to manage the last mile. For Amazon, tech makes "place" irrelevant.

Mayors and County Executives have distilled and delivered to Amazon extremely comprehensive info on local markets, infra, and incentives. Amazon now has the playbook for corporate real estate markets in every major American city, and they got it free. Your tax dollars payed for the complication and transfer of knowledge. Local politicians gave it away.

Losers will be the previously-local winners (soon to be known as legacy placeholders) in the corporate real estate markets, just like local business is the loser in every market Amazon offers. Second-tier losers will be the local law firms that service local corporate real estate companies.

Economics (it's been said) is the story of who eats whom, and today's menu focuses on local real estate sellers and developers.

Ironically, local real estate companies are major financial supporters of the Mayors and County Execs who just threw their industry and their well-heeled livelihoods under the bus. Third-tier losers will be politicos who benefited from local real estate's corrupt largesse.

Imagine local politicians giving away the knowledge base of local business in other contexts - say, manufacturing. They'd be burned in effigy and turned out of office.

Might be fun to watch, except an economy more focused on Amazon is not really good for anybody but Jeff Bezos.

November 10, 2018

Two Pittsburghs: Privilege in the Golden Triangle

I have written about "Two Pittsburghs" before. It's not a new mode of analysis; we saw John Edwards talking about "two Americas" before he imploded. Sue Kerr has been out in front on the topic. Mayor Bill Peduto has talked about it on NPR.

First Pittsburgh is America's Most Livable City. If we'd gotten Amazon's HQ2, we'd rename it Pittsburgh Prime. This is the Pittsburgh we saw after the Tree of Life massacre; caring, empathetic, enlightened; smiling happy people holding hands. The yard signs say, All are welcome.

Lesser Pittsburgh is racist, unprivileged, and Old School. The flags are confederate, or worse. The yard signs say, Make America Great Again. We don't mourn black deaths in Second Pittsburgh the way we mourn dead white First Pittsburghers. Legacy Pittsburgh makes a bigger deal about a killed Police Dog than a dead black Pittsburgher.


Rob Rogers

I thought First Pittsburgh and Lesser Pittsburgh were colocated, sprinkled among each other with varying distributions. Last week my friend MCC suggested: First Pittsburgh is between the rivers; Forgotten Pittsburgh lies outside the rivers.  Think about an expanded Golden Triangle as the sweet spot.

I've tried to map the two Pittsburghs. I think it's a map of privilege vs poverty, of an easy life vs a struggling life, of diversity vs homogeneity, of professionals vs working class. It's a map of Uber-Robotics Pittsburgh vs. Inconvenient-Unfunded-Throwback Pittsburgh.

It's Uber vs. jitneys. It's walkable communities vs car communities. It's a map of the Penn Plaza evictees vs the gentry who'll be moving in. It's a map of privilege. It's a map of UPMC and colleges. It's probably a map of NPR donors.

It's deadly. It's a map of developers making a killing vs a map of where cops kill people. It's the map of people who were killed at Tree of Life vs. the people who did the killing. It does, to an extent, follow the rivers with the exception of an unprivileged column that starts in Bluff/Uptown, runs through the Hill, and flows east to East Liberty, Larimar, Lincoln-Lemington, and Homewood. I wonder if I've coded Bloomfield correctly.

map of two pittsburghs, privileged and forgotten

There's Gold in the Golden Triangle, in the space between the rivers; it's just not evenly distributed. It's Richard Florida's Creative Class vs people struggling to get 40 hours a week out of their boss. It's FLSA-exempt vs non-exempt, it's managers vs workers - you can say it's Normans vs. Saxons. It's the place where capital will invest vs. places capital passes over.

It's the 18 funded neighborhoods out of 90; it's political power vs #WontWorkHere; it's EastSide and BakerySquare2 vs East Liberty. It's increasing life expectancy vs decreasing life expectancy. It's similar to a map of the Bike Share stations.

There's pockets that don't fit the map (for instance, the Mattress Factory / City of Asylum / Randyland node is outside of the rivers). If anybody has feedback about what neighborhoods are First Pittsburgh vs. Inconvenient-Unfunded Pittsburgh, please make a comment.

The black-white areas outside the Golden Triangle are not Enlightened, Fred Rogers Pittsburgh. And the burbs surrounding Pittsburgh are often throwbacks too, like these fine folks in West Mifflin flying a swastika flag because of their mixed-race neighbors.
Nazi swastika flag in West Mifflin, Pittsburgh Mr Rogers Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers weeps.

November 04, 2018

Historical Patterns at Tree of Life & Squirrel Hill

The shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue was Robert Bowers, 46, of suburban Baldwin, just outside of Pittsburgh. His own father's life included crime in Squirrel Hill and gun violence.

  • In 1979 Randall Bowers, the father of the shooter, followed a woman out of a pizza shop, forced his way into her car, and had her drive them to Squirrel Hill. He threatened and raped the woman but Squirrel Hill residents intervened, chasing and holding Randall Bowers until police arrived. He was found guilty, and was out on bail awaiting his sentencing.

    He was convinced he was going to be sent to prison. Randall Powers took his own life at the Tionesta Dam.

    It seems like not too big a reach to connect the father's experience in Squirrel Hill to his son's hatred, but it is only speculation.


    2018 wasn't the congregation's first brush with an attack. According to the Post-Gazette, in 1935 the Tree of Life Synagogue (located then in Oakland) was attacked by vandals.


    (click image to embiggen)

    My conclusion is that hatred is an old evil, often passed down in families - which really isn't one of the theoretical functions of a family, but it does seem to be a real one.

  •