Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Some Thoughts on Sprawl

I didn't plan to make this blog just a forum for my thoughts on urban planning but I have found this issue is so inescapable here. It seems to touch on every aspect of life in the city and the art scene.

So anyway I might at some point have to start another blog so I can throw all the stones I need to. I guess I came to Pittsburgh because I saw it's potential as a certain type of city. A nice dense little New York or San Francisco. I still really see that. But now I am much more aware of the cities history and the way it sees itself.

So anyway, I ended up throwing some stones on another blog and really let the fur fly here and here and here . A few of my comments were not signed but by now you know I'm the one on crack and looking fight anyone who mentions parking.

10 comments:

Susan Constanse said...

Amzing and cohesive arguments, John. You should run for office.

John Morris said...

Living here is like watching a slow motion sucide.

JM Colberg said...

Oh, just don't mention urban planning or what the locals think urban planning means. Just take the example of the newly created "East Side" (or whatever they call it). Their idea of planning basically came down to tearing down a rat-infested building (so far so good) and replacing it with a giant complex that holds a huge parking lot, a Walgreen's, a Starbucks, and a Borders (plus probably a cell phone store - they're like weeds anyway). What kind of urban planning is this? Oh, it's easy to see: The people who go to the Whole Foods - in Pittsburgh, often people with gigantic SUV's and "Bush-Cheney" stickers - love to get their "coffee" and their "books". Great urban planning - erecting a small version of those ubiquitous strip malls right in the city.

And then to open this crap up, they decided to have a nice big party with a $40 admission so the locals won't be able to join. The locals in this case being, of course, the non-white people who still constitute the majority of people who live in the area. Yeah, let's just be honest, the snazzy new "East Side" is really heavily catered towards the well-to do - there even is a Goodwill which only sells upscale stuff (with huge price tags). If you don't believe it just go and look at it, it's very sad.

John Morris said...

Hi JM,

I actually have never left the country. But I was wondering how this relates to life in Europe? Germany has many midsized former industrial cities and many have taken on new lives. I think.

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Merge Divide said...

Actually Jim... the party you are mentioning has little to nothing to do with an "opening" for the shopping center being built. It was the Sprout foundation's annual celebration and fundraiser. This group has hired local artists from all communities to paint murals in many urban neighborhoods, they have started a program to put art on city buses, and contributed time and money to many other projects that benefit inner city residents.

I do, however, agree with you about the development in East Liberty. This stuff is a spillover from Shadyside, since there is nowhere there for them to expand. I do expect many of the current residents in East Liberty to be displaced (once again). One possible benefit will be the creation of a small pool of low-wage jobs.

JM Colberg said...

Hi John, there are some industrial regions in Germany (the equivalent of the rust belt here - I wouldn't really know much about other countries apart from England which appears to be much closer to the US) that have had lots of problems. I think in Germany, it depends on the regions - in the East, lots of people have actually left so things in some areas look like Pittsburgh. In the West, things are a bit different, and cities are using different approaches to get on their feet again. I know there's a lot of cultural activity coming out of former industries, whole spaces were turned into very cool museums or art spaces, especially around Essen. I think in general Europeans have a much stronger desire to rebuild instead of to abandon. People always marvel about all the old buildings in Europe that are still around - that's basically because Europeans like to keep stuff instead of just letting it decay. As a European it hurts me to see all those really nice old buildings decaying here in the city, with people moving into prefab suburban McMansions.

D., as for what that party was, I didn't know. It *did* look very fishy to me, though. I mean if you build some snazzy new stuff in a predominantly black neighbourhood and then throw a party with a $40 price tage that just looks bad - regardless of who does it and why. You're right about the spillover from Shadyside, which, of course, doesn't make it any better. I guess people just need yet another StarbucksWallgreensTMobilePNCBank. We clearly don't have enough! And Whole Foods shoppers need their overpriced and badly tasting "grande Americano macchiato with chocolate". What really irks me about this is that apparently, there are only these two modes here in the city: Either turn things into the Mao-uniform style stuff for white people or let artists take over and make them fend for themselves. There's no way that any kind of normal culture (in the actual sense of the world) will come out of that.

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John Morris said...

Americans are the only culture in the world that regulary disposes of entire cities.

I think that in understanding the history of Pittsburgh one has to understand the effect of not just the end of the steel industry here but also the decline of the passenger railroads. European cities are connected by decent regular rail service.

John Morris said...

For several years in my childhood, I lived in Reading, PA., a railroad town only 60 miles from Philly that has never recovered from the death of rail travel.

How can a town only 60 miles from Philly and centrally located in relation to the entire east coast be so isolated. I don't like to talk much about the death/ murder of that town.