Doing okay in western PA

Pittsburgh is enjoying some good press, lately, for having been conservative about buildings and urban space. Now that growth and construction aren’t the givens they were in many parts of the country a year ago, it seems we’re going to be noticing elevation to model status of places where — perhaps for want of opportunity to build more aggressively — the emphasis in the last decade or so has been on consolidation rather than expansion. Especially noteworthy is that this core-ward development hasn’t slowed down, in spite of ‘negative growth’ in the overall economy.

From an AP article in The Sun, a week ago:

Since 2001, when Pittsburgh began actively working to bring residents downtown, the population has more than doubled, from barely 2,500 in 2000 to 5,174 in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
   Currently, there are almost 1,500 occupied downtown units, not including student apartments. Within five years, that number is expected to rise to nearly 2,700, only including projects already planned, said Patricia Burk, vice president of housing and development at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
   In cities such as Miami, Las Vegas and Phoenix, homes have lost more than 20 percent of their value since 2006, and new construction has largely come to a standstill.
   Here, however, developers say despite the shaky economy they have no qualms about building more units because they are selling what they have either on schedule or — in some cases — far faster than expected.

The NY Times focused on Pittsburgh’s standing as a leader for the much-touted, incipient ‘green economy’ in an article last Tuesday:

As it shrank, the city had relatively little new construction compared with many United States cities. But it was in the forefront of the movement to conserve existing structures and clean up the contaminated industrial sites called brownfields, becoming a leader in the field of sustainable building. That is now serving Pittsburgh well during the economic downturn.
   . . . The city’s commercial real estate market is relatively healthy. In the fourth quarter of 2008, Pittsburgh earned the top ranking in Moody’s Investors Service’s quarterly “Red-Yellow-Green” report on the state of commercial real estate in 60 major United States cities.
   Though the southwestern Pennsylvania metropolitan area is only the 22nd largest in the United States in terms of population, the city employed energy-efficient construction well ahead of larger cities. In 2005, Pittsburgh claimed more LEED-certified square footage . . . than anywhere else in the United States. As other cities have caught up, Pittsburgh now ranks seventh nationally in the number of buildings with such certification, according to the local Green Building Alliance.
   . . . “There was no government-driven agenda here,” said Rebecca Flora, former director of the Green Building Alliance and now senior vice president of education and research at the national Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization that oversees the LEED program. “Pittsburgh’s doing green in a weak market city with existing building stock, and it’s done it without government programs.”

2 Replies to “Doing okay in western PA”

  1. I first became aware of Pittsburgh as a “destination” city (particularly for po-mo architecture buffs) in the early 90s. As its industries shut down, there was a concerted effort from city hall to shore up infrastructure and keep city architecture from following Detroit-like erosion. So far as the GBA is concerned, there may have been no discernable government-driven agenda in their favor; nevertheless the GBA is the beneficiary of remarkably far-sighted government policies that were set in place as early as the 80s.

  2. Very interesting case. And interesting that we hear more, it seems like, about Detroit’s long descent into distaster than about Pittsburgh’s rather more managed & apparently forward-looking decline.

    I’ve only been through Pittsburgh once — several years ago. Took the time to walk around in the U. of Pittsburgh neighborhood and to drive centrally (west-east) through, rather than past, the city. I found it pretty appealing on first impression — more appealing than Baltimore. Whether its urban qualities are so much superior to Baltimore’s, I couldn’t say after the one visit. But it certainly has geography in its favor.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *