Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Toledo and Pittsburgh - two peas in a pod

The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both owned by Block Communications, interviewed President Barack Obama in advance of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

Pres. Obama had nice things to say about Pittsburgh and the change that's taken place in that city.

"Well, first of all, I think this is a recognition that Pittsburgh is a world-class city, that it represents the transition of the U.S. economy from an industrial state to a mix of strong industry — steel — but also now biotech and clean energy. It has transformed itself after some very tough times into a city that's competing in the world economy."

This is an appropriate thing for a visitor to a location to do, so I do not fault the president for giving the city a compliment.

However, Bill Steigerwald has a different perspective. Currently retired, Steigerwald was born and raised in Pittsburgh and has been a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. His perspective:

"We're grateful that federal taxpayers will pick up most of the $20 million-plus tab for extra security personnel. But we hope you didn't pick us to host the G-20 because you think we could afford it or because you really believe, as you recently said, that Pittsburgh is "a bold example of how to create new jobs and industries while transitioning to a 21st century economy."

That sounds sweet to local boosters' ears, Mr. President. But it's not really what Pittsburgh is. In the real world, Mr. President, this city is what urbanologists and economists technically refer to as "a basket case."
Pittsburgh's "eds & meds" economy isn't booming or busting: it's stuck in the same stagnant-to-slowly-growing mini-recession we've been in since we pioneered deindustrialization in the 1970s.

The city you chose to host the G-20, Mr. President, is in fact bankrupt and in state receivership because of decades of chronic mismanagement, stupidity and generous pension deals that previous generations of political hacks promised their employees but couldn't pay for.

For at least the last 30 years, Pittsburgh's power brokers have wasted billions of federal and state tax money on a series of destructive urban renewal schemes, redevelopment boondoggles and wasteful mass-transit projects.

Almost everything new and shiny that you and Michelle will see in downtown Pittsburgh or on its riverbanks was built with government money or millions in taxpayer subsidies - whether it was PNC Financial Service's almost completed downtown skyscraper or the new homes of the Pirates, Steelers and (soon) the Penguins.

That kind of government intervention may not bother you and your crew of czars. But if you and Michelle get a chance to stroll around downtown this week, look for the big hole in the street in front of Fifth Avenue Place. You can hardly miss it.

That hole - part of a construction site that has ripped up parts of downtown for several years -- symbolizes everything that's wrong with Pittsburgh.

It is the downtown end of the infamous North Shore Connector, a 1.2-mile transit tunnel that was built under the Allegheny River to where the pro baseball and football palaces are. We un-affectionately call it our "Tunnel to Nowhere."

Our wise Democrat and Republican politicians, 1960's-era planners and mass-transit apologists thought the tunnel would be a swell way to waste at least $600 million in "free" federal and state money to carry fewer than 10,000 humans a day back and forth across (under) the river."

I was struck by the similarities to Toledo.

While not in bankruptcy - yet - Toledo still has an $8 million budget deficit to address for 2009 and a projected 2010 deficit of as much as $25 million which, like Pittsburgh, is the result of "decades of chronic mismanagement, stupidity and generous pension deals that previous generations of political hacks promised their employees but couldn't pay for."

We, too, have many government-funded or -subsidized projects in our downtown, including the Steam Plant and debt on several converted housing/condo projects (think Commodore Perry). We even have a soon-to-open completely publicly-funded arena.

And though we do not have a 'tunnel to nowhere,' we currently have a 'road to nowhere' in the Marina District, combined with multiple missed payments by the developer - all of which are topics in a City Council Economic Development Committee meeting this afternoon.

Toledo, like Pittsburgh, for the last 30 years or so has "wasted billions of federal and state tax money on a series of destructive urban renewal schemes, (and) redevelopment boondoggles."

Don't get me wrong - there are good things about both cities. I was in Pittsburgh recently for a conference and stayed at a hotel in Station Square, an area that reminded me of The Docks here in Toledo. The people I met were as friendly as the ones in Toledo - a hallmark distinction of a Midwestern city. Both cities proudly rejoice in our ethnic neighborhoods, traditions and festivals and both have 'affordable' housing and relatively good costs of living.

But those things only make the negatives a bit more tolerable. They do not overcome the years of "chronic mismanagement, (and) stupidity" that make many people want to leave for better locations.

Sadly, our recent voter turnout of 18.45% and the appearance of the same old familiar names in the primary do not bode well for a different future. As my husband likes to say: Toledo is like a drug addict that hasn't hit rock bottom yet to know it needs to change.


Desiree85 said...

I was just in Pittsburgh last week. I found the downtown area cramped. Congestion everywhere. I swear everybody smokes. It was disgusting. We walked across the bridge to where the stadiums are, it was much nicer. There was a group of nitwits that were taking up much needed parking meters. They were sitting under a canopy and had bales of straw and flowers around them. This group was trying to make a point of how much nicer it would be if there were less cars and more parks. While in a traffic jam, I noticed a woman open a car door that was parked directly behind one of these canopies. I watched her get something out of the car, shut the door and walk to where the nitwits were sittng. I told my husband and he wanted to have a little fun. We asked this woman if that was her car and she said, "Yes, would you like me to move it." Well my husband went at her saying "You're trying to tell people to not drive cars which will put people out of work because you want cars off the streets and here you drive a car here to sit and lecture people while you yourself are nothing but a hypocrite!" I asked her how can you be such a hypocrite. She just looked at me with this dumb stare and that is when traffic started moving so we had to go. That is what these whackos do. They like to tell us how to live, but they don't practice what they preach.

navyvet said...

I like Pittsburgh....they are a chip off the ole' Block.

Boo....Boo NavyVet.....Boo.

Kadim said...

The Economist has an excellent article on Pittsburgh this week, which is a response to some of the issues raised here.

I think that Steigerwald's article is quite negative, considering that Pittsburgh has done quite well, particularly in comparison to Cleveland (my home city.) Undoubtedly millions or perhaps billions were wasted in both cities, but I suggest they were handled much more competently in Pittsburgh.

Fun fact--as noted in the article, Pittsburgh went bankrupt in 2003, and got to make some big decreases in the size of local government. How rarely does that happen?

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