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Retooling Downtown for the Next Century

A focus on Pittsburgh's core public space portfolio 

Market Square in the heart of Pittsburgh as been central to its downtown strategy.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, like many regional centers throughout the United States, is in a necessary state of transition from the twentieth century to the current one. Through these growing pains, American cities and their regions have inherited the role of setting the social, physical, educational, and environmental agenda as Federal policy either moves too slow or is too blunt to adequately contribute to each place’s unique sense of being and the particular opportunities or challenges in diverging corners of a country as big and vast as this one. 

Concurrent to this downshifting of responsibilities is an upshifting of expectations. The United State’s economy and its demographics is actively responding to some of the anomalies of the 20th Century. People old and young are making the financial, health, and quality of life connections that were severed in the past era's post-war and industrial exuberance that inadvertently allowed us to spend our savings and mortgage our future in a vain attempt to sustain the unsustainable. This is causing a widespread re-evaluation of how we spend our time, how we invest, where we live, and how we apply our creativity.  

This is not cyclical change, but structural.

The cities that recognize this phenomenon are making the investments and changes to policy that not only make them more resilient to the many externalities that are outside of their ability to directly control (think Sandy, The Great Recession and other events that are costly to cities but not the result of purely local actions) but to also compete on a national and global stage for the innovators, educators, investors, creators and leaders that will further reinforce a place’s population, its economy, and its vibrancy. 

Of the many metrics used to gauge how a city is moving closer to a 21st Century livelihood, the health of the public realm remains one of our best barometers. Much like internet hits are used to measure and further attract web activity, public space “hits” illustrate for us the intersection between a place’s culture, economy, navigability, openness and creativity to increase the ‘memorableness’ of a place in driving even more traffic and more investment. While the strength of these indicators need to be tracked throughout a city, a city’s downtown is where the results might matter more than any other part of a city. A place is only as strong as its core.  

Pittsburgh understands this. And, because the city and its downtown was largely built before the focus on the automobile outscaled it’s ability to keep pace, the public realm we are now repopulating is truly central to an Investment Ready Place. This inheritance affords public space entrepreneurs the ability to invest in public spaces in a direct and meaningful way. 

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Steve Mouzon's new book available at

The Great Recession left a lasting impact on professionals involved in place making -- some estimates put the number of architects that have left the profession at 50% or more since 2005.

In this new landscape the old way of marking and communication is being replaced by the next generation that are more social and collaborative than their predecessors. While the bosses are playing a round of golf that may or may not get the next job, the next generation are exploiting new ways to collaborate and build global relationships.

The new way of selling of ourselves is where New Media for Designers and Builders, by Steve Mouzon, comes into play, presenting field-tested how-to’s in utilizing multiple new media nodes in a coordinated strategy of marketing. 

While this is a book written for those with little experience in using new media (if you found this post via twitter the book may not be for you) there are topics that Steve touches upon that are applicable to all.

A few comments on being #remarkable

The post-Great Recession new normal has transformed how we work. Better. Faster. Cheaper firms no longer have the advantage. In order to distinguish ourselves, we need to be remarkable in some way. Part of this, as described in the book, is in finding a need and filling it. Other strategies include promoting your thought leaders - those with special skills and knowledge of certain topics that can contribute to sharing and reaching new markets and users. If you are a single person office, that's you; if you are a multiples person office, that may be the new staff hire with specialized knowledge or digital fabrication. The point is to capitalize on your talent.


A persistent theme that runs through out the book (and new media in general) is collaboration. Have to miss a conference because of a deadline? No problem. Follow along via the #tweetchat. Need help with an unfamiliar construction detail or obscure book title? No problem. Tweet about it, email the list serve, or check out an online forum. Whichever method you choose, Steve's book can help you achieve the best results. It's a two way street though: just as others are sharing their knowledge, you have to keep up your end of the deal and share back. This book will help you do that. 

How to get the book

Unlike Steve’s other books, New Media for Designers and Builders is an iBook available through Apple’s iBookstore, with a Kindle version available soon. iBooks Author, a free app by Apple used to create iBooks, combined with the iBookstore, does for self-publishing what PageMaker and a laser printer accomplished for desktop publishing: the ability to write and publish books for a fraction of the cost, time, and energy used in the traditional old method. 

Advantages are numerous: syncing page location across your iOS devices (and soon Mac in OS X Mavericks); notification updates when new versions are available; and comments that can be truly interactive. One advantage the book leverages is the ability in linking to outside information - it’s very helpful to go directly to the amazon link of a referenced idea. I’ve already downloaded a handful of Kindle title samples of interesting books referenced in Steve's book

Final thoughts

It will be interesting to see how a book with a strictly digital distribution model will do, especially when the target market may not be on the cutting edge of technology. Sure, a .PDF version is available for download, but the real value and experience comes through on the iPad. That said, even if you are well-versed in new media, Steve’s book is a valuable resource in the breath of reference material linked throughout and the ideas shared are applicable to beginners and experts alike.


Ben Miller on Crowd-sourcing Real Estate

Ben Miller, founder of Fundrise, discusses with the House Committee on Small Business, the "why" and the challenges his group faces when crowd-sourcing real estate investment deals. 

Emerging neighborhoods don't get the attention from instutional capital, even though that is where the growth is...You can invest in a Japanese Manufacturing company today, but you really can't invest in your own community...The public was a very tough critic [in self-policing investment-worthiness].

Learn more at 



A Lonely Food Truck Outside Discovery World Headquarters In Downtown Silver Spring

Food Trucks Thriving In Farragut Park in DC

Food trucks are all the rage these days. Go-To tools for urban designers, aspiring restaurateurs and festival planners, they are seen as a relatively quick and easy way to activate spaces, test new businesses and market the potential of a street, block or neighborhood. Culturally they have been embraced by young professionals as a cheap, fun alternative to sit-down restaurants and bland corporate cafes. Gastronomically, they have evolved to showcase the best creations today’s aspiring chefs have to offer. 

So one would think if you were across the street from the global headquarters of Discovery Channel in the up and coming Downtown Silver Spring, you had won the jackpot! Add to this the fact that you were the only food truck in a 1-mile radius, and your odds for success should sky-rocket, right?

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Creating Super-Organisms Out Of Our Communities

The global population surpassed 7 billion people in August 2012.If you think that is a big number, consider 10 trillion. That is the number of microbes every human being carries within its body at any given time! As Michael Pollan put it eloquently in a recent article, we are all "Superorganisms". And it turns out that our health is not just dependent on our own physiology, but is greatly affected by the health of these countless organisms that call our body home. 

This recent discovery highlights a broader trend in science and problem solving. We are quickly moving away from an isolationist approach to broadening our lens as much as possible. Take any Big Data project, social media campaign or ecological restoration study conducted in the past 5 years.

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