A quiet crisis is emerging in our building practice: one story buildings are being coded out of the system right when we need them most. While it is true that the Wendy's, Kmarts, and Walgreens of the world earn their anti-urban distinction, we should hesitate to throw the one story baby out with the suburban bathwater. One story buildings are being called upon amidst the unpredictable shift to e-commerce, the speed at which we need to take advantage of new markets, the stubborn difficulty of building and financing affordable mixed-use buildings, and, due to the capital cost, the propensity of credit-worthy chain tenants to show up in conventional new mixed-use buildings, leading to the same placelessness and capital extraction we seek to avoid in the first place.
Entries in Pittsburgh (18)
The 2014 Transportation Agenda
As 2014 gets under way, many of the country's largest cities are transitioning into new leadership. New mayors such as those of New York, Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh are coming in amidst renewed understanding of the role, power, and influence of metropolitan regions. In their own way, each new mayor seeks to position his or her city as a hotbed of innovation in economic development, customer service, administration, finance, operations, housing, education, neighborhood regeneration, infrastructure, and public safety. And while expectations for these cities have never been so high, the fiscal fragility of cities has never been so real. Portfolios of expenditures, liabilities, and subsidies have been exposed by insufficient revenues and poor performing investments on Wall Street and main street. As a result, these new mayors must be creative and practical in guiding their cities through their first terms.
One of the areas that these new mayors share a focus is transportation and regional connectivity.
Cities are never finished. They continue to evolve and adapt to change. The urban design of a city is the sum of organic and planned public spaces that have formed over time in its streets, riverfronts, plazas, and neighborhood parks. These spaces are formed and activated by the the uses housed in both public and private buildings that frame them. They serve as the enabler of the city’s economy and the backdrop for the city’s vitality, character, and livability.
A focus on Pittsburgh's core public space portfolio
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.