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Looking hard at the Golden Triangle


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By Bill Steigerwald


Sunday, July 17, 2005

It's easy to be fooled by the Golden Triangle. Most Pittsburghers have been for 50 years.

We've looked with great pride at Point State Park and Gateway Center, the tidy clump of corporate office buildings next to it. And without thinking too hard about why their never-changing open spaces are so empty of humans so much of the time, we naturally assume they are an example of successful urban planning.

But they're not, as New York Times columnist John Tierney, a former Pittsburgher, so cruelly but accurately pointed out in a recent op-ed piece that embarrassed Pittsburgh by exposing it as a pioneer of eminent domain abuse. . .

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I don't know all the details, but I do think Downtown and the entire region are much better off for having Point State Park. I love having such a nice park right downtown, and it makes a great gathering place for various events.

And that article in the NY Times pissed me off. The last thing Pittsburgh needs is bad publicity, and that article was rather misleading in some ways. Anyhow, why bring up something that happened decades ago (Gateway Center)? Not that I don't believe in learning from the past, but it bothers me that people will probably criticize the city for it, even though it happened so long ago. People seem to jump on any excuse to criticize Pittsburgh.

Besides, don't tell me we are the only city to use eminent domain in that way! Why we persistenly get picked on and singled out for things which could be said of many cities, I don't know.

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It helps to take anything put out by the Trib with a grain of salt. Upon closer examination we can all see what this editorial aims to do in a divide and conquer, quasi-Orwellian way. First it provides the reader a choice between supporting old blighted properties or big unfriendly corporations, while eliminating choice C, the idea of having a park that's a focal point for civic events. The article sides with the old blighted warehouses in an attempt to undermine the local government's urban renewal initiatives.

It argues that they weren't really all so bad and that the "bland corporate towers" are an urban planner's nightmare, which is to imply that the previous development was somehow an urban planner's dream? Then it claims that PSP is somehow an aging blighted useless area that's people unfriendly because of the fact that the city plans what events to hold there. OK do any of us really need a reality check on this one? Art Festival, Regatta, Light Up Night, New Year's Eve... the list is so extensive as are the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the park each year. Those "bland corporate towers" I find fairly attractive, and their supposed "unchaning" nature is in stark contrast with the free concerts, street vendors, art displays, and civic life that spill over from the park into the courtyards of those office centers.

Then it completes the circle of deception by going right back and siding with the WSJ, official spokesmen for big unfriendly corporations. Other than to undermine the local government's power to carry out the public's will and the fact that the Post Gazette building is ideally located near Point State Park and the Trib is in a rather lifeless area of North Side next to... suprise, blighted warehouses, can there possibly be any other agenda?

Correction to above: somehow I mixed up the NYT in the article above with the WSJ that was being discussed in another thread. But I don't think it changes things much, it was still an opportunistic smear attempt at the local government.

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You are so right, blueblack. I didn't even notice that that article is from the Trib. I have long hated the Trib's seeming desire to bring down the entire city, to find the dark cloud behind every silver lining. Yuck. I personally despise at least one of their writers. Some of them are so ridiculous in the things they say.

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^^I don't read the trib all that much, more the PG, I know that the trib tends to have an anti-Democratic stance so of course it will be against everything that the Grant Street crowd (70+ years of Democratic Party rule) proposes. The PG though isn't much better with all it's Santorum rants etc. and drumbeat about the burbs. As far as local issues are concerned though I tend to fall on the side of the PG--we must have a strong city center no matter who is in power.

I do think that the article raises some good points but at the time the city was struggling with the "hell with the lid off" comparison every single day, people were actually dying from the smog and it looked like midnight at noon. Lawrence did the best he could to reverse all that, maybe he missed the mark on some things, but at least he got the job done.

What I bristle at though is the way that the article took legit points and exgagerated them into irrelevant ad homenems, like the soviet style projects circa 1975, Gateway Center is NOT anything like that. Apples to Oranges if you ask me.

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What I bristle at though is the way that the article took legit points and exgagerated them into irrelevant ad homenems, like the soviet style projects circa 1975, Gateway Center is NOT anything like that.  Apples to Oranges if you ask me.


Appearantly they're hoping people are more familiar with Soviet block housing than with the Point. I've lived in those btw and calling this apples to oranges is an understatement.

What's funny is how they use Urban Planning's own sensibilities against them. Yes Post-Modern urban planners see mistakes in the Modern movement that resulted in much of the opposite of what was intended. But what's the Trib got to say on that issue? They're *in favor* of everything Sprawl and a weak local government that's incapable of planning anything. It's like a crook intruding on a conversation about ethics between two officers. What's the Trib's idea of civic life, anyway? A Walmart in place of the Hilton and an SUV-filled parking lot in place of Point State Park!

The thing is I think that Post-Modern planners can make a lot more use out of a well planned Modern development than they could out of Sprawl or Slum. Much of the work involves simply making better accomodations to pedestrian and mass transit traffic. This includes setting aside more space for high density housing dispersed within walkable distance to the original plans. We see that this is what's happening.

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