Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Who Lives Dahntahn?

AntiRust alerted me to the new Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program Report on national downtown living trends.

The Highlights:

  • During the 1990s, downtown population grew by 10 percent, a marked resurgence
    following 20 years of overall decline.

  • From 1970 to 2000, the number of downtown households increased 8 percent—
    13 percent in the 1990s alone—and their composition shifted.

  • Downtown homeownership rates more than doubled during the thirty-year period,
    reaching 22 percent by 2000.

  • Downtowns are more racially and ethnically diverse than 20 years ago.

  • In general, downtowns boast a higher percentage of both young adults and
    college-educated residents than the nation’s cities and suburbs.

  • Downtowns are home to some of the most and least affluent households of their
    cities and regions.

  • OK... that's cheating... I pulled that off the cover sheet. Digging deeper:

  • Mostly, as cities grew or shrunk, so did the downtowns. Pittsburgh, from 1970 to 2000 overall was, unsurprisingly, one of the double down cities. The effect of the new County Jail, however, did bring up the overall downtown population from 1990-2000. [Whoo hoo!]

  • Downtowns are not traditional single family neighborhoods; 71% of the population of downtowns are "non-families."

  • Pittsburgh is the only downtown with a high percentage of black residents not in the South.

  • Hispanic and Asian immigrants have helped to drive downtown population growth.

  • Young people and Empty-Nesters make up sizable portions of downtown populations.

  • Pittsburgh is classified as a "Slow-Growing" Downtown, meaning that, while it seems to be growing, it is doing so at a pace that lags behind the region as a whole.

  • OK, now AntiRust threw down the gauntlet, challenging Pittsburgh's redevelopment officials not to say:
    This report supports our current efforts to create a cooperative atmosphere among people dedicated to breathing life back into downtown Pittsburgh. It calls for all of us--local government, state government and the private sector--to come together in creative ways to create an atmosphere conducive to business and cultural amenities, and to build on Pittsburgh's historic success in reinventing its downtown.
    I'm probably the closest thing we're going to get on this blog to a redevelopment official (and even that's a stretch), but I'll gladly take the proxy fight, even though this is not my forte.

    Here's what Pittsburgh's Redevelopment Officials should read into the report:

    (1) This reports supports the, heretofore unchallenged ancedotal, assertion that there is a growing market for downtown living. That's good news; if nothing else it means that this is not a batshit insane idea and that developing Downtown is a reasonable and positive goal.

    (2) Based on the findings of the report, it is unlikely that Downtown Pittsburgh will ever become a "Fully-Developed" Downtown in the near future. By the Brookings metric, there are only five existing today (Boston, Midtown Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, Chicago, and Philadelphia). Pittsburgh cannot be those downtowns, and should, instead, aim lower.

    (3) The original 5th & Forbes plan, and probably the second, third, and whatever the one before the current one, were all misguided; the strength of Downtown lies in its intrinsic "Downtown-ness" (i.e., interesting architecture, density, diversity, etc.). Let the thing grow as naturally as possible without imposing an overarching Development, all the while cognisant that certain market (and governmental) failures need correcting.

    (4) The report makes some key points about the rental market in Downtowns in that it is the predominent player. This will be difficult in Pittsburgh where it is cheap to buy a reasonable house. There will be a social and economic tradeoff in either providing homeownership opportunities or fostering the rental market. This also touches upon the social and economic implication of social stratification within the downtown.

    (5) Metrics. Create some. With Census data, at least you can compare how you are doing in various aspects against other census tracts or other Cities' downtowns. What is the shift in population from the suburbs to downtown? What is the share of educated workforce downtown? In all these metrics should measure at least population, household type, education, income, and race and compare them across census tracts in the City and across cities. At least you'll know where you're standing.

    (6) What types of pre-existing programs can be currently exploited to take advantage of the market segment that seems to favor downtown? Should Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation be putting more grant money into downtown to improve facades? Should the Urban Redevelopment Authority expand 2nd mortgage programs to capture homeownership opportunities? What do we currently have that is working elsewhere that we can import to this neighborhood?

    (7) Are we actually tailoring these programs and projects to meet the needs of those that seem to want to live downtown (the young, the empty-nesters, the immigrants, etc.)?

    So, if I was a redevelopment official for Pittsburgh, I would look at this report not as support to our downtown initiatives, but a chance and a challenge to re-examine the choices that have been made in an attempt to more narrowly focus on areas of potential success and to find ways of objectively measuring that success within the context of the region.

    Oh and subsidies for loft housing mixed with retail... and transit sucks. No charge for those.

    No comments: