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Analysis

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Do Pittsburgers prefer burgers or pizza?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 6, 2018 at 5:02 PM

pittsburgh_burgers_vs_pizza.jpg
Everyone knows the most iconic Pittsburgh foods are pierogies and sandwiches with fries stuffed inside. If people are visiting the Steel City, they need to try some church pierogies and a Primanti’s sandwich; they’re Pittsburgh rights of passage.

But Pittsburgers don’t eat these famous foods the most often compared to other popular foods. According to new data released by Google News Lab, Pittsburgh is like most Rust Belt cities in its most-frequented restaurant choices: We like pizza and we like burgers.

According to the data, which was aggregated from information taken from people who have enabled Location History, Pittsburgh is fifth in the U.S. in terms of burger-restaurant visits and seventh in the U.S. in terms of pizza-restaurant visits. Other cities with top 10 rankings in both pizza- and burger-restaurant visits were Baltimore, Boston, Detroit and Minneapolis. (Also of note, is Pittsburgh’s top 15 ranking in coffee-shop visits among a list that is dominated by West Coast cities.)

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

New report shows Pennsylvania still behind other states on statewide LGBTQ protections

Posted By on Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 10:55 AM

The LGBTQ Pride Flag
  • The LGBTQ Pride Flag
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest pro-LGBTQ organization, released its 2017 annual report detailing every state's legislative efforts to provide, or inhibit, equality for LGBTQ Americans. The Pennsylvania state government, again, left much to be desired for those advocating for LGBTQ rights.

The HRC gives four general scores to states, with “working toward innovative equality” being the best and “high priority to achieve basic equality” being the worst. Pennsylvania ranked “high priority to achieve basic equality” in 2017. (The state also received this distinction in 2016, 2015 and 2014.) Pennsylvania is also the only state in the Northeast U.S. to be given the bottom score for LGBTQ equality. It should be noted that some Pennsylvania cities, like Pittsburgh, have been given high-marks by the HRC, despite the low grades on the state level.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

How Pittsburgh finally funded its affordable-housing trust fund

Posted By on Thu, Dec 21, 2017 at 3:05 PM

Corey O'Connor discussing the affordable-housing fund at a December Pittsburgh City Council meeting - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Corey O'Connor discussing the affordable-housing fund at a December Pittsburgh City Council meeting
In early 2015, Pittsburgh City Council knew it needed to investigate and address the city’s affordable- housing problems. Back then, there was a reported shortage of more than 18,000 subsidized affordable units in the city, and since then that figure has only marginally decreased. In January 2015, City Councilor Daniel Lavelle (D-Hill District) introduced legislation to create an Affordable Housing Task Force, and the task force was created in February 2015.

Then that summer, more than 200 residents of the Penn Plaza apartment complex in East Liberty were given eviction notices, and Pittsburgh’s affordable-housing crisis took center stage. Much has happened since then, including continuing disputes around the Penn Plaza site and more legislative activity at city council.

This month, on Dec. 19, city council passed a bill that would fund its $10-million-a-year affordable-housing trust fund called the Housing Opportunity fund. The bill passed by a vote of 7-2 with councilors Natalia Rudiak (D-Carrick) and Darlene Harris (D-North Side) voting against the bill. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has indicated support for the bill.

The fund will be filled by raising the city’s realty-transfer tax up .5 percent for 2018 and 2019, and then up to 1 percent in 2020. This means closing costs on home purchases in the city will go up slightly; those costs are typically split between the buyer and seller. The $10 million Housing Opportunity Fund will be used to provide gap funds on new affordable-housing projects, as well as help low-income home-buyers with home purchases and rehab costs.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Study shows Pennsylvania's tax structure benefits wealthy rather than lower-income workers

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 5:36 PM

STOCK IMAGE
  • Stock image
The Republicans in the U.S. House and Pennsylvania House appear to have a similar goal: Raise taxes on low- and middle-income individuals, so that wealthy people and corporations avoid paying more in taxes.

The U.S. House recently passed a tax-reform plan with only Republican votes, including U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley), U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler) and all other Republican representatives from Pennsylvania. The bill would offer a tax reprieve to low- and middle-income individuals initially, but those cuts would expire; by 2027, some low- and middle-income individuals would eventually be paying more in taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The ultra-wealthy (those making $5 million and up) and corporations, however, would be paying significantly less indefinitely. Politicians like Rothfus justify this bill saying expanded economic growth from tax cuts will lead to better wages for workers.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Pittsburgh probably isn’t in the running for Amazon’s new headquarters

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 12:26 PM

Downtown Pittsburgh - CP PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK
  • CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
  • Downtown Pittsburgh
With the announcement that tech giant Amazon is searching for a second headquarters, and the promise of more than 50,000 high-paying jobs, Pittsburgh started to salivate. Several media personalities, politicians and ordinary PIttsburghers took to social media and practically begged Amazon to consider the Steel City. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced that his staff was working with Allegheny County’s economic-development team on an application. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told TribLive that pitching Amazon is “right in our sweet spot.”

But economic factors and development realities in Pittsburgh indicate the region is far from Amazon’s sweet spot. Amazon’s list of preferences is intimidating. The tech company is first looking for a 500,000-square foot existing building that is close to a population center of more than 1 million people and near major highways. This will already be hard to find in Pittsburgh, as the city’s biggest building, the U.S. Steel Tower, only currently has about 300,000 square feet available.

With Amazon’s most preferred option most likely off the list, the second option would be a 100-acre pad-ready development site. Pittsburgh is filled with brownfields, old industrial sites the require clean up, and pad-ready sites are hard to come by. Especially ones that are “close to major arterial roads to provide optimal access,” as Amazon is demanding. Some have indicated the old Civic Arena site as a possibility, but that site is only 28 acres.

Additionally, the 500,000-square-foot site would just be the first part of Amazon’s development. Eventually, the company is looking to build a headquarters similar to its 8-million-square-foot Seattle headquarters.

The larger Almono site in Hazelwood has also been floated around as an option, but this site, while already in redevelopment, comes up short in Amazon’s requirement of having “direct access to rail, train, subway/metro, bus routes.” Currently, the Almono site does not connect to light-rail or even to one of the city’s three busways. Only three buses serve part or all of Almono — the 56, 57 and 58 — and they only arrive about every 20-30 minutes; hardly a vibrant public-transit hub. Not to mention the vision of Almono site is to house multiple companies, not one large one.

Chris Briem, an economist at University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, says this is out of scope for the Pittsburgh area. “Is there is site for them?” asks Briem. “Eight million square feet, I mean, that is like three U.S. Steel Towers. … Space has always been a terrible challenge for Pittsburgh.”

Besides the lack space available, Amazon is also looking for an extensive incentive package of tax-breaks, relocation grants, fee reductions and site preparation. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County can only offer limited incentives, like Tax Increment Financing and Local Economic Revitalization Tax Act District distinction, which provide city and county tax breaks for a few years.

However, most regions can offer these, so Briem says further incentives will have to come from the state. Briem adds it will be difficult to convince the state to allocate money for incentives when it is currently struggling to pass a budget. Also, Briem points out that Pennsylvania has a history of offering large state subsidies to companies and getting burned.

Pennsylvania gave $70 million in incentives to Volkswagen to build a plant in Westmoreland County. It opened in 1978 and by 1988, it was closed. But, Pittsburgh does have advantages other places can’t offer. The region has some of the lowest housing costs in the country, and Pittsburgh is emerging as a world leader in robotics and artificial-intelligent technologies.

However, Pittsburgh probably doesn't have a large enough workforce, filled with highly-educated workers, to satisfy Amazon. The company is requesting filling an estimated 50,000 positions. Bloomberg columnist Conor Sen paints grim prospects for Pittsburgh. “Consider a place like Pittsburgh,” Sen wrote in a Sept. 7 Bloomberg article. “Its metro area is 2.35 million people, and its labor force is 1.2 million. But the size of its labor force hasn't grown in 25 years. Even with the talent [Pittsburgh’s] well-respected universities produce, [why] is Amazon, a company that thinks of growth in terms of decades, going to locate a headquarters in a place where it might have to hire over 4 percent of the metro area's labor force with uncertainty over whether that labor force will ever grow?”

And, unfortunately, the final nail in Pittsburgh’s Amazon coffin might be the Pittsburgh International Airport. The airport still lacks the international access that a hub like Atlanta, Chicago and even Philadelphia can offer. It also lacks a direct flight to Seattle, home of Amazon.

Well-known urban planning expert Richard Florida corresponded with Pittsburgh City Paper via Twitter about Pittsburgh's chances at getting Amazon. Florida, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor and Pittsburgh fanboy, indicated our airport may not be up to task.

“I adore Pittsburgh, but I put it more of a sleeper category along with, say, Nashville,” wrote Florida in a tweet to CP. “Great assets but lacking in global airport access.”

Politicians like Peduto and Fitzgerald shouldn’t be faulted for trying, as Amazon moving to Pittsburgh would be a game-changer and would potentially turn around Pittsburgh’s shrinking population problem. And Florida hinted in a tweet that Amazon should consider cities that might struggle to offer incentives like Pittsburgh or Detroit, because of the good the company could do.

“On the Amazon HQII decision: they should take the highroad, turn down any form of incentives & create a model of inclusive prosperity,” tweeted Florida on Sept. 7.

But in a world where large companies like Amazon control so much influence, Florida indicated that those companies are likely to pass over Pittsburgh for cities that makes more sense economically, and those tend to be regions that are already thriving.

“Exactly right. [Amazon] will go to established places that are already talent magnets,” tweeted Florida on Sept. 7. “The world is getting spikier.”

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Pittsburgh region's housing market responding well to job growth

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 4:05 PM

December 2016 groundbreaking of new loft-style condos in Bloomfield - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • December 2016 groundbreaking of new loft-style condos in Bloomfield
From 2010-2015 the Pittsburgh region’s economy started to take off. Not in the same way as booming cities like Denver and San Jose, but for a Rust Belt city with decades of decline in its wake, not too shabby. According to data compiled by Apartment List, the region had a positive change in total employment of about 30,000 jobs from 2010-2015. Allegheny County led the way during this span with 18,000 jobs.

And when regions start to see some positive job growth, new housing construction tends to follow. But when new housing doesn’t keep up, problems can arise. In cities like San Jose, this is a problem because the California Bay Area city isn’t building enough houses to keep up with demand, and housing prices are skyrocketing (San Jose is seeing housing prices rise faster than any other U.S. city).

But according to data from Apartment List, the Pittsburgh region is on a good track. From 2010-2015, the Pittsburgh metro area saw 20,000 new units of housing construction. This gives the region a jobs-housing ratio of 1.5.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Immigrants are propping up the Pittsburgh metro area population

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 4:48 PM

Latin American folk-dance group Latina Productions at Beechview’s Cinco de Mayo festival in 2016 - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Latin American folk-dance group Latina Productions at Beechview’s Cinco de Mayo festival in 2016
Without an influx of international migration to the Pittsburgh metro area, the region would have lost 36,580 residents since 2010. This would have been far and away the largest population decline of any large U.S. metro area over that time span. Luckily, enough people came across borders to the Steel City, drastically cutting into the figure, and stemming some the region’s population decline. (The Pittsburgh region has still lost 14,000 residents since 2010, the second most of major metro areas, behind Cleveland.)

According to U.S. Census figures, from 2010 to 2016, the Pittsburgh area gained 22,588 residents from international migration, which is defined as migration by the foreign-born, Puerto Ricans and native-born Americans living overseas.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Is Pittsburgh's economy growing for everyone?

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 12:16 PM

Dowtown Pittsburgh
  • Dowtown Pittsburgh
In April, Philadelphia Magazine profiled Pittsburgh and contemplated if and how Pittsburgh could surpass Philly as Pennsylvania's No. 1 city. The article had all the elite economic buzzwords, like “innovation” and “tech,” and made many substantial points about Pittsburgh’s prowess in the field of robotics and driverless cars. However, the story never mentioned words like “equal,” “equitable” or “inclusion.”

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Donald Trump in Pittsburgh: Drilling into the candidate's nonsense on natural gas

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 3:43 PM

Donald Trump during a Sept. 13 campaign stop in Aston, Pa. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL VADON
  • Photo by Michael Vadon
  • Donald Trump during a Sept. 13 campaign stop in Aston, Pa.
Donald Trump came to Pittsburgh Thu., Sept. 22, to talk energy policy at the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s Shale Insight Conference and Pittsburgh City Paper brought you a live blog from every moment of the protests outside. 

Later that day, we noticed that an anonymous commenter on the blog left this note to us:

“This is ridiculous. The man gave a speech that was more important than the insignificant protesters. You're story should be focused on the fine policies he presented today!”

While we did watch the live stream, you are right, “unnamed angry person.” So our staff decided to take a look at Trump's "fine" speech, particularly the portions about natural gas. To be honest, we're not so fine with it.

According to press reports, his talk was a lot of noise made to reassure the industry that he’s on its side. But even leaving aside the fact that a continued reliance on natural gas would be a climate disaster, his promised fixes were as ridiculous as his premise.

First, Trump promised to boost production of both coal and natural gas. That’s effectively impossible, given that the rise in gas production in the fracking era is the main cause of the decline in coal production.

Trump’s vow to deregulate gas production suggests that the industry is currently hamstrung — unable to produce. Yet the reason gas prices continue hovering near an historic low is that it’s so easy to drill that there’s a gas glut. It’s hard to see how stripping rules protecting the environment, and the communities in which drilling operations and pipelines operate, would help when from the industry’s perspective there is too much gas already (and when, in fact, the country is now the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas). Moreover, most gas regulations are enacted not by the federal government, but at the state level, something over which a Trump administration would have no control.

Then there’s the assumption that all that gas is going to revive American manufacturing — yesterday, Trump singled out the steel industry for rebirth. Cheap natural gas has helped manufacturers here. But there’s plentiful evidence that the gas industry is more interested in lucrative overseas markets, where the price is higher, than in using their product to “make America great again,” unless by “America” you mean shareholders, and by “great” you mean “richer.”



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Friday, June 10, 2016

Pittsburgh's superintendent scandal could hurt education discourse

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 12:35 PM

Anthony Hamlet at the June 7 press conference - PHOTO BY REBECCA NUTTALL
  • Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
  • Anthony Hamlet at the June 7 press conference
As a reporter who has covered education in Pittsburgh for nearly eight years, I was disheartened last week to hear that Pittsburgh's newest superintendent Anthony Hamlet was being scrutinized for discrepancies in his resume.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette story about the discrepancies was one of the first things I read this past Saturday after returning from my honeymoon at a resort with spotty WiFi. It filled me with anxiety before my looming return to work on Monday. Not because the prospect of a 9-to-5 work week seems less than appealing to anyone after 10 days off, or even because Mondays are the busiest days here at City Paper, but because I had been looking forward to a fresh start on the education beat.

Hamlet was presented to the public on May 18 and approved by the Pittsburgh Public School Board that same evening. In a statement from the district following the board's vote, Hamlet was defined as a "transformational leader." At the May 18 press conference, search consultant Brian Perkins touted Hamlet's record of raising achievement at struggling schools as director of school-transformation accountability in the Palm Beach County's (Fla.) school district.

“It was critical for us that we had somebody that had improved achievement for a diverse population of students,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Director Regina Holley.

Perkins called the search process a "textbook" example of how to ensure that input from various community stakeholders is included in the selection process. It appeared Hamlet checked off all the requirements that make up a quality pick for superintendent. 

"The call for applications was a very specific one. We weren't looking for hundreds of applications," said Perkins. "We said we wanted someone who has teaching experience. We said we wanted someone who has been a principal." 

His selection was also praised by local leaders like Mayor Bill Peduto and the teacher's union.

"Dr. Hamlet brings a tremendous wealth and diversity of experience to our district, and the PFT whole-heartedly welcomes him," Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visigitis said in a statement. "It was wonderful to hear him speak to the primary importance of a positive and supportive school culture, and we look forward to working with him, and introducing him to the great work of our teachers, our students and our union."

But since then, the details Hamlet listed on his resume to bolster his record have been called into question. A June 3 article by the Palm Beach Post criticized Hamlet's assertions that he raised the grades at two struggling Palm Beach County schools from an F to a C, and raised the graduation rate at Palm Beach Lakes High School by 13 percentage points.

At a press conferences today, Hamlet admitted to making an error when he said he raised the two school's grades from an F to a C. But he said the other numbers he used as evidence of his accomplishments were taken from different data sets than those used by federal and state education agencies. (Data from the Florida education department and federal graduation rates do not align with Hamlet's assertions, according to the Post-Gazette and Palm Beach Post).

"It is unfortunate that we have begun this way," Hamlet said. "But I believe today, having answered these questions, I look forward to working with the board, schools, community, families and, more importantly, the students to continue some of the great work already taking place in the district."

Whether or not  Hamlet knowingly embellished his resume, it's possible the damage has already been done. 

All too often, discussions about education in Pittsburgh and around the country amount to little more than playing politics, and missteps are not quickly forgotten.

I'm afraid that now, anytime someone disagrees with a proposal by Hamlet's administration, they'll use this situation as undeniable proof that he is wrong instead of having a discussion about the merits of a proposal or alternative solutions to the district's problems.  

We've seen it happen before. All too often, the proposals and decisions made by Superintendent Linda Lane weren't evaluated based on their content. Instead they were criticized because Lane was seen as a continuation of the old guard started by former Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. When Lane was selected, many in the Pittsburgh community clamored for a superintendent from outside of the district. Lane's inclusion in the Roosevelt administration led many to write off her initiatives before an adequate discussion could take place.

Hamlet's selection was refreshing because he was supported by nearly every key stakeholder in the education community . For the sake of education discourse in this city and the success of Pittsburgh's public school students, I hope this pothole in Hamlet's tenure doesn't dictate his next five years with the district. 

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