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Monday, May 17, 2010

Mayor plays matchmaker for new residents

Posted By on Mon, May 17, 2010 at 1:13 PM

So today marks the official unveiling of PittsburghCityLiving, a guide to help newcomers select the part of the city that is just right for them. And guess what? For many of us, the South Side Flats turns out to be just about perfect. Hope you like frat boys!

As you'd expect with a city-sponsored Web site, there's lots of boasting about Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's "Pittsburgh Promise" scholarship program and the like. But the site's real draw is its "Find Your Perfect Neighborhood Match" function, which allows users to select neighborhood attributes that are particularly important -- like walkability, or an active nightlife -- and recommends various parts of town accordingly. 

As the Post-Gazette begins its account of the site:

If you like diversity, saving money, and being able to stop in at a corner bar, move to Polish Hill.

If you'd prefer to live somewhere pet-friendly, walkable and quiet, you might try Regent Square.

But if you crave excitement, trendy nightlife and all things mod, the South Side Flats may be the better bet.

The P-G tells us that the recommendations are based on rankings developed by city officials and surveys carried out by a consultant paid $58,000 to develop the site. 

I might hold off on cutting the final check, though. Becuase it would have been  just as accurate for the P-G to lead the story this way:

If you want to experience "suburbs in the city," you ought to move to East Hills.

If you'd prefer to experience "black and gold" fervor firstand, you might try Beltzhoover.

But if you want to want to reconnect with your roots, try Lincoln Place or Swisshelm Park.

Those too are all options recommended by the "Neighborhood Match" feature.

Don't get me wrong: I like the spirit of this thing just fine. But there are clearly some bugs to work out. For one thing, it's not clear what a category like "black and gold" even means in terms of a neighborhood preference ... let alone how Beltzhoover got to be so strongly associated with it. 

And while the "suburbs in the city" category makes a bit more sense, it's hard to understand why East Hills is one of the top recommendations for people seeking such a community.

I don't know about you, but I've always thought of suburbs -- for good or ill -- as places characterized by high rates of home ownership, dominated by the autombile, and marked by a population that is middle-class or better. East Hills, though it is populated by many fine residents, doesn't meet any of those criteria.

The Web site's own profile of the neighborhood concedes that the "[h]ousing stock is primarily rental." And with no disrespect intended to the people who live there, the neighborhood has distinctly urban problems. According to our friends at the University Center of Social and Urban Research, it's got a poverty rate roughly equivalent to that of Homewood. At the time of the 2000 Census, nearly half of its households didn't own their own automobile.

Meanwhile, the eastern neighborhood of Swisshelm Park isn't listed among the suburban contenders at all ... even though its page asserts that "Swisshelm Park is often mistaken for a suburban neighborhood."

In fairness, many of the categories furnish results that make more sense -- Lawrenceville tops out among trendy neighborhoods, for example, along with Downtown and the South Side Flats. It's a little sad, meanwhile, that among the very few categories where majority-black neighborhoods dominate is "saving." There, Homewood tops the list: The site describes it as "more than a place to live; it's a place to get involved." I guess that's the civic-booster equivalent of describing a home as a "handyman's special." 

You can mix categories too, and as long as the choices you make are complementary, the results seem pretty accurate. Try checking off your interest in "suburbs in the city" and "nightlife," though, and you're prompted to consider such swinging neighborhoods as Overbrook.

And what happens if you pick all the categories at once, seeking the neighborhood that really has it all? The answers are ... South Side Flats, Regent Square, and Downtown. 

I suppose that makes some sense -- the South Side and Downtown pop up among the site's top recommendations frequently. But I guess the real question about the site is this: Wasn't the need for relentlessly upbeat online PR the reason God created Pop City?

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