Pittsburgh: Is downtown at a crossroads?

Posted: December 20, 2022 by chrisharper in Uncategorized
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By Christopher Harper

Pittsburgh, a longtime example of how a city can change from an industrial mess to a tech haven, is running into a variety of problems in places run by Democrats.

As a journalist in the 1970s, I covered organized labor and needed a shower after trips through the blazing heat of the steel mills. On several visits in the 2000s, however, I found a city that had changed from Budweiser to craft beer and from kielbasa to kale.

Downtown Pittsburgh had changed from shuttered stores to bustling restaurants and museums.

Recently, however, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has documented the fraying of the social fabric that brought the city back from the brink.

“Frustration over shootings, fights, panhandling, and open drug dealing boiled over during a recent meeting between Downtown business owners and merchants and top officials within Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration,” the newspaper reported last weekend in a front-page story.

“Some worried about losing commercial or residential tenants if the situation doesn’t change or how they can cajole workers back to the office given anxiety about safety. Another fretted about losing businesses or restaurants.”

Although other cities have experienced far higher crime statistics since the end of the COVID crisis, Pittsburgh businesses, particularly in the downtown area, have grown accustomed to safe streets.

In a recent meeting with the new mayor, business leaders expressed concern that city leadership isn’t doing enough, particularly to address issues like aggressive panhandling, fights, unruly youths, and loitering.

Like many Democrats, the new mayor is taking a hands-off approach to street crime, which has many business leaders worried.

“We’ve got to stop kidding ourselves. We’ve got to stop fighting about it and just say, go outside, smell it, look at it, experience it. It’s bad, and it’s getting worse,” said Kevin Wade, executive vice president of the PNC Financial Services Group. “If you keep up this resistance, it’s going to be beyond repair.”

Ralph Falbo, who owns a condominium building, said tenants get upset over issues like aggressive panhandling. “I got people calling me saying as soon as my lease is up, I’m gone,” he said.

Tom Smith, the managing partner of the Pittsburgh office of K&L Gates, said the law firm had tried everything from pancake and bacon breakfasts to cornhole tournaments to entice people back to the office.

But it turned out that the event that drew the biggest crowd was when Pittsburgh police came to speak about the downtown area. “It was very eye-opening to me. The point someone made about perception is the reality. Certainly, the perception is that things are really bad and that something needs to be done,” he said.

As many visitors to Pittsburgh will attest, the city has rebuilt a vibrant downtown. It would be sad to see it go the way of other major cities!

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