The City’s New Architects

A coalition of community activists, environmental groups, and labor unions are becoming increasingly vocal on how development is supposed to look in Pittsburgh-one City Council member called them "a politically powerful force to reckon with" and we can see firsthand the result of their efforts. The URA tells a hotel developer to seek a higher classification of a "green" certification; demonstrations on the North Shore and at the Mayor's office over community benefits; and now calls to mandate a living wage for projects taking public money are just the latest instances of action by this coalition.

Let's take the living wage: it is back again after the City and County both resisted enacting it in the early part of the decade. With no discussion of a Countywide provision the City would make itself an island, a point noted by developers. And of course developers who don't come begging for assistance (not many of those nowadays) would not have to comply with the regulations should they become law, a point noted by union activists. But it is a sure bet that this coalition would stage protests and file complaints if a large-scale development (built without public money) did not pay a living wage or was not environmentally friendly-they would be accused of "skirting the law".

But here is the bigger point that merits debate: after numerous public-private partnerships, state financed developments, tax increment finance projects, stadiums, a convention center, a new casino, etc. when do the private developments that were supposed to create family sustaining wages-without more government intervention-start popping up? We were told that doing the big subsidized developments would create a critical mass that would attract private spin-offs-now nearly a decade after the late 1990s rush of activity we still see elected officials and interest groups jockeying for ever more special provisions. And they will be anything but a "silent partner".