"The days of bulldozing the past for the sake of development are over in Pittsburgh, where officials say partnerships with preservationists will create a vibrant Downtown blending historic and modern buildings."
The story was announcing the beginning of a a $4 million renovation project to restore facades of seven buildings on Wood Street and Fifth Avenue dating from 1875 to 1930. The story was about this relatively small development project but the real story is the preservation friendly attitude of political leadership in this rustbelt city which is quickly shedding its rusty image.
Says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:
"Imagine if we would have torn all these buildings down. This area wouldn't have the feel that it has today. We've shown in Pittsburgh that you can mix the old with the new."
This is a mayor that understands the power of historic buildings for promoting good urban development and for building an exciting attractive city. This is a major change of thinking for a city which as recently as the 1990's had a mayor proposing demolition of vast areas of historic buildings in downtown Pittsburgh for a silver bullet shopping mall.
Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation notes:
"This is happening in other cities, but here we are all planning it together. I don't know of any other city where the mayor's office is working with preservation groups like that. There's no opposition to the new buildings because they're going in places where the preservationists say they should go. So you have everybody working harmoniously instead of argumentatively."
I don't think you can point to this kind of enlightened leadership from Buffalo and WNY's political class. To be fair Mayor Brown has stepped up to the plate to facilitate preservation in several instances. He was influential in putting City power and authority behind saving White's Livery on the West Side and the Bosche Building
on Main Street in Allentown among others. The Mayor also stuck his neck out on the Peace Bridge truck plaza controversy
in favor of delaying demolition of an entire historic block of the Columbus Hill neighborhood. The problem is that in each of these cases the City and the Mayor have been dragged along, leading from behind instead of setting the preservation agenda. The Mayor's Green Code initiative, a law which by its nature will favor historic preservation, may signal a change in thinking at City Hall. But, until it is in place and truly enforced we cannot say that this is a sign of true preservation leadership. Especially since in the mean time the City still allows building owners to use demolition by neglect as a legitimate business practice and flouts its own preservation laws as can be seen with the recent "emergency" in the dark of night demolition of the 140 year old Bernstone Cigar store
at 273 Main Street.
Pittsburgh is a beautiful dense and very historic city full of great neighborhoods and remarkable architecture. It has its problems for sure, many that will not be solved easily or soon. But its historic fabric is remarkably intact with none of the vast parking lots that pockmark Buffalo. Its neighborhoods are quickly activating with young people who love urban living, especially in the Oakland neighborhood adjacent to downtown where 2 large urban universities energize its streets. Pittsburgh leadership has recognized demographic trends which favor dense complex and active urban neighborhoods containing a healthy mix historic architecture and high quality modern buildings and they are taking the steps necessary to guaranty they are one of the cities able to supply such attractive living environments. Buffalo cannot afford to miss this train.