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The Politics of Place

The Politics of Place: Contentious Urban Redevlopment in Pittsburgh

Gregory J. Crowley
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Place
    Book Description:

    In urban America, large-scale redevelopment is a frequent news item. Many proposals for such redevelopment are challenged-sometimes successfully, and other times to no avail. The Politics of Place considers the reasons for these outcomes by examining five cases of contentious redevelopment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between 1949 and 2000.

    In four of these cases, the challengers to redevelopment failed to create the conditions necessary for strong democratic participation. In the fifth case-the proposed reconstruction of Pittsburgh's downtown retail district (1997-2000)-challengers succeeded, and Crowley describes the crucial role of independent nonprofit organizations in bringing about this result.

    At the heart of Crowley's discussion are questions central to any urban redevelopment debate: Who participates in urban redevelopment, what motivates them to do so, and what structures in the political process open or close a democratic dialogue among the stakeholders? Through his astute analysis, Crowley answers these questions and posits a framework through which to view future contention in urban redevelopment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7285-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In October 1999 Mayor Tom Murphy presented a bold new plan to remake Pittsburgh’s distressed retail district. His “Market Place at Fifth and Forbes” plan proposed a $480 million redevelopment of downtown that would have demolished 62 properties and replaced 125 local businesses with upscale retailers and restaurants. Critics compared Market Place to the demolition and rebuilding projects of the renowned Pittsburgh renaissance, which cleared a total of one thousand acres of city territory in the twenty years following World War II. For over a year before the announcement, historic preservationists, neighborhood leaders, architects and planners taxpayer advocates, eminent domain...

  2. 1 Contentious Urban Redevelopment: A Research Perspective
    (pp. 7-30)

    Most research in the sociology and politics of urban redevelopment is aimed at explaining patterns of decision making with regard to land use and investment in the built environment.¹ Who usually defines alternative plans for deteriorated neighborhoods or tracts of vacant land? Who typically decides which among the alternatives gets the required government support? These are questions about the “structures”-the laws, norms, or cultural assumptions—that shape common forms of local decision making. My goals are different. I seek to explain how political and economic structures are disrupted in episodes of public, collective struggle. Similarly, I seek to locate the...

  3. 2 Urban Restructuring and the Formation of an Urban Growth Coalition, 1920–1947
    (pp. 31-57)

    Over the course of the nineteenth century, Pittsburgh became one of the largest and fastest growing places in the nation. Located at the confluence of three major inland waterways, the city served as southwestern Pennsylvania’s connection to the world beyond. The advantages of river transportation were fully exploited during the Industrial Revolution, when the region’s abundant supply of bituminous coal was tapped to meet escalating demand for iron and steel production.¹ By 1865 the region accounted for 40 percent of national iron production and by 1900 had captured 30 percent of national steel-making capacity. The rising output of Carnegie Steel,...

  4. 3 Contentious Politics of Neighborhood Redevelopment, 1949–1960
    (pp. 58-89)

    From 1949 to 1960 redevelopment in Pittsburgh grew contentious as it moved into the city’s neighborhoods. Strategies for neighborhood revitalization during this period included both the rehabilitation of existing structures and the demolition and rebuilding of structures considered “blighted” according to the broad criteria established in the state urban redevelopment law. In those areas designated for demolition and rebuilding, the procedure in the 1950s was for the Urban Redevelopment Authority to condemn and acquire properties by eminent domain, to remove some or all residents and businesses, demolish some or all existing structures, and then to rebuild according to plans financed,...

  5. 4 Another Wave of Urban Restructuring and Governing Realignments, 1970–1997
    (pp. 90-111)

    My fifth case study is set in a very different context, some thirty-seven years after the early postwar wave of neighborhood contention discussed in the previous chapter. Initial conditions for case 5 differed in important ways from those of the first four. Specifically, protesters in case 5 benefited from more developed mobilizing structures and a more open structure of political opportunities than their counterparts at midcentury. Recent community leaders who mounted contentious claims thus had a greater chance of gaining a strong voice in redevelopment projects. In order to explain changes that occurred in the local context of redevelopment over...

  6. 5 Contentious Politics of Downtown Revitalization, 1997–2000
    (pp. 112-139)

    My fifth case study begins in September 1997, when a Chicago developer, Urban Retail Properties, signed a development option and consulting deal with the City of Pittsburgh. According to the agreement, Urban Retail was to explore the possibility of initiating a large-scale redevelopment project in the city’s downtown retail district.¹ Existing businesses in the district were predominantly small, locally owned stores that served workers and residents in or near the Golden Triangle. For over thirty years merchants in the district had been losing business to regional malls, a problem that public officials, civic leaders, and businesses agreed had to be...

  7. 6 Contentious Urban Redevelopment and Strong Democracy
    (pp. 140-156)

    How is it that some urban social movements succeed while others fail to create opportunities for strong democratic participation? Up to this point, I have approached this question by describing the historical context and dynamics of three movements that have “failed” to produce strong democratic participation (cases 2–4), one that “succeeded” (case 5), and one (case 1) that fits somewhere in between success and failure. In this chapter I will evaluate the strength of participation generated by each movement. In what sense was citizen participation in Fifth and Forbes stronger than in the other cases? Answering this question begins...