Saturday, May 28, 2005

Nice Idea, Bad Location

A few weeks ago, the City of Pittsburgh began tearing up the Schenley Plaza parking lot in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh with the intention of turning it into a park. Before the work had commenced, the planners gave vague descriptions of what the park would be like, mostly having to do with wireless internet access.

Anyone who works or goes to school in Oakland knows how hard it is to find a good parking space. Tearing up the Schenley Plaza lot is not a step in the direction of progress. The convenient parking was situated between the Carnegie Library Main branch and the University of Pittsburgh campus. There were always lines of cars waiting to get in because they couldn't find a spot anywhere else. A better move would have been to find space to build a parking garage in the area. Why get rid of the most prime parking spaces in the neighborhood? People are getting frustrated.

I am one of them. I work in the neighborhood, but I don't drive. I take the bus. And this stupid project has taken away my bus stop!

Who is involved in this? Oh, quite a number of people. And you can bet that none of them need to worry about parking spaces and bus stops in Oakland:

PNC Bank has pledged $750,000 to buy a carousel that will be the centerpiece of family attractions at Schenley Plaza, a planned green space that officials hope will become Oakland's town square.

State and local elected officials, led by Gov. Ed Rendell, joined leaders of Pittsburgh's business community and foundations Friday for a bricklaying ceremony to mark the start of construction at the plaza in the heart of Oakland.

The $10 million project is the largest undertaken to date by Citiparks and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in a public-private partnership to restore Pittsburgh's four large urban parks. The state has awarded a $5 million grant to the project.

The University of Pittsburgh is overseeing construction. PNC's gift is the largest corporate donation toward the project.

See, millions of taxpayer dollars are being pumped into this waste of space, but it's okay because PNC Bank is ponying up a few hundred thou to built a freaking amusement park ride. That's called a "public-private partnership". "Public" refers to the primary source of funding, the taxpayers. "Private" describes the rooms where these kinds of deals are cut.

"Fast Eddie" Rendell is going to run for President in a few years, and no doubt his campaign will feature this sort of thing on his resume. "He made Pennsylvania's inner city neighborhoods a more pleasant place for families to live," they might well say. Maybe it will be like that -- during the day. Has Rendell ever been here at night? Oakland is basically a college town in the heart of the inner city. There are several bars in the neighborhood. Is the city going to hire someone to scrub down the carousel on Saturday and Sunday mornings after some underage drinking student goes overboard on "O" fries (3-to-1 grease-to-potato ratio) washed down with Heineken and blorfs all over the horsies? Check it out -- it's called the real world.

Might the powers that be have some ulterior motive for worsening the parking situation in Oakland? I am sure of it. By reducing the number of parking spaces in the neighborhood, the authorities are forcing more people to rely on public transportation. Too many people attend college or work in Oakland for the loss of a parking lot to drive them away. If they don't already live nearby, they need some way to get to class or to the office. The Port Authority needs money. Governor Rendell has already "saved" public transportation in Pennsylvania by using federal taxpayer-provided funds. Why not participate in a scheme to make more people ride buses? That's what the Port Authority wants. That's what the city wants. And that's what the governor wants.

That may be stretching it, but something is rotten and I can smell it all the way down here in my suburban living room.

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