Here Is a Postwar Job for Pittsburgh...
Transforming The Hill District
From Greater Pittsburgh, July-August 1943. An article by George E. Evans, Member of City Council.
Much is being said and written these days about
postwar planning and
development and there is no doubt but that private industry is confronted
with the greatest problem it has ever faced in preparing to furnish
employment for returning soldiers and for the re-employment of defense
workers in peace-time industry.
Doctor J. P. Watson, in his recent article in the Pittsburgh Business Review of May, 1943, says:
The number of people to be reabsorbed into the peacetime economy will surely be something of the order of twenty millions: some say twenty-five. At the best-known expansion rates in past booms, the absorption of this number might require six or seven years--if anyone could conceive a boom expansion rate continuing for six or seven years. If private enterprise should outdo its past records, there would remain in all probability a big part of the load to be carried.It will be unquestionably necessary for a certain amount of government participation in this readjustment of our economy.
One place in which the Government's action can be effective is in
remedying the interior decay of our cities, and in no other city is there
greater need for such action than in the City of Pittsburgh. Let private
industry go to work with every resource at its command, but still there
will be an important part which must be borne by Government. Farseeing
men are studying this problem now and are advocating the preparation of
postwar plans by local government agencies to be completed and placed on
the shelf for immediate action when the crisis arrives.
Senator Wagner has recently introduced into the United States Senate a bill (S-1163) known as "The Neighborhood Redevelopment Act," which has for its objective the elimination of cancerous areas in the cities.
The Hill District of Pittsburgh is probably one of the most outstanding
examples in Pittsburgh of neighborhood deterioration; beginning as it does
just across the proposed new cross-town boulevard and within a stone's
throw of the large office buildings on Grant Street, it extends eastwardly
a distance of a mile and a half and has an average width of well over a
Altogether it contains an area of about 650 acres, of which it is estimated that 500 acres could be reclaimed. There are 7,000 separate property owners; more than 10,000 dwelling units and in all more than 10,000 buildings. Approximately 90 per cent of the buildings in the area are sub-standard and have long outlived their usefulness, and so there would be no social loss if they were all destroyed. The area is criss-crossed with streets running every which way, which absorb at least one-third of the area. These streets should all be vacated and a new street pattern overlaid. This would effect a saving of probably 100 acres now used for unnecessary streets.
The project would absorb all of the area lying between Fifth Avenue and
Bigelow Boulevard, Tunnel Street and Herron Avenue, including the north
side of Fifth Avenue out as far as Robinson Street; making it possible to
widen Fifth Avenue and make it into a fine thoroughfare.
This whole area lies so close to the downtown triangle that if it were properly planned and landscaped it should make one of the most desirable residential sections in the City of Pittsburgh. It is difficult for one to estimate what the increase in land values would be when the project would be completed. It is probable that the increase would eventually amortize the entire cost of the project.
Probably no other city in the country has an area so well adapted for such an improvement. There would be no displacement of manufacturing plants or important industries; practically the whole area being residential.
The land is now assessed at $12,000,000.00 and the buildings at $18,000,000.00. Of course the buildings would be a total loss. It is estimated that the job could be done for a total cost, including public utilities and public improvements, including land and building costs, of $40,000,000.00.
Senator Wagner's bill provides in Section 4:
There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, funds to carry out the purposes of the Act not to exceed $1,000,000,000.00 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1944.Senator Wagner says, in his statement on the introduction of the bill (S-1163):
This bill provides a method whereby the Federal Government can assist states and localities, in assembling large tracts of land as a necessary preparatory step toward the sale or lease of such land for development or redevelopment. This is primarily a private enterprise bill, in the sense that it recognizes that most of the development and redevelopment will be by private enterprise. It recognizes, however, that some cooperative or supplementary public enterprise will be necessary to make the program comprehensive.And then he goes on to say:
This is not a postwar bill. The problem with which it deals must be met forthrightly before the war is over, in order that industry and finance, as well as State and local governments, may be prepared and ready to act when the war is over.
Senator Wagner's bill proposes that loan may be made for the above
mentioned purposes not to exceed ninety-nine years to cities or
instrumentalities of cities without pledging the faith or the credit of
It is the opinion of this writer that a finance plan might be worked out by which local private financial institutions could safely participate by investing in the earlier maturity bonds--say those maturing in less than fifty years. The Government taking those maturing between fifty and ninety-nine years. A similar plan is already used for the financing of housing projects by the Federal Housing Agency, and Senator Wagner proposes that this activity shall be placed under the supervision of the National Housing Agency, thus preventing the creation of a new national agency.
If the project embraced simply the purchase of the land alone, there would be no problem involved, but as there must be approximately $18,000,000.00 worth of old buildings destroyed, this loss must be absorbed somewhere. But is is the opinion of the writer that in the long term this loss would be made up by increased land values in a material way, and certainly social and economic benefits to the City would be far greater than any material benefits.
The value of the elimination of these disease ridden slums, where practically half of the crime, juvenile delinquency, tuberculosis, police cases, syphilis (actual recent survey shows 52 per cent of all syphilis cases in the City originate in this area), would be impossible to estimate in dollars and cents.
The heavy tax delinquency ($1,400,000.00 January 1, 1943) far exceeds
that of any other section of the City, and yet that section requires a
greater proportionate expenditure of tax funds.
The area now has a population of approximately 40,000 and estimating the coverage under the new plan at thirty families per acre, there could be placed within the same area, with ample space, air, light, playgrounds, landscaped area, a population of 60,000. This should have the effect of checking the trend to the suburbs by furnishing decent, comfortable homes for those of our citizens who prefer urban to rural living.
If this plan could be worked out, it would be most desirable to begin immediately the acquisition of the land so that it would be actually in the possession of the local government agency when the war ends. The acquisition of large numbers of properties, such as this, is no little job, as the writer knows from hard experience in land acquisition, but is is entirely feasible.
Of course the project would not be undertaken all at one swoop but
would be divided into five sections, synchronized with a master plan of
the whole area, and one section completed at a time.
What an opportunity this would be for the investment of idle capital in a sound, safe long-term investment and what a stimulation to private industry in the field of home building.
It is probably true that the largest single opportunity for private industry expansion after the war is in the field of residential construction. I hope that the business interests of Pittsburgh will study this proposal from every angle, as the writer has done, and I feel sure that the conclusion will be that it is sound financially and socially.