Friday, May 11, 2007

downtown Pittsburgh from the North Side of the Allegheny
River, near PNC Park and Heinz Field. On a livable day
in May.
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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

part of the old mural that is preserved in the Post Office
lobby, depicting Squirrel Hill history, Pittsburgh, PA.
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Dateline Pittsburgh

The news in Pittsburgh, PA is that the city has regained its ranking as the Most Livable City in the U.S. It is also rated elsewhere as first in the arts among cities of its size.

But the newspapers also note that it is regaining another old(er) reputation: it is now second to L.A. in air pollution. It also continues to lose population faster than any other city except New Orleans, although some claim the net loss has slowed to a draw and may soon start up the positive side.

Clearly the city finances and the county governments are hurting--another story said that federal money to attack the air quality problem had to be returned because they don't have the personnel to spend it. And in a problem familiar to my current neck of the woods, the public schools are retrenching for lack of students.

There seems to be some growth in high tech in the city, and some of its traditional corporations that are still here are doing well, notably Alcoa. The University of Pittsburgh's presence in medicine continues to expand, as they buy up hospitals and expand facilities. (This all more or less began with Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine, developed here in the 50s.) But the U. of Pittsburgh is the second largest employer in the region (my niece--fair Olivia's mother-- who works in one of the med labs tells me): the number 1 employer is Wal-Mart.

Still, in the city itself, higher education is notably expanding. Chatham College has become Chatham University, as has Point State Park U., which is buying up what used to be prime retail space downtown, apparently moving closer to the expanded Cultural District.

I haven't been downtown yet. I'm not here to study the city, but today I am stealing an afternoon in my old neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. It's reassuringly vibrant, perhaps more so than my last visit five or so years ago. Some of the familiar places of the 90s on Murray Avenue survive, including Jerry's Records--which still sells used LPs. That's where I sold a bunch of mine before I left, and where today I bought one that well could be one I sold him. Jerry was there--he said he'd thought about selling out several years ago but hesitated too long--nobody wants this kind of a business anymore. So he's here forever--"it's my home."
His best sellers are all baby boomer era. He offers turntable repair, too. But his sprawling upstairs store has given over two of its rooms to a used DVD/CD store and new digs for an old Squirrel Hill Institution, Heads Together, which started as a head shop and record store, was a , video rental, CD and bookstore in the 90s and is now just a video rental.

Most of the new businesses--several restaurants and bakeries--are in the old stone or brick buildings that have been here since the 30s or longer. (The old Post Office has refurbished the inside, but kept the building, the great old entrance, and the classic WPA mural.) But there are a few new buildings, including a major one of gleaming glass on the busy corner of Murray and Forbes Ave. Across Murray, that blue glass is echoed in the impressive new addition to the Carnegie Library branch. It's had a major innovation. No longer the sleepy little library tucked back on Forbes, it's expanded--literally 40% bigger, I was told, taking up what used to be a second floor courtyard--and is a busy, high tech library inside that looks like a more modernist Barnes and Noble.

As for the actual B& N that came in around 1995, it has driven out all the other bookstores in Squirrel Hill. I can remember five or six that are no longer there (the last one apparently just closed.) But B&N itself looks squeezed by a couple of new storefronts, including this one, which is the Big News in this area as far as I'm concerned: Panera's. It's not a chain I'd heard of before, but this is the third one I've been in--free Internet included with coffee, good baked goods at prices that would make Arcata eyes water, and sanchwiches and salads.

And air conditioned. Today it's a sunny mid 80s day, and as I walked up and down Murray Avenue I found myself recalling the restaurants still here in terms of the refuge of chilled air they offered on hot summer days. I really didn't mind the Pittsburgh winters. It was the summers that were getting to me.

Squirrel Hill, by the way, was the Jewish area of the city for several decades, and still retains a traditional Jewish presence. Pittsburgh's first ethnic groups, like the Jews and Italians, have largely moved to the suburbs. Squirrel Hill is adjacent to Oakland, home of Carnegie Mellon University and Pitt. So there's been a student presence here as long as I've been here. It originally was a hill of trees where dwelt many gray squirrels. Apparently the name goes back to Native American tribes, which would be the 17th century.

I stopped at my old apartment building, which seems run down now. That tells me that my old landlord has died. His wife was still alive when I first rented my third floor digs--the right side of the duplex. She kept a rose garden in the front. I loved that apartment. It's the best place I've lived. High off the street in front, it is built into a hill, so the back porch is almost flush with a grove of trees that harbored many birds. It's a building from the 1920s, very high ceilings and nice sized rooms. A real old world flavor to it, as there is to so much in this area, and in this city.

Monday, May 07, 2007

It's been so long since I've posted a photo of Olivia, so
here's another one.
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Blowing It Off

Update 05/08: From Daily Kos, a refutation of Bushcorps mendacious response to Gov. Sebelius, and in particular, a partial list of other states feeling the lack of National Guard personnel and equipment that will be needed in emergencies.

It's started. According to Reuter's:

A shortage of trucks, helicopters and other equipment -- all sent to the war in
Iraq-- has hampered recovery in a U.S. town obliterated by a tornado, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said on Monday.

Here I am visiting in western Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from the town where I was born, that happens to be called Greensburg. When my sister heard the first reports on the radio of devastation and death in Greensburg, she was alarmed and confused--because the weather was clear here. Of course it turned out to be another Greensburg--in Kansas. But Greensburg, PA also gets the occasional tornado, although in the past they've hit in a few defined areas around but not in the town itself. Still...

The tornado that obliterated the entire Main St. of Greensburg, Kansas and damaged or destroyed most homes was a super-tornado, with winds estimated in excess of 200 mph. It's part of a pattern: extreme. Virtually every weather event of consequence in the past year or more has been extreme, or continues to be (as in droughts.) That's been the case this spring so far across the U.S.

But in not facing up to what's happening now, let alone what's going to get worse in the future, we're unprepared. We don't have the sense to get in out of the rain. And the brutal, fatal nonsense in Iraq is just the most obvious example.

There is no doubt at all that this will slow down and hamper the recovery," Sebelius, a Democrat, told Reuters in Kansas where officials said the statewide death toll had risen to 12 on Monday. "Not having this equipment in place all over the state is a huge handicap," Sebelius said...

This could be my town in ruins, my family in need of help. It could be yours.

"We're getting pounded in Kansas. We have the need for National Guard in two different parts of our state now. This is really going to be a problem," Sebelius said.

This really is a problem.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My grand-niece Olivia, modelling the cap Margaret knitted
for her, in North Huntingdon, PA. Bk photo.
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I left Earth three times. I found no place else to go. Please take care of Spaceship Earth."

Walter M. "Wally" Schirra, U.S. astronaut
Faster, The Big Melt Comes

According to CBS:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) had said that Arctic sea ice was shrinking by as much as 5.4 percent per decade. At that rate, it could disappear entirely toward the end of this century. But new analysis from scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), both in Boulder, Colo., shows that the rate from 1953 to 2006 was more like 7.8 percent per decade. The earlier IPCC models suggested that about half the polar melting was due to global warming. The NSIDC study says greenhouse gases may play an even more significant role. "Because of this disparity, the shrinking of summertime ice is about 30 years ahead of the [IPCC] climate model projections," said Ted Scambos, an NSIDC scientist, in an article by the Bloomberg news service.