Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Burgh Diaspora

pittsburgh-west-end

Pittsburgh from the West End Overlook. (Photo: Ronald C. Yochum Jr./Wikimedia Commons)

Gentrification Is in the Eye of the Beholder

• May 12, 2014 • 2:00 AM

Pittsburgh from the West End Overlook. (Photo: Ronald C. Yochum Jr./Wikimedia Commons)

Lessons from Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

The market faithful blame a rise in population. The Marxist faithful blame the powers that be. Concerning gentrification, both are wrong. The conundrum named “Cleveland”:

While the gritty city center had for decades struggled to revitalize, now a surge in demand from a generation of 20-somethings wary of owning a home and interested in urban living has pushed apartment vacancy down to about 5%, with rents rising.

By 2015, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance projects that the area will have 7,071 residential units, up from 2,881 in 2000. That includes nearly 600 units in seven office-to-apartment conversions that are under way—the most ever at one time for the city. …

… Until recently, K&D focused on the suburbs around Cleveland, eschewing the downtown because rents were low. But in 2008, after seeing some growing demand from young renters, the company bought 668 Euclid, a mostly-vacant office building that had once been a department store. K&D converted the building to 236 luxury apartments aimed at young professionals who work downtown. At the time, the economy was reeling and Mr. Price braced for a slow reception. Instead, the building leased up quickly. “We were moving people in as fast as we could finish the units,” he says. “We built it—they came.”

Emphasis added. “The rental market is very tight, with lots of demand,” is not a comment anyone expects to be made about the urban core of Cleveland. The city struggles with population decline and residential vacancies. Yet there it is in the Wall Street Journal, gentrification pressure building up downtown and displacing office space.

There are two tensions in play for a Rust Belt city such as Cleveland. First, not all dying cities fail to support industry downtown. Thinking about renting real estate for your cool software company in Pittsburgh? Get in line:

Various measures of success define a metro area and one of the best is that companies want to do business there. That’s more than a feel-good notion — it’s quantifiable in office vacancy rates. The market doesn’t lie and what it says about Pittsburgh is a compliment.

In the fourth quarter of 2013 the office vacancy rate fell to 8.1 percent, says Colliers International, a real estate firm, making it one of the lowest in the nation, which has a rate of just under 12 percent.

Downtown is among the desirable spots, with a 10.5 percent vacancy rate. For the choicest spaces, Class A, the rate is only 7.4 percent.

Pittsburgh has an office space shortage downtown. Downtown Cleveland has an office space glut. Thus, converting office space into residential space in Cleveland makes sense. Lest you think that Pittsburgh wants for urban core residents (tension number two), go fish:

NerdWallet, a San Francisco company that offers financial recommendations on personal finances, said there are several reasons that Pittsburgh’s rise in rent is outpacing New York City’s. Pittsburgh has a lower cost of living than New York City, which has consistently been expensive. A rise of $120 per unit in Pittsburgh is a larger percentage than a rise of $196 in New York City. While New York has been an economic superpower for the past century, burgeoning cities such as Pittsburgh are growing incredibly quickly, becoming economies that can compete with tech giants such as New York City and San Francisco. Google recently signed a lease to expand its Pittsburgh offices, and Carnegie Mellon’s Robert Mehrabin Collective Innovation Center counts Apple, Disney and Intel Research Lab as its tenants. Pittsburgh’s growing industries are a factor in the city’s rising rent prices, and the city’s status as a budding tech hub has attracted workers. The presence of several high-quality universities in Pittsburgh (which steadily churn out educated job seekers each year, many of whom stay in the city), a comparatively low cost of living for a big city and the presence of other growing companies have attracted businesses to the area as well. In the future, residents will likely see a rise in rent prices to correspond with future economic growth.

Residential rents in Pittsburgh are rising faster than those in New York City. To review, dying Pittsburgh with its demographic decline has a supply shortage in office and residential space, which are driving up rents in both sectors of the market. Why? Those writing about gentrification, whether journalist or scholar, have no idea.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 1 • 2:00 PM

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?

The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows. Yet the “aging out” experience of the majority is ignored by treatment providers and journalists.


October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription With Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


Follow us


Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.