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Local anti-litter crusader gets national award

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

boriswBoris Weinstein, Pittsburgh’s leading Mister Anti-Litter Man, was honored by Keep America Beautiful at its national convention in Charlotte this evenning.
 
The Shadyside resident — a member of the Clean Pittsburgh Commission and founder of Citizens Against Litter — was chosen to receive the 2013 Iron Eyes Cody Award for his “exceptional leadership in raising public awareness about litter prevention, roadside and community beautification, solid waste issues, and the need for citizens to participate in activities that preserve and enhance natural resources and public lands,” according to KAB.
 
It has honored 20 men with this award since 1988. The national awards program honors women with the Lady Bird Johnson award among other categories.
 
Mr. Weinstein sent this statement to Walkabout:
 
"I’m overwhelmed that I have been chosen for the Keep America Beautiful Iron Eyes Cody Award. My life in retirement mirrors many of the Keep America Beautiful principals. I work to rid us of litter.”
 
“I work for a cleaner environment. I believe one person can make a difference. People who care must pick up for people who litter and don’t care.”
 
"Citizens Against Litter’s mission is to inspire residents of the Pittsburgh area to collect litter and connect neighborhoods. Keep America Beautiful sees millions of Americans who take small actions that bring about a world of change. I believe I am one of those Americans."
 

 

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A little salt goes a long way

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
roadsalt
Salt is a natural substance that is safe in small portions. Just ask your doctor. But in great concentrations, it can be hazardous to your health. Similarly, salt in big piles on streets and sidewalks can be hazardous to the health of birds, trees and other plants, aquatic life and the groundwater.
 
This photo, taken at the corner of the Boulevard of the Allies near Commonwealth Place Downtown, is what you might call a great concentration. It is a speed bump of salt right up against a drainage grate just waiting to be washed into the slurry of water that will end up at Alcosan for treatment. 
 
The piles of salt on the sidewalk are likely to drain off in the next rain into a strip of young trees that are already tightly girded by Christmas lights.
 
As we approach February with hope for mercy from another bout of painful cold, we know we will continue to see those guys with wheelbarrows out there tossing and dumping mountains of salt on sidewalks and roadways for at least another month or so. 
 
There’s a way to use de-icing road salts and there’s an obnoxious way.
 
The Journal for Surface Water Quality Professionals reports on the ramifications of excessive salt run-off based on several studies that conclude that excessive road salt causes all manner of ecological imbalance and disruption.
 
“Road salts applied to roadways can enter air, soil, groundwater, and surface water from direct or snowmelt runoff, release from surface soils, and/or wind-borne spray. These salts remain in solution in surface waters and are not subject to any significant natural removal mechanisms. Their accumulation and persistence in watersheds pose risks to aquatic ecosystems and to water quality. Approximately 55% of road-salt chlorides are transported in surface runoff with the remaining 45% infiltrating through soils and into groundwater aquifers.
 
“Exposure to NaCl inhibits some soil bacteria at concentrations as low as 90 mg/l, which ultimately compromises soil structure and thereby inhibits erosion control.
 
“Elevated sodium and chloride levels in soils create osmotic imbalances in plants, which inhibit water absorption and reduce root growth. Salt also disrupts the uptake of plant nutrients and inhibits long-term growth.
 
“Numerous studies attribute tree injury and decline to road-salt application, concluding that NaCl can cause severe injury to the flowering, seed germination, roots, and stems of roadside plant species. Damage to vegetation can occur up to 200m from roadways that are treated with deicing salts. Up to 50.8% of woody plant species are sensitive to NaCl.
 
“Damage to vegetation degrades wildlife habitat by destroying food resources, habitat corridors, shelter, and breeding or nesting sites. Behavioral and toxicological impacts to wildlife also are associated with road salts.
 
“Seed-eating birds may not be able to distinguish between road-salt crystals and the mineral grit their diets require. Laboratory studies of sparrows consuming salt particles at the upper limits of their known preference range reveal that ingestion of 0.25 NaCl particles (266 mg/kg) results in a breach of homeostasis; ingestion of 1.4 particles (1,500 mg/kg) may result in death (median lethal dose = 2.8 at 3,000 mg/kg). This means behavioral abnormalities can occur in small bird species with ingestion of a single salt particle and death can occur with ingestion of two particles.”
 
“Reports of chloride concentrations in highway runoff run as high as 19,135 mg/l. Salt tolerance of fishes ranges from 400 to 30,000 mg/l, greater than the salt concentration of seawater. A seven-day exposure of 1,000 mg/l is lethal to rainbow trout (NRC, 1991).” 
 
 
“Evergreen plants near roadways are especially vulnerable to salt spray damage. Melt water containing salts can leach into nearby soil where plants can take up the sodium and chloride ions as they resume growth in the spring. This uptake may cause stunted growth, desiccation and dieback. The accumulation of salt in soil over successive years may result in progressive plant decline and eventual death.
 
“Sodium chloride that leaches into the soil may contaminate nearby wells or groundwater supplies. Runoff may enter surface waters. Also, sodium chloride is highly corrosive to cars, buildings and some paved surfaces.”
 
Reminder News reports on two organically-based de-icing alternatives — calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) and potassium acetate.  They are biodegradable and pose little harm to vegetation but only if used as directed. Too much of these substances can run into surface water and reduce oxygen levels.
 
Remember that a little goes a long way. And we have a long way to go before the trees start to bud.
 

 

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Are we in another housing bubble?

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
Emily Badger writes in today’s Atlantic Cities about the price creep of houses vis a vis the cost of renting, which could signal a new housing bubble.
 
According to her article, “How to Tell If We’re Really Entering Another Housing Bubble,” she cites forecasters’ warnings that housing costs are out of whack as compared to rents.
 
She cites a New York Times piece by Peter Wallison, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which reads in part:
 
“Housing bubbles are measured by comparing current prices to a reliable index of housing prices. Fortunately, we have one. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has been keeping track of the costs of renting a residence since at least 1983; its index shows a steady rise of about 3 percent a year over this 30-year period. This is as it should be; other things being equal, rentals should track the inflation rate. Home prices should do the same. If prices rise much above the rental rate, families theoretically would begin to rent, not buy.
 
Housing bubbles, then, become visible — and can legitimately be called bubbles — when housing prices diverge significantly from rents.”
 
The Atlantic Cities procedes from there:
 
“Over the last two years,” he writes, “this has begun to happen again. From 2011 through the third quarter of 2013, housing prices grew by 5.83 percent. Rental costs grew by just 2 percent.”
 
The article quotes other experts who point out that what may look like a bubble on a graph that measures rents vs. mortgages might actually be a correction from the late 1980s, when interest rates were historically high compared to rates that are now historically low.
 

 

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East Liberty has no parking woes

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

eastlibertyparking 

 Ask anyone in a destination neighborhood what the biggest headache is and if she doesn’t say, “Ohmigod, parking,” she says , “Ohmigod traffic.” It usually always comes down to where to put your blasted car.
 
But here’s a news flash: East Liberty has a surplus of parking pretty much any time of day, any day. If your only experience trying to park in EL is driving around and around the Whole Foods lot, you might be as surprised as I am.
 
It just goes to show that you sometimes do need a study.
 
After several public meetings last fall,the phase 1 (walkability accessibility and parking) draft report of East Liberty's Circulation and Mobility Action Plan is out now with some interesting data that suggest that even with new developments coming on line this year and next, there is enough parking if it were shared and there will be enough, if shared, for the next 10 years.
 
Zoning requirements of parking maximums have been lashed to the whipping posts by urban advocates who promote planning for a future with fewer cars. Whether zoning minimums would forge a future of fewer cars is another day’s discussion.
 
Some points from the report:
 
+ Approximately 1,700 parking spaces are 
unoccupied at noon during weekday peak 
conditions; 
 
+ If these unoccupied spaces were replaced 
with structured parking, the spaces would 
cost $25M+ to construct, not including land 
costs; 
 
+ These unoccupied spaces consume 10 
acres of space in the district. 
 
+ Everyday these unoccupied spaces are 
underutilized and zoning requirements 
mandate that new development add to the 
supply;
 
+ Businesses, including restaurants, are driving 
parking demand on the weekend like the 
weekday; 
 
+ During the weekend peak there are more 
than 2,700 spaces unoccupied, about 1,000 
more vacant spaces than weekday peak 
conditions; 
 
+ Approximately 3,400parking spaces are 
unoccupied during weekend evening peak 
conditions. 
 
Some conclusions from the report:
 
"A significant amount of unoccupied spaces (surplus of parking supply) exists during peak weekday and weekend conditions; 
 
“The issue is not a lack of supply, rather it is the lack of access to the available supply. There are physical and programmatic barriers to parking; but perhaps even more importantly [sic] there is a perception of lack of access.” 
 

 

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Fire Site: hot topic for a cold night

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
polishhill1Thirty hardy denizens of Polish Hill and a few others turned out last night for the “Fire Site” planning meeting at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in North Oakland. Representatives of the Program for Deliberative Democracy also attended.
 
Deliberative democracy is what architects Pfaffmann + Associates and their collaborative developer, Ernie Sota of Sota Construction and Green Services, are trying to achieve by letting people who live in Polish Hill have a say in what gets built on the site between Brereton and Dobson Streets where several buildings burned in a 2007 fire. The Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp. owns the 7,300 square-foot site.
 
Rob Pfaffmann (shown in photo below) led a workshop of people who considered the space in 3-D, moving pink building blocks (see photo above) of different sizes and shapes to represent three-story homes with pitched roofs, two stories with garages, apartments with outdoor terraces and gardens.
 
There’s room for 10 apartments, but Pfaffmann allowed for “three to 10.” Density is Polish Hill’s tradition but it may not be its future. Building on a slope that’s 18 feet higher on Brereton than it is on Dobson can be expensive, but because of that, density would make sense.
 
“We want single family houses,” said one woman, who apparently didn’t speak for everyone.
 
“I would lean away from families,” said one young participant in the Uses & User workshop. “We need spaces where people can interact.”
 
Architect Carl Bergamini suggested a use that would merge two Polish Hill demographics — those who are young and just starting out and those who want to age in place there. Both need affordability. 
 
The hardest part of the Fire Site project might not be to reach a consensus but to build to that consensus. The emerging demographic — 20 and 30-somethings — have expressed a desire for creative space. Many across all age groups want retail. In a perfect world there would be more small retail in neighborhoods but in a perfect world, small businesses are adequately supported by their neighborhoods.
 
Plus the developer has to calculate what will bring him the best return. There’s no perfect being handed out anywhere that I know of and charity isn't why people wade into this stuff.
 
“I can’t think of a single retail that would be viable” on the site, one participant said. “We couldn’t even support a butcher shop.”polishhill2
 
The participants went through development consultant Tom Hardy’s pro forma workshop to learn about the costs of development. Roughly 70 percent of a total project cost is for construction. Other costs are what they call “soft” -- for architects, attorneys, insurance, appraisals, loan interest, financing, permits, water connections, marketing, site engineering, soil tests, sales commissions, transfer taxes... 
 
.... runarounds, delays, bureaucracies, surprises — whoops! water and sewer nightmares, please share on facebook; whoops, that money we were counting on? It just backed out; back to square 2 — oh, and don’t forget that every developer needs variances.
 
The rule of thumb to keep in mind when you are pondering the pros and cons is $120 per square foot. That’s roughly $8.7 million for the Fire Site.
 
Jumpin’ jack jetskis, Batman. It must so totally be worth the hassle.
 

 

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