‘Are You Kidding Me?’ Awards for November


1. The “Big Con” award for fooling some of the people all of the time.

Awarded to Walnut Capital for persuading Pittsburgh’s urban hipsters that putting some bright colors on barracks-like buildings counts as “luxury living”. My friends and I cannot decide whether Walnut Capital developments resemble spruced up college dorms or UK council housing. In any case, other developers have followed the same path, pawning off burnished warehouses and austere living spaces as hyper-modernist. Hipster Bill Peduto has dubbed this trend “industrial chic”; we call it a most profitable scam on a most gullible group.

Second place is a permanent award to the Pittsburgh Steelers for persistently extracting the most from the tax payers and ticket holders, while giving the least back to the community.

2. The “How dare they!” highly outraged award for calling out the few while ignoring the many.

November’s award goes to Post-Gazette writer Robert Zullo for publicly shaming 43 Pittsburgh public housing tenants who exceed the income ceilings established by the Housing Authority. Zullo is appalled that those breaking the rules are depriving some of the 1,960 people on the waiting list for a place in public housing.

A spokesperson for the housing authority points out that the 43 represent less than 2% of public housing tenants and that those exceeding the ceiling pay close to market rate, based on the Authority’s income-based sliding scale.

This does not appease Zullo who cares deeply about those denied low-income housing.

Or does he?

If the 43 are in fact nearly 2% of the tenants currently occupying public housing, that means that there are nearly as many waiting as there are housed. Is that not the greater tragedy? Does not the fact that the Housing Authority can only help a little more than half of those in need of housing count as a disgrace? The real outrage in this story?

Doesn’t that fact deserve an exposé?

Zullo’s sense of proportion or lack thereof allows him to condemn 43 anonymous people whose circumstances remain unknown to him. At the same time, he callously passes over the appalling lack of housing for over a thousand people.

3. The University of Pittsburgh weird science award.

Two tragic deaths in the greater Oakland area spurred a graduate student in bio-engineering to conduct a traffic experiment by trudging up to the 36th floor of the Cathedral of Learning, aiming his cell phone at Forbes Avenue, and recording 10 minutes of traffic. Undoubtedly, 10 minutes of late afternoon Friday traffic counts as a representative sample to someone in the upper reaches of higher learning. But a representative sample of what?

The enterprising graduate student authenticated his study by running the recording through a “computer program” to determine auto speeds. He offered no margin of error for his procedure, though he regretted not having a radar gun (devices which generally have a margin of error +/- 2 mph).

Ten minutes… cell phone camera…open source program… height of 440 feet… none of which deterred the ambitious scientist from drawing an ominous conclusion: some drivers (maybe many, the report doesn’t tally the total number of cars observed) driving on Forbes Avenue exceed the posted 25 miles per hour speed limit, roughly the top speed of an NFL wide receiver.


To my mind, this study is as weighty as my own 15 minute study of drivers-while-texting who pass through the intersection of Forbes and Braddock, my repeated observation of bikes flying through an intersection in my neighborhood, or my 12 minute research on student pedestrians crossing Fifth Avenue in Oakland while viewing their smart phones. But unlike my equally rigorous research, this study caught the attention of the Post-Gazette. The newspaper ran two (2) articles (November 19 and 21) showcasing the Cathedral of Learning experiment.

Confronted with this pioneering study, luminaries stepped up: the assistant director of Oakland Planning and Development noted its importance; Bike Pittsburgh posted and praised the study; and the Mayor’s spokesperson acknowledged the study while putting in a plug for the latest unneeded Rube Goldberg scheme: the Oakland-Downtown Bus Rapid Transit project.

We applaud them all for their commitment to fact-based deliberation just as we applaud the Post-Gazette for bringing this landmark, rigorous research to our attention.

-Greg Godels


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