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Saturday essay: Commanding failure

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

The good news is that government officials in Pittsburgh finally have declared the Era of Revitalizing the Golden Triangle with Big Box Anchor Retailers to be over (although everybody else knew it to be over years ago). The bad news is that Pittsburgh officials still suffer from the fatal conceit that government can command the marketplace to serve its vision du jour.

The 12-year tenure of former Mayor Tom Murphy was a textbook example of Command Economics Failure 101. Think Lord & Taylor. Think Lazarus. Think of almost bulldozing a large swath of the triangle. Now, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says the government plan is to create an “urban village” atmosphere, offering amenities and an ambiance not to be found in the suburbs.

That's all well and good — in theory. But it remains a government central plan, one that by the very nature of government central planning is doomed to failure — and usually on the backs of taxpayers and to the perversion of the marketplace.

Having the 21st-century iteration of the 18th-century butcher, baker and candlestick maker certainly is attractive — if it develops naturally and, dare the word be used, organically. Think of the Strip District and the South Side (sans the Southside Works) or even Bloomfield and Brookline, for that matter.

Indeed, government can facilitate such eclecticism and funkiness — not by attempting to command the marketplace but by getting out of the way. It's a lesson Mr. Ravenstahl and others would be wise to heed but, conceited as they are, never will.

—Colin McNickle

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