Thursday, January 26, 2012

Monroeville -- Protectorate of the East

Back in the days of the Roman and Greek empires, outlying cities would be the scouts for the main cities of Rome and Athens. If trouble was brewing, they would send scouts to the main city to report on it.

Fast forward to the 1980's and 90's and people were fleeing from the main cities to the suburbs, accelerating a trend started in the 1960's known as White Flight, when the white middle class abandoned the urban areas of America.

Due to better services and lower tax rates, Pittsburgh is no stranger to this phenomenon. As I was going to a seminar last week in Monroeville, it dawned on me that Pittsburgh has 4 major population/commercial nodes on each point of the compass surrounding the city. Today's post will be about Monroeville, our gateway to the East. Gateway is ironic in the usage there, as that is also the name of the school district that serves Monroeville.

As a child growing up in the North Hills during the 1980's, my parents frequently dragged me to the Monroeville Mall when they wanted to go to a "nice mall". This was pre-Ross Park Mall opening in 1987. Many a Sunday was spent in the back of my parents car driving Allegheny River Boulevard, Lime Hollow Road, Rodi Road, and then business 22.

I go to Monroeville on work related reasons about twice a year now and view it in a whole different prism, now from a land development/urban planning perspective. Monroeville is stuck. They're stuck between the "dying on the vine" big box mall complexes, rapidly becoming dinosaurs and the newer sleeker strip malls that serve a younger, tech-savvy population.

There was a pretty interesting looking new strip mall with a gym and an AT&T store on one end of Monroeville, replete with a lot of glass and aluminum cladding. But it was the exception and not the rule in this slip-shod of a design business district. A driver's eyes are visually raped as you move from the Turnpike down Business 22 and into Wilkens Township. There are practically no trees, tons of garish signs at varying heights, and strip malls stacked on big boxes intertwined in chain restaurants. And that doesn't even get into the abomination of the old Expo Mart and Monroeville Mall, both criminally underutilized at this point. I won't even start a rant about how pedestrian unfriendly Monroeville is, either.

Monroeville is trying, though. I did notice a small stretch of decorative street lights in front of one re-developed mall. The old Wickes Furniture is now a halfway-decent Convention Center with a Doubletree right next door. Monroeville is a by-product of the 60's and 70's, so it's change to at least the early 2000's will take some time.

Losing Westinghouse's massive operation to Cranberry (an upcoming Protectorate post) probably stung Monroeville a bit in terms of income taxes and business taxes. Hopefully Monroeville has heard of this new thing called "green design" and incorporates that into any potential re-designs.


  1. I haven't thought of the friggin' Expo Mart in years. Went to a couple comic conventions there, once upon a time.

    A buddy of mine and I got an idea for a monthly shot down by Jim Shooter in on of the conference rooms. Good times. :)

  2. Shooter must have been too busy at work on The Pitt or starting up New Universe to bother with....ya know...good ideas.

    I'm sure your idea was better than StarBrand or DP7.

    Yikes...I really just peeled back the curtain on my comic nerddom.