Shadyside creeps into East Liberty territory

 

The city is now taking more drastic steps for East Liberty’s renewal and redevelopment plans, with massive constructions going on in the investor-attractive area; but already-established citizens may not be the people benefitting from them.

The area has seen, in the past few years, a resurgence of retail and business presence. Huge businesses like Target, Whole Foods, Giant Eagle Market District, and the many upscale stores in the BakerySquare complex show a positive interest in the central East Liberty area. 

All of the new stores could offer jobs and convenience to those interested. Beautiful mixed-income apartments have been built and continue to expand. Though these developments show that investors and business-owners are interested in taking their money to the East side, some sacrifices have been made and it’s certainly not from their end.

While some developments are targeted toward a mixed-income community, with the biggest developments it seems that Shady Side is spilling over into East Liberty. This raises an issue of East Liberty simply being repurposed for a new population, rather than a genuine effort to renew what was once distinct and lively about the existing community.

The historically ignorant displacement of citizens in buildings dubbed as harmful to the neighborhood, with no replacement housing to offer, alone shows the lack of a careful helping hand. Instead, these new attractions are bringing in people from the wealthy neighborhoods surrounding East Liberty—not those that have already been living there. 

The reason is simply, because much of the development is high-end and is affordable to those outside of the low-moderate income demographic of East Liberty. The adjoining neighborhoods to East Liberty (Shadyside, Friendship), according to New York Times writer Christine O’Toole, “contain the city’s wealthiest and best-educated households.”

Some city-run projects are offering benefits to nearly everyone, however. The mixed-income housing will hopefully introduce a stable housing network and family presence. The transit stop near the new target is an addition to Pittsburgh’s fairly sparse public transportation, encouraging that it is now easier to live in East Liberty and get to its attractions. City planners are now even attempting to right the wrongs of the failed mid-century attempt at adding suburbia to this urban neighborhood. The botched job that was the widening of central roads are now under construction to be turned into more effective traffic flows and the transit system is underway to be made even stronger.

To hash out the complex positive and negatives of the East Liberty development efforts happening now, Justin Strong, former owner of Shadow Lounge in East Liberty, weighed in on the issue. As a business owner for over a decade, he provided explanations on the economic changes happening on the East Side. When asked about the benefit of big corporate business moving in to revitalize an area, according to Strong, much of the economy in Pittsburgh has changed from entrepreneurial to managerial. This results in a “lack of examples of ownership,” he says. He also stresses the need for community members to become assets in their own neighborhood.

Whether intentional or unintentional—neither of these can be proven just yet—it seems the high-end push will put pressure on the lower-income areas, possibly driving out the poor when real estate prices rise. Strong explains that “there is a way for new populations and old populations to coexist.” This should be the goal. But with the types of developments happening, are city officials and urban planners paying attention to this?

East Liberty has a historically rough past with urban development efforts. In the fifties and sixties, the area underwent a revitalization effort that largely divided the neighborhood that was once a thriving business center. The real plans for this mid-century project are outlined completely in the 1960s book “Stringtown on the Pike” by John Fulton Stuart Collins, Jr. The pages are accompanied by prototype drawings of dreamy futuristic buildings “with columns and domes of shining steel.”

What changes were actually executed were mostly new community-oriented buildings, (like a Carnegie Library branch) big businesses, and suburban landscape. Some of the buildings still stand and function, but much of the change was detrimental to the neighborhood. With the excessive widening of roads and the breaking up of the close-knit businesses and housing formations, the area was essentially plucked apart. Businesses started feeling the stresses of misdirected traffic flows, their stores being passed by.

The negative effects on the community led to more projects in the 90s and 2000s, some of which caught controversy for their displacement of citizens. Chris Ivey, Pittsburgh filmmaker, created a documentary called East of Liberty on the issues after he was assigned to cover the teardown of a high rise apartment complex, East Mall. Seen as dangerous and undesirable to members of the community, the building was torn down, an event celebrated by townspeople, while its tenants were forced from their homes.

Ivey also explained in a 2010 New York Times article that the most recent retail additions and some earlier project were successful, but a tripled rent ousted many small business owners. Addressed in his documentary and still a controversial part of East Liberty’s existence is the phenomenon of gentrification, or the systematic removal of lower-income residents by those wealthy enough to buy up and transform properties.

Both sides of the argument are covered in the film—that the gentrification will bring opportunity to the area, and that it will also push out the poor and minority populations. Both seem to hold some truth, but the latter is where the issue lies. With paying so little attention to how the low-income residents get along through these developments, the cycle of poverty and crumbling neighborhoods threatens to resurface over and over.

When kicked out of their homes with little time and funds to find a fitting replacement, most of the displaced leave their community and go elsewhere to acquire affordable housing. This can result in a vicious cycle—that the next neighborhood, in this case, Larimer, which is considered almost completely blighted, becomes the next East Liberty. The poor are simply shifted over, instead of being included in community improvement decisions.

The same situation happened with tenants in earlier redevelopment projects. According to Violet Law’s Tribune Review article published in 1963, the executive director of city housing authority, Keith Kinard, was quoted saying that “relocating 300 families unrealistic” when asked about the replacement housing plans. Certainly, even if redevelopment efforts will be helpful in the future, if they are displacing citizens at that time, they cannot be considered successful.

 

 

 

 

In-person interview with Justin Strong, local business owner. Formerly East Liberty business owner. 

All photos taken by Sam Leon.

NY Times, Tribune review, Stringtown on the Pike. 

East of Liberty documentary film.

Shadyside creeps into East Liberty territory

 

The city is now taking more drastic steps for East Liberty’s renewal and redevelopment plans, with massive constructions going on in the investor-attractive area; but already-established citizens may not be the people benefitting from them.

The area has seen, in the past few years, a resurgence of retail and business presence. Huge businesses like Target, Whole Foods, Giant Eagle Market District, and the many upscale stores in the BakerySquare complex show a positive interest in the central East Liberty area.

All of the new stores could offer jobs and convenience to those interested. Beautiful mixed-income apartments have been built and continue to expand. Though these developments show that investors and business-owners are interested in taking their money to the East side, some sacrifices have been made and it’s certainly not from their end.

While some developments are targeted toward a mixed-income community, with the biggest developments it seems that Shady Side is spilling over into East Liberty. This raises an issue of East Liberty simply being repurposed for a new population, rather than a genuine effort to renew what was once distinct and lively about the existing community.

The historically ignorant displacement of citizens in buildings dubbed as harmful to the neighborhood, with no replacement housing to offer, alone shows the lack of a careful helping hand. Instead, these new attractions are bringing in people from the wealthy neighborhoods surrounding East Liberty—not those that have already been living there.

The reason is simply, because much of the development is high-end and is affordable to those outside of the low-moderate income demographic of East Liberty. The adjoining neighborhoods to East Liberty (Shadyside, Friendship), according to New York Times writer Christine O’Toole, “contain the city’s wealthiest and best-educated households.”

Some city-run projects are offering benefits to nearly everyone, however. The mixed-income housing will hopefully introduce a stable housing network and family presence. The transit stop near the new target is an addition to Pittsburgh’s fairly sparse public transportation, encouraging that it is now easier to live in East Liberty and get to its attractions. City planners are now even attempting to right the wrongs of the failed mid-century attempt at adding suburbia to this urban neighborhood. The botched job that was the widening of central roads are now under construction to be turned into more effective traffic flows and the transit system is underway to be made even stronger.

To hash out the complex positive and negatives of the East Liberty development efforts happening now, Justin Strong, former owner of Shadow Lounge in East Liberty, weighed in on the issue. As a business owner for over a decade, he provided explanations on the economic changes happening on the East Side. When asked about the benefit of big corporate business moving in to revitalize an area, according to Strong, much of the economy in Pittsburgh has changed from entrepreneurial to managerial. This results in a “lack of examples of ownership,” he says. He also stresses the need for community members to become assets in their own neighborhood.

Whether intentional or unintentional—neither of these can be proven just yet—it seems the high-end push will put pressure on the lower-income areas, possibly driving out the poor when real estate prices rise. Strong explains that “there is a way for new populations and old populations to coexist.” This should be the goal. But with the types of developments happening, are city officials and urban planners paying attention to this?

East Liberty has a historically rough past with urban development efforts. In the fifties and sixties, the area underwent a revitalization effort that largely divided the neighborhood that was once a thriving business center. The real plans for this mid-century project are outlined completely in the 1960s book “Stringtown on the Pike” by John Fulton Stuart Collins, Jr. The pages are accompanied by prototype drawings of dreamy futuristic buildings “with columns and domes of shining steel.”

What changes were actually executed were mostly new community-oriented buildings, (like a Carnegie Library branch) big businesses, and suburban landscape. Some of the buildings still stand and function, but much of the change was detrimental to the neighborhood. With the excessive widening of roads and the breaking up of the close-knit businesses and housing formations, the area was essentially plucked apart. Businesses started feeling the stresses of misdirected traffic flows, their stores being passed by.

The negative effects on the community led to more projects in the 90s and 2000s, some of which caught controversy for their displacement of citizens. Chris Ivey, Pittsburgh filmmaker, created a documentary called East of Liberty on the issues after he was assigned to cover the teardown of a high rise apartment complex, East Mall. Seen as dangerous and undesirable to members of the community, the building was torn down, an event celebrated by townspeople, while its tenants were forced from their homes.

Ivey also explained in a 2010 New York Times article that the most recent retail additions and some earlier project were successful, but a tripled rent ousted many small business owners. Addressed in his documentary and still a controversial part of East Liberty’s existence is the phenomenon of gentrification, or the systematic removal of lower-income residents by those wealthy enough to buy up and transform properties.

Both sides of the argument are covered in the film—that the gentrification will bring opportunity to the area, and that it will also push out the poor and minority populations. Both seem to hold some truth, but the latter is where the issue lies. With paying so little attention to how the low-income residents get along through these developments, the cycle of poverty and crumbling neighborhoods threatens to resurface over and over.

When kicked out of their homes with little time and funds to find a fitting replacement, most of the displaced leave their community and go elsewhere to acquire affordable housing. This can result in a vicious cycle—that the next neighborhood, in this case, Larimer, which is considered almost completely blighted, becomes the next East Liberty. The poor are simply shifted over, instead of being included in community improvement decisions.

The same situation happened with tenants in earlier redevelopment projects. According to Violet Law’s Tribune Review article published in 1963, the executive director of city housing authority, Keith Kinard, was quoted saying that “relocating 300 families unrealistic” when asked about the replacement housing plans. Certainly, even if redevelopment efforts will be helpful in the future, if they are displacing citizens at that time, they cannot be considered successful.

 

 

Sources 

In-person interview with local business owner Justin Strong

All photos taken by Sam Leon

NY Times, Tribune review, Stringtown on the Pike 

East of Liberty documentary 

Pittsburgh City Plague

He stopped in the middle of the parking lot and told me to get out. I had no answers and he no patience. I got out slowly and deliberately, trying to be the biggest asshole I could. I pushed his car door open with my boot and left with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.

My teeth were clenching harder than ever and I wish they would just crack already and fall out. Windy and cold with a wet ground- no one else was out except one young man.  He looked like he was trying to get somewhere.

I ran up the stairs, all three flights of concrete and crossed the street to the fence.  Black metal lined the bluff and I went to my favorite bench. Beads of water sat on it. I used my scarf to wipe it off.  It got caught on the splinters and threads were pulling out. But I just kept wiping until it was all dry.

If November hadn’t taken their leaves then the wind was doing it now.  Their branches wouldnt stop talking.  My cigarette ran away before I had the chance to step on it. It found shelter in a pile of dry leaves. I took out another one.

The Hollywood lights they brought from California were on the city’s yellow bridge. I’ve never seen it so bright up here. I think it was the black river and the shadowed hill across from my cliff. It blocked out half the sky, full with trees and dotted with houses. Not a star tonight. No room for both the sky’s lights and ours. Just a moon struggling through the clouds. Smoky ones tonight.

Tonight the city was loud. Tonight the machines made the noise. Tonight I was alone for a mile.

Tonight my angel fell from those smoky clouds. She landed in the black river and I never saw her in the sky again.  There wasn’t a splash; the water just accepted her.  She disappeared.  She dissipated.  No blood. No flesh. Just drowning and rest on the riverbed. I never got to tell her that I was going to visit this weekend.

Break break break. My teeth. Please.

My jaw never forgave me. Damn it.

Damn it. I killed myself in front of the river.  For good this time it is.  I cut my body and poisoned my stomach ten thousand times in my head.  It all seemed too painful and I couldn’t take any more of that.  A coward. So this time I finally died. A being of flesh and a structure of bones. The asphalt doesn’t care about it.

Neither does the black river or the black sky tonight.  They won’t take any of the material. They’ll only keep the soul of things. The goodness the real the life the ethereal.  I walked back down the stairs.

He called back to say I’m sorry. I didn’t accept. I had no words. My angel was gone.  He said goodnight three times and I waited for the line to disconnect.

She washed up on the river shore.  White flesh with a bit of blue from that black water.  Her wings were soggy and sad. Shrunken and ruined.  Dirty from the river beach. I tried to peel her lids up with my fingers but her eyes wouldn’t open. I just stood over her and looked.  I was dead too anyway.

On Religion

The matter of religion is one that should not be concerned with deities, as is so today and always has been.  Rather, the matter should be recognized and judged for its purpose.  For, at the core of religion, it will be found that its naked purpose is the seeking of truth.

The truth being chased, with religion as the vehicle, is concerned with the following: morals, the meaning of life, and the Great Mysteries of life.

The subject of morality is primarily concerned with justice.  It consists of matters in relation to person-to-person, person-society, and person-to-self.  Each different religion provides a common code of conduct, in which it is believed that an orderly society will be achieved.  With the differing codes, clashing in belief is seen as each sect attempts to transfer its belief onto physical society.  In attempt to achieve order and peace, the opposite actually takes place because each person recognizes his truth as being more true that another’s.  Here, we see the primary mistake of human reason.

The matter of the meaning of life is concerned with a person’s view of earthly happenings.  In other words, this subject is concerned with one’s view of reality.  Reality is a thing which religion in the 21st century largely leaves unmentioned.  The mystery of what our ultimate reality is remains unfound, but deserves to be examined at least.  It can be said clearly that religion in today’s age does not examine reality, but rather uses its dogma as reasoning to leave it be untouched.  The reasoning to turn one’s eye away from the mysterious realm of being is not all clear. But, above all other suggestions, it seems it may be because whatever is the “truth of reality” here on earth, may prove to be too painful.

Further, on the above suggestion, I believe the pain would be caused by a “void”.  The “void”, generally, would prove to be a lacking of what all followers of a religion hope for—a Heaven-like realm and a protecting, ultimately kind god.  In many cases, there is a worshipping and reliance in the two above-mentioned concepts.  The ideas of an omniscient, fatherly god and a utopian, absolute realm-after-death provide followers with comfort and answers.  But above the answers and solace provided is what brings me to the third aspect of religion: The Great Mysteries of life.

The belief of the classic concept of a God and Heaven relieve the believer of thought, to an extent.  With answers supported so largely and absolutely by society, a follower’s mind can rest and not worry of the Great Mysteries of life.  The Great Mysteries are essentially the Great Questions: What did humanity originate from? What drives humanity’s existence? What happens when a person dies? And maybe the most important: What is a person’s purpose in life?

Religious dogma and secular reasoning alike provide only vague hypotheses for these questions.  The vague reasoning stems from that fact that, surely, no master of academia, no person, and no manuscript has the answers.

In one instance of the folly of both religious and secular reasoning, we see the question of: What is our purpose?  Here, religion gives reason that humanity’s purpose is already planned and destined.  On the opposite hand, atheists give reason that life is omitted of any kind of purpose: that there is complete nothingness.

Conversely to both, no popular dogma settles on a different suggestion: that maybe humanity’s purpose should be to create one’s own purpose and meaning.  But, of course, this would relieve each extreme of its essence: religion of its reassurance and atheism of its intellectual-highess.

Why has this not been adopted or examined further?  It seems to go back to human nature’s original need for reassurance.  When in times of struggle and hopelessness, no person wants to create their own light—he wants to already see it.

These points show perfectly the flaw of humanity’s opinion and use of religion in the 21st Century—the fact that all persons, religious or secular, are searching for the same truths, which remain unknown to any mind.  Instead of uniting in this fact, man has divided.

The Smog and the Sounds

A soft orange glow

Lingers at my window

The glass is clouded

And I can’t see out of it

From my eight floors above the street

Where all the people are beat

And there’s not a body in here

Or mine- That has their head clear

 

I’m going to get out of this city

This is the last push

I’m afraid I must leave again

And I won’t be saying goodbye this time

 

A soft orange glow

Sits motionless at my window

And I can’t see any textures

All I know is that my head hurts

And that it’s the lights of the city

That robs the glass of its clarity

It’s the fog ridden by the city’s light

That clouds my glass tonight

 

The window is solid here

Like all the other sides of the room

There’s not a soul here beside me

Within these walls or the building

 

A soft orange glow

Mocks me from my window

And I can only feel the air and hear the sound

But I can’t tell what’s passing on the ground

Until I hear the conductor of the train

Pull his horn continually on its gain

And for once it’s not city-like or enchanting

To hear the machines always ranting

 

It’s enough to have that in my own head

The smog and the sounds

I don’t need the streets to bring me down

With their cold and their clouds

Low in Ohio

She wore that green sweater two days ago and now it’s soiled with tears. I sit beside her in the front seat–stone–as she confesses to me her fears.  She’s driving fast and digging into the wheel.

We pass a truck here and slip beside one there. We’re being reckless and young but neither of us care.

I see the water on her face and it reflects what I am today–it locks my numbness into place.  We are too unaffected by the good to have the ability appreciate.  It’s seductive and comforting to us to settle on all that we hate.

Now we’re on the road again with less luggage and heavier baggage.  In Chicago there seemed happiness, but in fact, we never had it.

We keep spinning like tops, and its seems the only way is to fall over if we want to stop.

We’re barreling home now, passing cars and barely looking around.  We’re speeding up but in Ohio we’re down.

For once I can say that I want to get out of the car and feel my weight on the ground–

To beg the dirt to take a hit for us and ask the rocks to hold out.  To appease the sky and and convince the hills to just let us hide.

But it’s useless. I know that if we can’t get the answers from ourselves then nothing will relieve us from asking why.

Why isn’t the sun good to us?  Its light doesn’t illuminate but its heat leaves us as dust.  Its shine stops before us at the car windshield as we dream of a blissful ignorance to which we wish we could yield. I see only blue and white up there and wonder what could be more pure.  I think it’s the certainty that our sickness has no cure.

So again we look on to a different city and wait for either us or our paranoia to be dead. And again I resort to letting the fullness of leaving occupy my head.  I’m thinking: I too often dream to reach the peak of that Golden Dome, that I foolishly forget that I’m returning to only my surface-home.

The boys are sleeping in the back seats, a head on each window as Grace and I fold over the radio’s sad beats.  It’s only thirty minutes into our ride–they laid like infants as Grace and I died.

Worrier’s Hymn

There once was an old man with a red canoe,

When hurting, he took himself and his boat out lacking a crew.

He took his pains out on the water and into his journal,

But made the mistake of considering them eternal.

In late July he found himself down and decided to get lost,

he pushed his boat out further and further, not thinking of the cost.

Devoured by his troubles, he didn’t realize there was no sight of land,

He sat curled up without a companion or compass on hand.

He never looked around but just sulked in heat and desolation,

When worrying, he didn’t let a thing break his concentration.

The man then noticed that he had been out for four days,

It was the thirst of his body that shook him out of his haze.

By the time he had realized what he had done,

He had already begun to feel the beating of the sun.

All the vitality in his body had dried,

And there was not a tear’s worth of water left to be cried.

The salt of the ocean had extracted everything,

Even the finger fat that held his wedding ring.

The lines drawn in his hands became deeper,

As he looked to God to become his next keeper.

The wrinkles around his stale eyes became red,

As if to warn about his sickening head.

Apollo had been silently drying him up,

He reached for his knapsack but had no use for his cup.

Plato said: “And at last he will be able to see the sun.”

I say only despair for the worrier can be won.

The planks of his canoe began to crack,

And he sank with it until the ocean turned black.