NYT on the East Liberty Redux
Christine O covers all the bases on where we are at these days in East Liberty. Hard to separate the neighborhood's present from its past. Few urban renewal schemes have passed East Liberty by over the years. Even if there is some recent success to talk about, it has been a poster child for nearly every failed urban redevelopment fad for a half century or longer. I for one remember East Liberty as the pseudo pedestrian mall which was as much a failure here as the urban pedestrian mall fad was most everywhere else in the US. Some of the best history is Dan Fitzpatrick's series on the whole history of redevelopment in the neighborhood. And as mentioned in the article there are of course Chris Ivey's more recent documentaries for perspective.
Honestly, few things are as complicated as the history of East Liberty and you get a feel for that in the few inches of ink Chris had for that piece. There's good, bad and the ugly all in there.
No doubt it is an interesting time. The Eastside developments are doing well. The relocation of Google has everyone talking. The intention to finally put back the street grid people thought getting rid of was such a good idea at the time (the ultimate GOBI) will be a great improvement when it happens. Trader Joe's and soon a Target all make East Liberty a very different place than it was in recent decades past. Yet when we get a data dump of new population numbers from the census in just about a year from now, one of the first things we will obsess on is the first hard data on population changes in our neighborhoods. I suspect that one of the headlines will be that despite all those points of commercial success, East Liberty is going to rank near the top across the entire region in terms of sheer population loss over the decade.
Where those folks all went is part of a story we don't talk about much. When the Lower Hill District was demolished a half century ago, a big chuck of the population displaced wound up in East Liberty I am pretty sure, shunted into the large project housing that people also thought was a solution. When that same group found themselves forced out of that housing now mostly demolished, it means we have repeatedly dislocated the same families over multiple generations. For a city that prides itself on the continuity of its neighborhoods, and the good things that flow from that, it is worth keeping in mind that some folks have experienced the very opposite version of Pittsburgh.
and yes it really all does go back to Skybus. A perfectly fine line in the article that may sound funny to native Yinzers is when it describes Eastside as running along "express bus lanes — known to Pittsburghers as a busway — to downtown". What? The world is not aware of what a 'busway' is? No they are not actually and our extensive use of express bus lanes was once quite novel. Of course that busway is only there because it was once intended to be a rapid transit line; the non-existance of which is collateral damage from the failure of Skybus. So add in a failed regional transit strategy to the whole East Liberty story.
update: Mike follows up on this and more.
Just one piece of East Liberty ephemera I have scanned:
From 1983 the East Liberty Image Study.