Tuesday, March 02, 2010

NYT on the East Liberty Redux

New York Times' Square Feet real estate column focuses in on the current state of Eastside East Liberty: Slumbering Pittsburgh Neighborhood Reawakens. Great article, though I might be biased a bit.  I would only take exception to the headline the editors put with it.  There's good and bad, but has East Liberty really ever been 'slumbering'?

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.


Blogger joe said...

Someone should create a web form version of that 1983 survey and refield it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 7:53:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Find me a funder and it's a done deal. Not just East Liberty, but we have extensive neighborhood surveys for the entire city from back then that are still classic pieces. Just not the type of thing people are willing to pay for these days. Some things are cheaper on the web, but the questions and populations we would really want to get at would be the least accessible digitally of course.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 7:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Nitpicker said...

Wow, they had to typewrite reports in 1983. Guess that's why they misspelled "premiere" in the first sentence.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 8:46:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...


Wednesday, March 03, 2010 8:52:00 AM  
Blogger n'at said...

potato, potatoe...

East Liberty was highly mixed socio-economically with an Italian undercurrent of commerce, as I can recall. In a broad sense, there was enough business to attract folks from outside the adjacent neighborhoods - as it is becoming once again today. However, as Hyperboy elucidates in East of Liberty Part II, there was a sufficient cluster of businesses which were sustained by the local population: pet store, clothing store(s), etc, though were not patronized by folks beyond the adjacent neighborhoods.

Those businesses are being driven out, and are not necessarily being replaced with inkind commerce or market opportunities, but the area is receiving a significant increase in lower and middle class service jobs. However, the people which could use the job, have been uprooted and cast to the four winds.

Penn Avenue was approaching a critical mass of street vendors - almost bazaar like - up until the Eastside development opened.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 9:31:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of East Liberty and spelling, why do we spell the street "Centre"? Are we trying for some kind of Euro cool. Should we get ALCOA to misspell aluminum?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 9:36:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Bring back Bolan's

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous DBR96A said...

I don't know that the people who have been displaced have been "cast to the four winds" necessarily. There are plenty of neighborhoods nearby like Garfield, Friendship and Larimer that have inexpensive housing. Outside city limits, Wilkinsburg is the same way. All can access East Liberty easily.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of neighborhoods, I was very amused to learn where Bob Pease grew-up. If he is still living, he is the only Pittsburgher I know of who was raised in my home county.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 2:18:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Bob Pease is around and writing a book last I heard. Probably on all that history and more.

Atkinson, Neb????

I can't say I know him myself, but certainly have enough mutual friends if you want to get in touch with him let me know.

but man... where is Jim R. there has to be a migration story or two in that.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 2:37:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Same county, not the same town. I didn't know of anybody with that name and nobody from my family lived in the area until he was already running the URA.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 2:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

So far the development in East Liberty has been undertaken by Pittsburgh companies; Mosites, Walnut Capital, nowall.

Will the continued press on low to nil vacancy rates mean an influx of (roofers and) out of town developers?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 5:34:00 PM  
Anonymous DBR96A said...

With zero commercial vacancy in Oakland, East Liberty has a golden opportunity to build office space. It'll take the pressure off Oakland, and it'll ensure that the greater East End continues to revitalize itself.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 6:15:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Maybe I'll add Pease to the "Notable Natives" section of the Wikipedia page for Atkinson. If nobody has booted Miss Nebraska, I'm guessing he counts as notable.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 7:26:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Adding Wiki stuff was not as hard as I thought. I'll have to remember to use it only for good or when I'm at a public computer.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

and I don't know the history of Centre vice Center. Someone ask Potter maybe for a "You had to ask" column in the CP. Hopefully it's a better explanation than why we have a Bethoven Street. (no 'sic' needed).

Thursday, March 04, 2010 8:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mass LOLz at classifying Friendship as "one of the city's wealthiest and best educated neighborhoods." Friendship's a lovely place to live but I would hardly describe it thus. Ummm let's get real, it IS the home of Brian and Cooper's.

I just rewatched the East of Liberty documentary and what kept running through my mind was - I wonder what Shadyside will be like in 20 years. There are only so many rich people to go around.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 9:37:00 PM  

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