By: Nijah Glenn
Local film documentarian Chris Ivey is the creator of East Of Liberty, which chronicled the very beginning of recent gentrification in East Liberty. I asked Chris about the gentrification of the East Side, his inspiration for the film, and where the community can go from here.
How do you define gentrification?
Depends on how you see it. In certain ways, it can be in a community that’s rundown. In communities that are left alone, the property value goes down. Many communities are left alone until people with money return and buy up the area. And then the people around [those areas] are not able to stay because they can’t afford the new rent or the taxes. [Gentrification] doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it depends on the intentions of the developers and the investors. They’re nothing like the people there who are experiencing it. A lot of them don’t want to relate. They hope things will go away. I see some effort from the current city administration to address it, but it’s too little, too late.
Personally, what was it that bothered you about the gentrification in East Liberty?
I think when there was not a lot of community input and a lot of things happened behind closed doors. There’s been talk about “bringing back” East Liberty; even the shopping area is catered to a white community. Even when we talk about Homewood, we talk about how it was an Italian neighborhood and they want to get back to that in a lot of ways. It’s in the way developers act. I just don’t see open dialogue without agendas . The secrecy is the one thing I hate about it all. This is the same problem, “We know what’s best for you even though we don’t know you or want to live around you.” A lot of times I feel like things are already in motion, and the developers get defensive when people share their thoughts and concerns. Also, at these community meetings, a lot of people are working and much of the community is not in attendance. I think developers have learned lessons about how to do it better through trial and error but, you know, they all know what they’re doing.
Do you think gentrification parallels other instances of unfairness in communities?
Yeah, you can see it easily. I think about how Friendship, like a decade ago, had a public school and when it became a Montessori school, they moved those kids to Fort Pitt. And then, they closed the school. I think about Google’s proposal for free wireless at East Liberty Gardens–it’ll be for the next people who move into the area, once they build up Larimer around Google.
What benefits, if any, have displaced people received?
The people who were displaced were promised housing, but developers didn’t really keep track of the people being displaced. Recently they’ve made an effort, but it has to be for affordable housing. You have people who now have to pay $1200, $1300 to stay in the area they’re from. Ultimately, the community doesn’t benefit. Everybody wants to play god, and it hurts other people.
What impact do you think being displaced/neglected has on children, seeing this wealth built around them that they cannot partake in?
The people making the changes don’t care, of course, because it’s not their kids and the kids don’t look like them, period. They didn’t give a damn about the kids in [New Orleans’] Ninth Ward who were out of school for months. Developers were talking about building the city, but not the Ninth Ward. After the hurricane, they thought about how they could take advantage of it. Outside of teachers and counsellors, people don’t want to deal with people. They care about how much they can get out of it. I remember this one developer talking about his legacy. When your legacy is built upon closing small black businesses and renting properties at $2000 a month, you know they know what they’re doing and they don’t care.
With the way these developments are going, can we stop gentrification in this area? Can we stop local culture from being destroyed?
It’s easy to stop it; it’s the intention. Everyone is engaging people to a certain point, but the developers are not really involved. It should not have taken this long. Gentrification doesn’t always have to be a bad thing; it’s just the people making changes don’t always care. Some of them are selfish. That’s what pisses me off. They’re so wrapped up in image; they can always sweep it [the negative] away until it’s too late to act.
Nijah Glenn is a third year biology major, a TMC intern, and a member of The NewPeople Editorial Collective.