September 1, 2016
By Jackie Smith

Pittsburgh’s economic re-development has earned it the reputation as a “most livable city.” But growing numbers of residents ask, “livable for whom?” It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the reality of a growing divide between two Pittsburghs—one affluent, professional, and largely white, and the other low-income people with long-term roots in the region, largely people of color. Despite the links between economic growth and urban diversity, Pittsburgh continues to have the whitest metro area among large U.S. cities. It also has higher than national average rates of racial disparities in poverty, unemployment, and educational outcomes. Gentrification has displaced more than 20,000 African Americans from Pittsburgh over recent years, and the city’s development plans have failed to provide adequate affordable housing. There is currently a deficit of roughly 20,000 affordable housing units. For many, this constitutes a “housing crisis.”

What is happening in Pittsburgh, however, is not unique to this city. Nor are the responses that are emerging. Patterns of growth, rising inequality, increased economic and racial segregation, and displacement of poor and especially African American residents are, according to many analysts, the direct result of global processes that have turned cities into “growth machines.” The growing commodification of urban spaces privileges external investors and markets over the needs of residents for whom the city is primarily a place to live and work, exacerbating inequalities and conflict in cities around the world. The Housing Summit will provide space for participants to learn more about the solutions that have emerged, not just in Pittsburgh but also around the world, to address the lack of affordable housing.

The University-Community Housing Summit will take place at the University of Pittsburgh November 10-12th. It is being co-sponsored by Pitt’s Global Studies Center, Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, Hill District Consensus Group, Human Rights City Alliance, University Human Rights Network, Pittsburgh Homes for All Coalition, United Steelworkers, Casa San Jose, and the Department of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. It will provide a space for residents to come together with organizers and experts from around the world to learn about and discuss the global and local forces affecting people’s access to affordable housing and the efforts to redress them. A series of public lectures, panels, workshops and cultural events will facilitate learning and networking aimed at highlighting the human right to housing on the public and policy agenda while advancing new thinking and community organization that can help Pittsburgh residents realize this basic human right. A neighborhood tour is planned for Friday, November 11th, with visits to Pittsburgh’s most impacted neighborhoods.

Keynote speaker Mindy Fullilove, author of Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It, will kick off the event on Thursday, November 10th. Fullilove’s book profiles stories from Pittsburgh’s Hill District residents during earlier waves of displacement and community disruption, which Fullilove argues has caused long-lasting trauma—“root shock”—for both individuals and communities. As part of the Summit, organizers are facilitating book discussions of Root Shock and other selected books addressing themes of globalization, displacement/immigration, and human rights. Plans for synergistic activities to complement the Summit and highlight its themes are being encouraged, and the Summit website will provide resources, such as book discussion guides and an annotated film list, for community groups to host such activities. Volunteers are needed to help with outreach and other tasks. (Send email to pghrights@riseup.net). Learn more at: www.housingsummit.wikispaces.com.


Jackie Smith is a professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and co-coordinator of the Human Rights City Alliance (www.pghrights.org). Her research and activism focuses on global economic and social justice and human rights.