By Michael Calhoun
Pittsburgh is iconic these days for the robust comeback that has been coursing through the city since the decline of the steel industry. With “Eds and Meds” revitalizing the Pittsburgh economy, providing hundreds of jobs to people at every level of education, there is no contesting the fact that Pittsburgh has rebounded in spectacular fashion. But accompanying that renewed development, another force has started to shape Pittsburgh’s communities: gentrification.
East Liberty, Lawrenceville, Shadyside, Manchester, Garfield; all communities that are known for their respective stages of gentrification. A business in East Liberty has recently come under fire for attempting to market their restaurant as a hip-hop themed fried chicken restaurant, which many see as a tactless move in a neighborhood struggling with a changing identity. Virginia Young from Very Smart Brothas notes that there is “nothing inherently wrong with white people appreciating fried chicken,” but that the restaurant will be located in an area historically known as a “nexus of Black culture” that has seen many Black-owned businesses forced to move out due to economic hardship, which continues in Pittsburgh communities today. In a town hall meeting from earlier this year, Reverend Earl Baldwin Jr. announced that due to economic reasons he is being forced to close down his barber shop on the North Side, Hallelujah Anyhow, that focused on saving black youths by giving them heart-to-heart talks about how to control their anger in altercations.
An interesting nuance to Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods is the locations where gentrification is taking place. Take the communities of Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Friendship, and Garfield, for example. According to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Community Profiles created by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban and Social Research, in 2015, the average house price in central Lawrenceville was $201,765, while East Liberty was $172,573, Bloomfield was $183,094, Stanton Heights was $113,837, and Friendship was $343,199. Meanwhile Garfield, which is surrounded by all of these neighborhoods, had an average house price of only $59,419, showing that Garfield’s economic state is not quite at their level. This entire area of Pittsburgh felt deep economic hardship in the latter quarter of the 20th century, but what has helped some neighborhoods bounce back is the placement of hospitals in this area. Central Lawrenceville has the Children’s Hospital of UPMC, and Bloomfield has Western Pennsylvania Hospital, both of which have definitively reanimated the economics of these communities, with a substantial amount of overflow into some of the surrounding communities. While these hospitals are undoubtedly a boon for these communities, for places like Garfield, which are down the street from both facilities, there is apparently little positive effect. Additionally, the communities of Lawrenceville and Bloomfield have had their fair share of gentrification due to the influx of medical personnel taking up residences in these areas, spurning a change of demographics and industry in these communities.
Gentrification is not unique to Pittsburgh, but understanding the nuances of the phenomenon in relation to Pittsburgh’s overall economic changes is the crucial first step in learning how to foster growth in responsible and compassionate ways for all.