City of Pittsburgh reverses the inner-city decline


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The City of Pittsburgh has managed to reverse the inner-city decline. New Cities Foundation speaks to the Director of the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture about the changes.

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City of Pittsburgh reverses the inner-city decline

  1. 1. How do you take a post-industrial city and reverse the trend of suburbanization? Many ofAmerica‟s industrial cities, which stretch from the Northeast to the Great Lakes and Plains,have grappled with a changing post-industrial landscape for decades, which was led by amigration away from city center to suburbs.The City of Pittsburgh, however, has managed to reverse the inner-city decline. New CitiesFoundation speaks to the Director of the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie MellonUniversity‟s School of Architecture about the changes.Don Carter has written on the transformation of Pittsburgh from an industrially based city toa prime example of a technologically based one with a thriving core population.He has worked with his firm, Urban Design Associates, on three projects in Crawford Square(Hill District); Summerset (Squirrel Hill); and Liberty Park (East Liberty) to create walkableneighborhoods and healthy communities within Pittsburgh‟s East Liberty neighborhood.Carter grew up in the culturally diverse neighborhood of East Liberty, which saw gradualdecline throughout the 1960s and 70s as people moved from the inner city to the suburbs.He has previously lectured and published internationally on urban design and architectureand serves on the board of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.“Good people with good intentions created the 1960s destruction of East Liberty,” he says.“Urban redevelopment was the rage then across the country, based on urban design theoriesthat were inappropriate, such as massive demolition, ring roads, and pedestrian malls.“The three Pittsburgh neighborhoods that suffered the most were East Liberty, the Lower HillDistrict, and central North Side. Fortunately, some of the bones of East Liberty were leftintact, and new interventions, such as the East Side project and Liberty Park, have begun torevitalize the neighborhood after 40 years of decline.”Attempting to mimic suburban development, local and regional leaders in the 1960sdeconstructed the tightly knit urban fabric of East Liberty to make way for large one-storyretail buildings and wide access roads. According to the East Liberty DevelopmentIncorporation (ELDI), neighborhood streets and entire blocks of houses and commercialproperty were demolished and replaced by a highway-sized ring road called Penn Circle andvast parking lots around the commercial core.The central streets of the business district were converted into a pedestrian mall. More than1,000 rental apartment units were built to anchor each end of the business district, replacinga long tradition of neighborhood home ownership. Bulldozers outpaced new construction,leaving a net loss of one million square feet of real estate.East Liberty PlanThe current East Liberty community plan continues work begun in the 1980s to revive thearea and includes a comprehensive housing strategy that reweaves neighborhood fabricthrough a variety of mixed-income alternatives to provide housing for all, improvedtransportation infrastructure, and connectivity to drive development and youth andcommunity engagement.Many of the improvements are focused on making East Liberty a “healthy community.” Cartersays that we are rediscovering what it is that makes a community viable: “Healthycommunities are walkable, compact, mixed-use, mixed-income, served by transit, and closeto nature (parks and trails). The irony is that we had those neighborhoods all along – ourhistoric neighborhoods designed and built before WW II and before suburban sprawl.“Big mistakes were made in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the Mayors and City Councils,and the City Planning Department and the Urban Redevelopment Authority have been healing
  2. 2. some of those past wounds and supporting new developments, such as the South Side Worksand the North Shore, which are examples of good urban planning.”Pittsburgh is now engaged in a multi-year comprehensive planning process that willencompass all aspects of urban life, from parks and public art to transportation, housing, andsustainable economic development.“The involvement of the major Pittsburgh foundations has been critical to raising the bar ongood design in the City,” Carter adds. “I would like to take back the bad moves of urbanredevelopment of the 1960s and 1970s.“The „green‟ and sustainability movement is deeply embedded in Pittsburgh as we continue torestore and repurpose historic buildings, build new LEED-certified buildings, develop infillhousing in existing neighborhoods, upgrade our parks, and develop trails and bike lanes.“I am optimistic that the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program will bring familiesback to the city and that our public school system will grow and improve, just as thepioneering Kalamazoo Promise accomplished in that city.”Further information on the fall and rise of East Liberty can be found on Mellon University Remaking Cities Institute Carter Director, Remaking Cities Institute