Gentrification has become a word which continues to ignite fear in working class/ low income communities all over the country, as well as in our own backyards. Even when a person is ignorant to the word and its meaning, they still acquire the inescapable fear of how change impacts their surroundings. Perhaps they felt it during the demolition of the Penn Avenue high-rise, and the welcoming of Trader Joe’s into East Liberty. Or maybe they graduated from the courtyards of Garfield Heights to the night markets and “Unblurred” first Friday’s on Penn Avenue. As our city continues to progress and renew its identity, many residents of working class neighborhoods are wondering how this new identity will include them.
Following the 2009 G20 summit the greater Pittsburgh area has become the national poster child of urban renewal and a focal point for a variety of reasons -- two being the availability of low cost housing and a very solid art scene. In general the role of artists in the cycle of gentrification is often romanticized. Many may visualize artists as the leaders of an expedition -- venturing in and making a place for themselves in areas before the arrival of the developers, transplants, and affluent residents.
No matter the amount of research and evidence favoring the benefits of gentrification can remove fear if these benefits are viewed as being exclusionary to the already existing communities in targeted neighborhoods. The popularity of Creative placement as a method of change for neighborhoods like Lawrenceville is sure to be implemented in all struggling areas around the city.
We are a city that has a set trend of losing its youth to other major cities -- only gaining a percentage of them back once they have built solid careers and are ready to settle down. If this same trend is alive within the arts community, who is then is responsible for setting the tone of creative placemaking? Does it fall to transplant residents? Will we count on our communities to gain more gems such as Vannessa German?
Does creative placemaking make the artists at hand responsible for respecting the community, upholding the culture, and enhancing what already exists?
There is indeed no way that we can completely stop the changes that years of urban planning has destined for these areas, but does gentrification have to take place? Can creative placemaking exist as its own entity which allows artists and existing community members to reap the benefits of renewal?
At the moment I am a nobody in the Pittsburgh art scene. As “Uptown” continues to engulf the Hill District, and East Liberty turns into “Little Shadyside” I find myself worried about my neighborhood as well as my future in this city. Things have been changing so rapidly that I find myself photographing for the pure purpose of documentation without regard for any aesthetic value. As warehouses in my neighborhood continue to be re-purposed into artists work spaces, I find myself wondering if I too am welcome. If so, can I even afford it?