The architecture firm that I worked for was (and still is) located in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. To give you a historical perspective on this area, East Liberty was at one time the third busiest central business district in the state of Pennsylvania after Philly and Downtown Pittsburgh. The Mellon family got their start in East Liberty, and right at the main intersection former Treasury secretary Andrew Mellon built a magnificent church, which is really a cathedral, called East Liberty Presbyterian, also known as Mellon's Fire Escape.
EAST LIBERTY PRESBYTERIAN
In the 1970's the city decided to use East Liberty as a laboratory for "urban renewal" and social engineering. To make a long story short the city's experiments were a complete failure, and only East Liberty's strategic location in the community saved it from total civic abandonment like nearby Wilkinsburg.
In the last decade major retailers like Whole Foods and Target and Home Depot have established profitable stores in East Liberty; Google has an office down the street, and the centrally planned high rise housing projects have been torn down. To a degree the area has been re-gentrified. As you can see on the map, the successful shopping developments are all located outside the traffic circle that was tied like a noose around the neck of the district by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in the 70's.
All of which brings me to the focus of this article: the plan to build a Hotel Indigo in the center of the traffic circle district. You see, from a wealthy consumer perspective the perimeter of East Liberty is now considered safe and desirable in a way that it hasn't been in years. But the heart and soul of the neighborhood, the area inside the traffic circle, is still very much an economically challenged neighborhood not considered safe or desirable by wealthy consumers. The key word here is dichotomy. There is a serious dichotomy between the wealthy culture that exists on the perimeter of East Liberty and the less than wealthy culture that exists inside the perimeter.
The real issue here is that, like the stock market bulls who hang on Bernanke's every perception managed word, the apparently, supposedly well capitalized Hotel Indigo developers have so completely misjudged the strength of the US economy that they are preparing to build a boutique hotel in the middle of an impoverished Pittsburgh neighborhood. Those that are supposed to be "in the know" do not appear to actually know what is going on. The controller of the currency, the Fed, has once again made money so cheap that any hairbrained idea can be bankrolled as long as it is packaged in the name of growth and development.
Listen, I love East Liberty, and like a good Catholic I love the poor. But like we learned from TARP, throwing money at a situation never works, and that's all this is: throwing cheap money at a piece of inexpensive property in an economically challenged neighborhood with the delusional hope that it will pay off in the future, not for the benefit of those living in the neighborhood, but for the benefit of the wealthy investors on the perimeter of, or way outside of, the neighborhood.
I've said enough. This is a delicate issue because of course all of us want to see the integration of the poor and the prosperous. All I'm saying is that money in itself isn't going to make that happen. There has to be a human factor in the equation beyond a wealthy person suddenly feeling safe parking their BMW in a formerly "bad" neighborhood while they eat out at a new restaurant.
Fuck it. Come on a tour of the area with me and see for yourself.
APPROACHING EAST LIBERTY FROM SHADYSIDE
ENTERING EAST LIBERTY BUSINESS DISTRICT
PASSING EAST LIBERTY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH ON THE LEFT
THE MAIN INTERSECTION: HIP-HOP CITY
CROSSING THE MAIN INTERSECTION TO THE HOTEL SITE
THE ENTIRE BLOCK ON THE LEFT IS PART OF THE PLANNED HOTEL COMPLEX
THE ARCHITECT'S RENDERING OF THE HOTEL
HERE ARE THE STREET VIEWS THAT A GUEST AT THE HOTEL WOULD SEE
Let me guess: you cannot believe that a developer and a bank would be so delusional to think that building a $20 million boutique hotel in the middle of an economically challenged neighborhood is a good idea.
Well, that's exactly what's happening, or at least the demolition part of it is. Like the destruction of the Civic Arena dome, another aborted Urban Renewal project, the cheap money is hard at work ripping shit down. As for building things up, person by person, on a human, neighborhood-building level, it ain't happening, at least as far as I can tell, and I've lived in the East Liberty - Shadyside area for most of my life.
See you at the the Hotel Never Go. I'll meet you at the bar.