Fighting Gentrification in East Liberty


Photo Credit: Jacob Premick

Darcy Harrison, Editor, Writer

If you ever take a stroll down Penn Avenue in East Liberty, you might notice the similarities of its storefronts to those on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. A handful of roomy and chic coffeehouses, an abundance of restaurants, the next big grocery store chain, all a stone’s throw away from a new housing development. Sure, these places are all fun to visit, and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with their existence. But to accommodate a Target on the corner of Centre and Broad, the community had to demolish a public housing building with over five hundred units. These hotspots that make neighborhoods appealing did not materialize in an empty lot. The displacement of vulnerable people for luxury living is costly. East Liberty is attempting to fend off gentrification, but the task at hand is substantial.

Gentrification is a recurrently used word when discussing cities in the twenty-first century, but what is it? By definition, gentrification is the product of the demand for urban living and work in the limited supply of a competitive real estate market. Because the big hotspots of urban areas hit maximum occupancy in a short period of time, settlers look for cheaper surrounding neighborhoods to live. As more people accumulate, housing prices go up, and the people who once called these neighborhoods their own are displaced. Prime examples of this problem are in New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco. These cities were once reasonably affordable and were homes to many diverse communities, but now are some of the most expensive places to live in the world.

Photo Credit: Josh Bianco

Ideally, gentrification is supposed to create a diverse demographic. But staggering rent and expensive amenities drive out working-class people, leaving only a wealthy, homogeneous population. Not only are the former inhabitants displaced from their homes, but businesses that they ran became too costly and they eventually shut down. Because the estate is so expensive, the business that replaces them are typically big, corporate chains. Services that small businesses could provide are now eliminated, and so are their jobs. 

One of the biggest victims of gentrification are Black people and their safety. Business displacing housing is not the only form of gentrification– over-policing in communities has created serious problems. Brutality, mistreatment, and careless prosecution have created turmoil and unnecessary conflict in overlooked neighborhoods. This contributes to the feeling of being pushed out. Currently, East Liberty residents are protesting the occupancy of the Zone 5 police station, which gained traction this summer during the Black Lives Matter civil rights protests. These people also began to advocate for the City of Pittsburgh to provide proper funding for social services and public works. 

Black Lives Matter protests have swept the nation. Photo Credit: Jacob Premick

As East Liberty struggles to keep its head above water, we can help soften its acceleration by buying from local businesses rather than larger companies. If a business or development plan takes away a building that means the involuntary eviction of numerous people, we as a community must take action– call government officials, organize and sign petitions to help prevent it. It is also important to research a neighborhood’s history before planning to move there to be aware of any socioeconomic crises it is facing. Pittsburgh does not have to be a product of total gentrification, and the uniqueness of East Liberty can be preserved.