One hidden element of the revitalization of Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood
The East Liberty neighborhood in Pittsburgh is an interesting urban revitalization case study.
First, it was one of many examples from around the country of using urban renewal to make over and "improve" a neighborhood. Like most examples of urban renewal, it failed, culminating in the demolition of much of the housing that had been built less than 30 years before and a search for a new solution.
What drives East Liberty's revitalization efforts?," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , "A Neighborhood's Comeback," Wall Street Journal).
But the opening there of a wide variety of quality retailers (Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Borders--now closed, Target, etc.) happened only because the area is adjacent to two of Pittsburgh's most successful neighborhoods--Squirrel Hill and Shadyside--and in those locations there isn't any available land for large scale commercial development. (As an aside, because of this, Shadyside is one of the only retail districts with a fair amount of second floor retail. This is an example I've been meaning to write about as relevant to 8th Street SE in Capitol Hill, DC.)
What was appealing wasn't East Liberty per se, but available land and proximity. Few other distressed neighborhoods possess this combination of development attractiveness, which makes East Liberty an outlier that's hard to generalize from.
Third, Pittsburgh has some of the nation's first bus rapid transit lines, which opened in the 1980s, including service from East Liberty--you can get Downtown by bus in under 15 minutes, but for the most part, these lines never sparked ancillary development or residential recruitment.
(And like most bus rapid transit lines, ridership projections never met expectations, although to be fair, they were introduced when Pittsburgh was at its worst economically--as the steel industry was failing.)
But as retail has improved and the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative to the west continues to plug along attracting "creatives," arts anchors like the Pittsburgh Glass Works, and funky retail and restaurants, the East Liberty neighborhood is improving in its own right.
Ridding a neighborhood of crime by buying crime-ridden properties. It turns out this has been sparked in large part because of a real estate strategy developed by the neighborhood community development corporation, East Liberty Development Inc. which focused on buying out slumlords and and converting problem properties that had been nodes for crime and disorder.
How did East Liberty become safer? Buying out homes that housed criminals") on this, referencing a study of the program (East Liberty Crime Data Analysis), conducted by a consulting firm, Numeritics, based in the district. From the article:
A map of East Liberty in 2008 shows Negley Avenue running down the length of a curious red blotch between Penn Avenue and East Liberty Boulevard. By 2012, the red blotch had dimmed to yellow. The change signified a 49 percent drop in the incidence of crime.
The blotch had covered much of the old residential neighborhood, including Hays, North St. Clair, Mellon and Euclid streets. In the mid-2000s, Eric Jester, then the housing development manager for East Liberty Development Inc., said his and nearby streets were “a steady drumbeat of nonsense. Not just gunfire but street fights, people screaming, hookers propositioning your dinner guests.” He said an identifiable number of properties had reduced quality of life to “an existential threat.”
“We called the police, but as soon as the police left it started up again,” he said. “We tried code enforcement, we tried yelling, we tried shaming.
“We finally decided it’s probably better if we owned the properties.” The result of ELDI’s strategic purchase of 200 units from slumlords between 2008 and 2012 is the subject of a 23-page report, released recently by the data analysis firm Numeritics, that reframes East Liberty’s narrative of transformation. ...
Through the 2000s, ELDI was buying, renovating and replacing properties for mixed-income buyers, but it intensified its efforts in 2008, going after property owners who allowed criminal behavior as long as tenants didn’t complain about lax maintenance.According to the report, ELDI acquired about 3% of the residential properties, and according to crime hot spot theory, in problem neighborhoods 3% of properties generate 50% of the crime. While the neighborhood is experiencing rising demand for residential properties and increased prices, there is still plenty of affordable housing.
ELDI’s acquisition of both large and small apartment buildings led to renovations and the hiring of effective property managers and off-duty police officers. At the same time, ELDI kept the same racial composition and low rents, Numeritics reported
Safety + location + retail as a winning revitalization combo. In any case, the redevelopment of the area as a hotbed for retail, and the housing rehabilitation program by ELDI has brought stability to the neighborhood, and it is now in fact, a great example of revitalization ("East Liberty becomes a vibrant community," P-G).
Fundamental to the improvement, as commenter charlie would say, has been to get public safety under control.
One of the people quoted in the article mentions how they used to call 911 all the time, and a couple years ago realized that they had stopped calling because they didn't need to any more. For example, one of the apartment buildings that ELDI owns and manages now has experienced a 75% drop in incidents.
Ridding a neighborhood of problems by buying and fixing problem properties is a strategy that's extendable.
Labels: commercial district revitalization planning, community development, neighborhood change, neighborhood revitalization, public safety, public space management, urban renewal, urban revitalization