Some people may look at the headline of this article and say, “Is there a difference?”, but to me there is. For me, revitalization takes certain key corridors of a neighborhood that has been neglected and bring them back to healthy economic life. And for me, gentrification takes something that may have been functioning fine and then upgrades it to such a degree that the original inhabitants can no longer afford to be there.
By all measures, it seems as if the city neighborhood known as Larimer is moving into the crosshairs of the City of Pittsburgh’s decision makers, such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Mayor’s office. Larimer can use any help it can get. The 1/2 square mile neighborhood, with a 2010 census population of just 1,750, was originally a German-settled neighborhood. Larimer was named for William Larimer, a railroad baron that built a huge manor house to overlook his assets in and around East Liberty. The Italians followed the Germans in the early 1900’s and it stayed a Euro-immigrant neighborhood until the 1960’s. That time is America’s history of urban planning was rather utilitarian and had all the subtlety of a bulldozer pushing a concrete box filled with sledgehammers. The City instilled “urban renewal” procedures in East Liberty and built large housing projects in both East Liberty and the neighboring Larimer that disrupted the fabric of the neighborhood. White flight pushed the Germans and Italians out to the suburbs and predominantly African-Americans moved in to rented houses owned by absentee landlords, in neighborhoods that were losing their ability to serve their residents.
Growing up as a suburban child of the ’90’s, the only thing I knew about Larimer was that it was home to one of Pittsburgh’s most notorious gangs, the LAW (Larimer Avenue Wilkinsburg). Both East Liberty and Larimer were in danger of being swallowed up whole by drugs, crime, and blight. But hope springs eternal and the turn of the new millennium saw East Liberty get revitalized with new businesses such as Home Depot, followed by a Target and Whole Foods, then a plethora of creative restaurants that became a destination for foodies in and outside the city limits. In recent years, boutique hotels such as the Hotel Indigo are opening in East Liberty and Bakery Square is thriving right up the street.
Bakery Square is home to Pittsburgh’s branch of Google, which is spurning some offshoot developments, especially in the housing sector. This is leading to new attention being paid to neighboring Larimer. There are plans for 350 units of mixed-income housing in Larimer, for a total investment of $30M under the Choice Neighborhoods Program by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Forty new homes recently opened in the heart of Larimer and demand was so great that 740 people signed up to be on the list.
Larimer was a popular topic on the URA’s July agenda, as well, with $2M being allocated to the proposed Larimer Transit Station that will help link East Liberty (Bakery Square, specifically) to Larimer as a bus and rail transit stop. There were also multiple cooperation agreements between URA and neighborhood improvement groups in Larimer to upgrade parks and housing stock on the agenda.
Larimer also has a strong green initiative movement that has helped provide some sound design advice for new housing developments through the use of infiltration trenches to manage stormwater runoff and greening of parks and abandoned lots, plus community gardening. All of these initiatives spurred out of the Larimer Vision Plan from November 2010 that is being used a template on bringing this proud neighborhood back to greatness.
It’s certainly possible that 10 years from now, all of Larimer will have been taken back from the clutches of crime and it’s a thriving neighborhood with a greatly enhanced housing stock. But mixed-income housing doesn’t necessarily mean affordable housing. If Larimer becomes the de facto company housing of Google and whatever other tech company(ies) move into the area, displacing the African-American population that currently exists, has a problem been solved or just shuffled on to the next neighborhood?