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Pittsburgh Alley | by real00
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Pittsburgh Alley

Took a photographic walk along the alley behind the business district in East Liberty along Penn Avenue, a stretch that has seen many changes over the decades. I found several stupendous walls reflecting the passage of time and fashion, left raw and exposed because this is a back alley meant for deliveries, trash, etc. and no effort has been made to render them more presentable. (In this case, the front facades of the same buildings are not in especially presentable shape, either). Now that East Liberty has gone upscale in recent years, this kind of quaint connection to the past is likely to be tidied up--a sign of good times, for some anyway, and better times yet to come, but also a loss for those, like me, who find beauty in these untidy places.

 

This section has a nice remnant from the early 1960s, I would guess, in the Astro Pizza sign. The dull, chipped multitoned red paint on that building provides a sobering contrast to the space age optimism of the cheerfully colored pizza sign. Most recently that place was Yen's Chinese restaurant, now closed. The building awaits demolition to clear the way for yet another bland modern building with living and office space, to be built by profit-motivated developers capitalizing on the "Target effect," the pervasive reconfiguration of the entire area that took off after the Target store opened across the street a few years ago. The rusty, worn, dead-vine-encrusted building in the middle displays a few of the black block letters from a previous generation.

 

As I have stated in other posts, as a resident of an adjacent neighborhood, I think much of this development is a great thing. We certainly don't fault Target--we love having it right there 5 minutes from our house (although they probably negotiated a sweet tax deal with the city). With all the new activity, there are great stores, restaurants, cafes opening all the time. It has become a neighborhood that people with money actually want to live in, whereas in the past it was an area to be avoided, shunned, driven around (in the 1960s the business district was encircled by a wide ring road designed to enable suburban motorists to bypass the congestion and the businesses altogether, whereupon many of the businesses failed, adding to the misery). Eventually no one was ever there unless they happened to live there, in one or another of the subsidized housing projects for people with little or no income. Those projects--the state of the art in urban planning in their day--have just about all been detonated and cleared away. A few of them are still there but will be gone within a year. The ring road has been reconfigured to return the area to a semblance of what it once was, and the new businesses are thriving. The existing residents can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood that has been their home for decades. No one knows for sure where they will go. Many of them are elderly and/or disabled. Their entire family and social circles existed within this very small area. With this in mind, plus the fact that, like this wall, most of the dilapidated ties to the past will disappear, it's not surprising that I am ambivalent about the forward march of progress.

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Taken on April 19, 2016