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Pittsburgh’s New Park Will Connect Neighborhoods, But Not All Neighbors Welcome the Union

"[It] represents Downtown taking over a portion of the Hill District, not the other way around," community activist says.

A rendering of the planned I-579 Cap Park. (Credit: LaQuatra Bonci/Pittsburgh Sports & Exhibition Authority)

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$32 million will be dedicated to reconnecting Pittsburgh’s Downtown and lower Hill District, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After months of planning, the I-579 Cap Urban Connector Project began Friday.

The project involves capping I-579, building a park on top of where the Hill District and Downtown meet. According to the concept plan, the park will include biking and walking routes, an amphitheater, and recreational areas. It’s part of a larger redevelopment project known as The Cap. The project, where the Civic Arena stood until its demolition, will also include housing, hotels, and offices.

The Civic Arena, once home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a professional ice hockey team, was erected in 1961. The arena, and I-579, were built in the Lower Hill District along its shared border with Pittsburgh’s Downtown, effectively isolating the Lower Hill from other neighborhoods. The construction displaced over 8,000 people and 400 businesses, the Post-Gazette said.

The park project only comes after the Penguins moved to another site. In 2007, reports Public Source, the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority gave the Penguins exclusive development rights to 28 acres surrounding the Civic Arena. In 2012, the team turned the land into a parking lot with over 2,000 spaces. Now, facing the threat of losing a fifth of their parking revenue unless they develop 6.45 acres of the land by 2020, the Penguins look to unite the communities with the Cap project, starting with the park, a literal cap over the highway separating the neighborhoods.

While many Pittsburgh residents look forward to the upcoming park, other community members are skeptical of the outcome, disagreeing that a park is the best solution to righting the several-decades-old wrong.

Carl Redwood, a community activist and chairman of the Hill District Consensus Group, fears the park represents a takeover of the historically black neighborhood. “[It] represents Downtown taking over a portion of the Hill District, not the other way around,” he told the Post-Gazette. “They want the lower Hill, including this cap, to look like a hockey game. What I mean by that is not many black people will be participating.”

Redwood has seen the city’s black population decline — a direct result of displacement and lack of affordable housing. From 2000 to 2015, 15,000 black residents have left the city, while the African-American population of nearby suburbs has increased.

According to Public Source, Redwood and the District Hill Consensus Group have been advocating for 30 percent of the housing built on the new site to be affordable for people making less than 50 percent of the median income, which in the Hill District was $21,795, compared to Pittsburgh’s median income of $42,450.

Other community members agree that housing should be a priority in the new development. Chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project Tim Stevens believes the Cap should be focused on the needs of the community. Providing housing for existing Lower Hill residents “is a way you begin to heal,” Stevens told WPXI. “You show specific concrete results in term[s] of people being to live on the land they used to reside on.”

So far, the Penguins have promised that 20 percent of the new housing built will be affordable, reports the Post-Gazette.

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Natalia Rommen is the 2019 Next City urban affairs journalism fellow. She is pursuing a degree in Political Science and Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, she sat on the board of Penn’s African American culture club where she managed the club’s marketing and event planning. In 2019, Rommen was selected as a data analytics fellow for Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies. Rommen uses her experience with statistics to research urban development and policies that affect minorities.

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Tags: parksgentrificationpittsburgh

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