Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Big Update.

The official statement:

Today, City Council voted to re-zone the Penn Plaza property and Enright Park to allow for the redevelopment that LG Realty has aggressively sought for its site. But, critically, the rezoning passed with concrete protections for the park and the neighborhood in the form of conditions that Mayor Bill Peduto, Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin, and the City Planning department have assisted Council in attaching to the legislation. Enright Park's neighbors and advocates worked tirelessly with the Administration to shape these conditions, and the City worked against tremendous pressure to ensure that the rezoning legislation moved forward only with them in place.

While we normally could not support the re-zoning of either site without a Preliminary Land Development Plan from the developer, we nonetheless recognize the unique circumstances that brought us to this juncture today, as well as the tremendous amount of work that has gone into balancing complex competing interests on this very important site. Therefore, we - the Enright Park Neighborhood Association, Friendship Community Group, and Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation - have placed our support behind the legislation. 

These legally binding conditions will ensure an appropriate and thorough public review process for the entire site, giving the larger community the input which its citizens deserve. We are grateful that these conditions guarantee that neither streets nor driveways will divide the park, and that most of what remains in the way of a mature tree canopy will be preserved. These conditions will allow the park to maintain its present size (although in a different configuration) and remain under public ownership, ensuring that future generations of residents will be able to enjoy it. We see opportunities ahead to hold meaningful discussions about how Enright Park may best serve this community for years to come.

In that vein, there is still much work to be done, and we're going to continue to pursue what we feel will be the most favorable set of outcomes for the neighborhood during the unfolding development at Penn Plaza. We express our utmost appreciation to the Mayor, to Chief of Staff Acklin, and to Planning Director Ray Gastil, along with those members of City Council who were receptive to our concerns. Most of all, we thank all those who came out in support of preserving this vital community amenity.

More to come. We are exhausted and elated.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Waiting Game. And Keeping Places.

We've been quiet for a few weeks. This doesn't mean that there are not many discussions happening.  Many people are talking about what is happening in the neighborhood, what the future could be for the western gateway of East Liberty (e.g. the intersection of Penn and Negley), and what a public park in this location SHOULD be. The rezoning has been open, tabled, re-opened, and tabled again at City Council as conversations and negotiations go forward.

We greatly appreciate the time that the Mayor's Office, City Council, and the Planning Department have put into this process, both from the perspective of seeking solutions for the affordable housing crisis triggered by the Penn Plaza evictions, and for the community park that serves residents from all over the neighborhood.

And yes, as a reminder to the developers out there, there is a public park and it is named Enright. And many people from all walks of life use it on a daily basis. So if we seem irked when you propose to turn it into a retail and restaurant oriented "festival street", it's because we are irked. Beyond irked. And we might even occasionally fly off the handle. Because, really, rather than spending another 20 - 40 hours this week dealing with the mess you are making in our neighborhood, we'd prefer to be hanging out with our kids, our friends, our families, and our neighbors in the park.

One of the things that we are trying to make people understand is there IS a context and a community here, even after half of the residents have been evicted.* In fact, their community is still here, albeit suffering from their absence.

Developers and their consultants may not like or appreciate what they see, or appreciate how it works, but there is a PLACE here in Enright Park, and throughout East Liberty. Yes, it may be scraggly around the edges, in need of some elbow grease and some investment, but to see our community repeatedly treated as if it is a blank slate is an effort to erase the people who have been here and continue to be here. It's quite frankly offensive.

There is much much talk from the developers' architects about how they excel at placemaking, but we have yet to hear from anyone on their side of the table about how they excel at placekeeping, including the acknowledgement of the existing community, our collective histories, and the politics of spatial design as they are playing out on center stage in East Liberty these days, whether you choose to call it revitalization or gentrification.

It's messy stuff, yes, and we all play a role in it it, like it or not.

But being involved in the conversation, even when it gets uncomfortable, is important to building community strength and resilience. We may have checked off many of the goals in our community plans, but it's clear that we are missing something that can't be quantified - the sense of place, the sense of belonging, the sense of people. How do we get there? Can we correct the course of the neighborhood or is it an unstoppable trajectory?

It's messy. But East Liberty is up for it.

I'll leave it with a quote from the fantastic John Brewer, taken from an excellent recent article in Belt Magazine:

“Old East Liberty people like myself, we see the progress happening and the development, and all of that is good,” John Brewer says. “But there are questions about inclusion. Who is all that for? Will we be included in the final plans?”

Will you be here too?

*Penn Plaza residents make (or made) up roughly half of the census tract that comprises the Enright Park area of East Liberty. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

An Update (from the land of never ending updates)

Originally published on the Save Enright Parklet page on Facebook by Angelique Bamberg:

Our campaign to Save Enright Park (because it really is a true park, despite its official moniker as "parklet") has come a long way since September. Above all, we have seen and heard the City acknowledge the deep meaning and importance of this urban oasis to our community. That culminated in the Mayor's press release after the March 22 City Council hearing declaring that Enright would remain a public park and the Penn Plaza developers would be required to participate in "a detailed public process" to define its future. THANK YOU to all who came out and made yourselves heard on that day! Your eloquence no doubt played a part in this heartening turn of events.

However, much as we would have liked to declare a victory on March 22, the saga continues. No formal, written agreement has followed from the Mayor's statement, and, as you may know, Councilman Burgess spoke strongly in favor of the rezoning at Council, despite the unanimous opposition of his constituents at the hearing. We have now learned that project proponents intend to force a vote on the rezoning as soon as possible; the final vote could happen this coming Tuesday, the 12th.

Despite the Mayor’s best intentions, we believe that this rezoning puts the park in grave danger, as it is clear that the developer has every intention of using current park land for his buildings. We are doing everything we can to communicate the urgency of the situation to every Council member, and we continue to be in communication with the Mayor’s office. The process continues to lurch from crisis to crisis, with the developers applying all the pressure they can bring to bear.

We have neither their millions nor their connections, but we do have you on our side. If we can, we ask you once again to rally yourselves and reach out to your Council member and tell him or her that this process isn’t acceptable in East Liberty, and it’s not acceptable anywhere in the city.

said many times, but needs to be said again: why we do what we do...

Friday, April 1, 2016

Just a Reminder...

So while we are all feeling jubilant about the press release and public statement issued by the Mayor last week on the park, please remember that there is NOT an official agreement or memorandum of understanding with the community that memorializes the intention to not sell or redevelop the park.

Today, surveyors, hired by LG Realty, were in the park surveying to create a base drawing for future plans. Plans that the community is not yet privy to.

Surveyors doing their job in the park.

Yes, this is information that we all need for developing a vision for the park. However, we also need YOUR VOICE to tell the Mayor and City Council that the park must remain public, and that it should NOT be rezoned without a master plan in place that defines a vision for these critical properties.

Please write and call your council people and the Mayor's Office to let them know that public parks are not here for the whims of private developers, and that healthy vibrant communities preserve their public spaces for ALL residents.

Thank you.

P.S. A few great new pieces on Penn Plaza and Enright Park, as well as affordable housing in Pittsburgh:

Check out this piece in the City Paper by Ryan Deto, which raises the question we have all been asking: how long has LG Realty been planning to redevelop Penn Plaza and why have they been so elusive in letting the community know?

And Citizen Vrabelman begins to demystify "affordable housing" and what it really means in this post on Downstream.

And here is a new piece in the Post-Gazette about how transportation (or rather lack of it) adds to the costs, making even affordable housing unaffordable.