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. 


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