Christina Springer, a fabulous text and performance artist and one of the members of the team creating a performance for the Hill District, wrote this as a response to the question “What does revitalization mean to you?” You can catch Christina’s work before Second Steel very soon: September 12 & 13 at the Kelly-Strayhorn in She Diva Died. & Come Again?
If one looks at place like a living organism, then, revitalization assumes illness. In this manner, revitalization initiatives could be viewed as a team of doctors. Here is where the conundrum surrounding revitalization begins. Who is making the diagnosis? Can they understand the patient’s history? What makes the symptoms appear unmanageable? Are there other treatment options? What disqualifies alternatives?
Imagine East Liberty as Crazy Aunt Tutu. From time to time, Aunt Tutu puts on a sequin bikini and walks up and down the block singing “Put a spell on you” and sprinkling graveyard dust on the neighbor’s lawns. Maybe she leaves toy cars in the middle of their sidewalk or draws indecipherable chalk designs. She’s not hurting anybody. Say new neighbors move in. Say these new neighbors don’t know Aunt Tutu was a jazz singer who sang all over Europe; ran for a short time with Zora Neale Huston and Katherine Dunham; never recovered from the infected police dog bites when she marched for civil rights. Say, she came back to Pittsburgh and raised a family. Say people came and went from that block for decades. Say every grown child remembers Aunt Tutu always had a butterscotch candy and would stop everything to read them a book. But, the new people only know her as scary. Say they call the police. Who should comprise the team who revitalizes Aunt Tutu? Can they diagnose her properly? Are they even open to input? Is the agenda already established?
Places are always changing. My family was the first Negro family to own a house in Squirrel Hill. That place changed a lot after people learned that living with us was sort of okay. Do I lament the closing of the three dilapidated orthodox synagogues on my block? Do I mourn the subdivision of friend’s houses into crappy over-priced apartments? Sure. Places change. Other places changed a lot after we could afford not to live there. What are we revitalizing? Why? How? I only have questions.