What’s holding Pittsburgh back? How are city officials addressing gentrification through redevelopment? And what would happen if Amazon were to actually choose Pittsburgh for its second headquarters?
In a Facebook Live interview on Wednesday, filmmaker Chris Ivey gave his candid thoughts on these questions and why he’s worried that things aren’t getting better for residents, even as local leaders woo Amazon and paint Pittsburgh as a city of innovation.
Ivey has chronicled redevelopment and gentrification in Pittsburgh since 2005 with his East of Liberty documentary series, and he said his work is far from done. The full conversation is worth your time, but below are six key excerpts from our conversation.
We’ve provided timestamps so you can conveniently listen to those sections of the interview.
Timestamp 6:18 – 8:09: Ivey’s films are anchored in East Liberty, a neighborhood that has changed rapidly in the last decade due to a surge of redevelopment and new construction. Here, he talks about what he misses about a place he described as ”a thriving black community...you had a true sense of community from the street vendors to the small business owners.”
You can learn more about the changes as he has documented them at Ivey’s website.
Timestamp 8:47-9:35: But the East Liberty community as it was in 2005 is largely gone, replaced by new development and wealthier residents. Ivey described a hesitation by both Pittsburgh officials and some residents to confront problems created by some redevelopment. He also talked about how newcomers to the city expect to see a vibrant black community like the East Liberty he remembers, but that it’s no longer the case.
Timestamp 21:55-23:22: In his East of Liberty series, Ivey zooms in on a single Pittsburgh neighborhood. In an upcoming film, he said he’s taking a widescreen approach looking at the common problems of teens in five cities, including Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa. Even across continents, he finds the problems facing youth are strikingly similar.
Timestamp 27:59 – 29:10: When discussing redevelopment, the billion-dollar elephant in the room is Amazon. The corporate giant recent named Pittsburgh to its shortlist for the site of a second headquarters. Ivey wouldn’t be a fan, but he’s skeptical Pittsburgh has a shot. “In regards to all this hoopla about Amazon, they’re not coming to Pittsburgh...we’ve got some serious issues here.”
Timestamp 44:43-46:03: Ivey is critical of the commitment by city leaders, including Mayor Bill Peduto, to shield residents from the consequences of redevelopment. Ivey acknowledges that leaders made efforts to help but sees them as moving too slow and doing too little to remedy problems that still aren’t solved.
Timestamp 46:25-47:29: Ivey says something nice about Pittsburgh. Though he’s critical of the racism and lack of equity he sees in redevelopment, he remains enamored with the people of Pittsburgh and the friendliness of strangers he meets. To encapsulate the city, he references the football drama “Friday Night Lights,” describing Pittsburgh as “a small town with a kickass football team.”