With the readings by Justin Davidson and Damon Young in mind, write an essay in which you discuss the issue of gentrification and neighborhood change. What personal responses characterize neighborhood change in the readings? What do you see as the positive and negative impacts of gentrification on evolving neighborhoods and communities?
In your essay, you must convey a clear understanding of the texts, either by integrating them into your argument or, at least, by summarizing them. Your essay should include at least two citations, in MLA style, from each of the readings. Citations should include page numbers, not paragraph numbers.
Take some time at the beginning of the exam period to plan and organize your thoughts. Leave time at the end to proofread and make corrections. You may use a print dictionary.
Any time you use the exact words from the readings, you must use quotation marks. Any time you quote, paraphrase, or summarize, you must refer to the author by his or her last name.
Living in Pittsburghs Eastside
Im writing this from Panera Bread. Its a Friday. Cream of chicken and wild rice is on the menu. Which is the main reason Im here. Its my favorite cheap soup. This Panera sits in Bakery Square, a multi-million-dollar redevelopment project that transformed what used to be a Nabisco plant into a sprawling campus of businesses and condominiums.
Its also a half-mile from the street where I grew up. Two blocks from where Aaron Ray approached and almost shot me when I was 15 because I had on a red sweatshirt and he thought I might have been a Blood. (His words: My bad, D. Didnt know that was you. But you cant be wearing that red, man. Theres a war going on out here.) Across the street from the Reizenstein basketball courts where I caught my first alley-oop on the slanted rim. Those courts are gone now. Luxury condos exist there. The project high-rise that sat on the corner where Aaron approached me is also long gone. A two-story Target has taken its place.
My old neighborhood is now the trendiest place in Pittsburgh. And I dont know how this makes me feel. Im not angry about it. Or even upset. The neighborhood is an undoubtedly better and safer place now. Restaurants stay open until 1 instead of closing at dark. There are far fewer Aaron Rays stalking the streets for red sweatshirts, and theres a place where you can rent some very ugly bikes to ride from Trader Joes to Whole Foods. The shifting cosmetic has even affected the neighborhoods name. What used to just be East Liberty is now Eastsidea euphemistic hybrid of East Liberty and the neighboring Shadyside.
This change has crept up Penn Avenue as well. Surreal is not strong enough of a word to describe what its like for a person who grew up on Mellon Street in the 90s to attend a gallery crawl in Garfield. But, I just . . . I still feel a certain way about it all. I feel a certain way that the neighborhoods demographics had to change before it improved. I feel a certain way that others were able to recognize and take financial advantage of the resources sitting right under my nose. I feel a certain way about the irony of me feeling this certain way . . . but writing this while sitting at Panera Bread.
I guess ambivalent would be the word to describe this feeling. But, as many of those who wrestle with the same thoughts about their new old neighborhoods will likely tell you, it feels more awkward and amorphous than that. Its a state of reactive cognitive dissonance you cant quite articulate that happens when others use the resources youre sitting on to create something youd wholeheartedly appreciate in any other context.
Theres a natural parallel between the thoughts I often see expressed about gentrification and about the type of cultural appropriation many white artists have been accused of. But what makes this feeling different is the fact that I enjoy this version of the neighborhood more. Much more. This isnt just feeling a certain way about Robin Thicke borrowing Marvin Gayes Got to Give It Up to create Blurred Lines. Its feeling that certain way, but also believing Robins version is much better than Marvins.
To be clear, better doesnt mean that the new Target is better than the old Giant Eagle or that the new Pizza Sola is better than Ventos. Thats a matter of taste. The preference Im speaking of is less about policy, politics and development and more about memory. East Liberty was my home. Its where my dad first taught me to shoot a jumpshot. Where I got my first job. Where I first met the kid whod end up being my oldest and closest friend. Where I first learned not to trust a big butt and a smile. And where I also first learned not to listen to everything Bell Biv Devoe said.
But its also where Peabody High School was shut down for an entire week because a star football player was murdered in a Wendys parking lot. And where, since the Bloods (red), Crips (blue) and L.A.W. (black and gray) were at war with each other, there was a span of five or so years where wearing the wrong color could get you killed. And where both a random tire screech and a car going 10 miles below the speed limit meant Get the hell down! because theres about to be a drive-by. And where our front window was blown out and our house was shot into because we lived three doors down from Mellon Streets Stringer Bell and a rival crew mistook our house for his.
So even as I lament the injection of and appropriation by others in East Libertyand even as terms such as displacement and pricing-out enter my consciousnessI value the reduction in familiar and conspicuous danger more than Im put off by the means taken to get it there.
I still havent fully processed this perpetual juxtaposition of old East Liberty and the new Eastside. And I still dont know what any of it means. But I do know one thing. The cream of chicken and wild rice is really good today, and Im going to get another bowl before I leave.