The strongest impression from my last trip to Cardiff was the feeling that it is morally wrong to invest heavily in touristy neighborhoods while skipping the neighborhoods of the residents. Tourists may provide a bigger return per touch point, but residents have many more touch points (including voting). Perhaps I have become jaded since that trip, but I now accept that economics and morals rarely work together.
Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood is trying a different approach to see if economic investment can be leveraged for the greater good. Uptown experienced disinvestment and decay for decades, despite being located between and within walking distance of Oakland and downtown, two of the largest economic engines in the state. Not to mention the main roads connecting these prosperous and growing areas run directly through Uptown. Zipping down Fifth Avenue from Oakland to downtown, it is easy to overlook or ignore the ruined home foundations turning back to forest, the wide-spread vacant lots and parking lots, and the intricate architectural details on the remaining old structures.
One such structure was one of the many movie theaters dotting the city in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the adjacent buildings were demolished, and an addition was added to the theater to turn it into a storeroom. After a time as a plasma center in the 1980s and 1990s, the building sat vacant and dusty for many years. Now, it is undergoing renovations for its next life. This is just one of the many signs that investment is coming to Uptown.
The community of Uptown that held on through the economically rough times prepared for this moment. In collaboration with many partners, including local institutions such as Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy as well as the City of Pittsburgh, the community created a new neighborhood plan. This designated Uptown and West Oakland as an EcoInnovation District. One of the first actions from this plan developed a new zoning district, the first progressive zoning district in Pittsburgh. The goal of the plan and the zoning district is to leverage the coming economic investment to create an inclusive and environmentally sustainable neighborhood.
It will be interesting to watch this neighborhood over the next few years to see if the plans are successful at introducing some moral components to the economic investment.