Larimer plan: Many concerns must be addressed

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The Larimer Plan is a development project for one of, if not the most blighted areas in Pittsburgh. The big question is after 30 to 40 years of decay will it ever be done, and if so how and how long will it take? In other words, will it get done in our lifetime?

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There are actually three areas of concern debating how it should be done, low-income, middle-income and upper-income. That is the problem. There’s always been dissension on how and what should be done, which is one of the reasons it has taken so long.

I remember working the Hill District as a young reporter during the ’70s. One of my first major assignments was the Crawford-Roberts Project. I worked closely with a young Black man from the Urban Redevelopment Authority who poured his guts into this project trying to come up with a plan the community would accept and was best for everyone concerned. I also worked with the various community groups and personalities who were just as concerned and sincere about their community. But no matter what he did there was someone or a group of people who strongly disliked it. They attacked him personally because they sincerely believed the city was trying to move them out for young White professionals. They were probably right, but the young man simply was trying to put together a plan that would create a mix for the long-term stability of the community—a plan that would have a mixture of low-income, middle-income with upper-income combined. Well it took nearly 40 years. It’s called Crawford Square now. I don’t know where that young man is now, or what he thought when all that he was trying to convey to the community finally became a reality.

Reverend Ricky Burgess is to be commended in making the Larimer Plan one of his major priorities. But just like the Hill District young man he’s facing the same factions. Hopefully we have learned form the Hill, and the different sides will work together to make sure there is a lasting mix where as the community people will not be totally removed, but in the same token there are homes that new people will be willing to purchase because the community is now mostly vacant houses and blighted lots.

At least one good thing about this fight is that this is a more mature debate and people aren’t making it personal. The questions to Rev. Burgess are the opposite from the Hill. Whereas most of the people were more concerned with housing for the low-income in the Hill, the concern in Larimer led by Malik Bankston and Hop Kendrick is mid and upper income housing which is the key to the long term survival of the community development. What they are saying is that if you make it primarily low-income housing then all you are doing is setting up a temporary fix.

The Manchester community was the model not only for Pittsburgh but the country for years because the Manchester Citizens Corp. dictated to the city, not the city to them. They made it clear that if you tear a house down, you had better have plans to replace it with another. And they pushed to get the historic housing in that community renovated while building new row housing as well as single unit housing throughout the community.

With several big name businesses coming to the East End, now is the time to develop Larimer. Now is the time to renovate old houses that can be saved while tearing down those that can’t be, replacing them with new ones. But there has to be a mixture. It has been proven time and time again, that an all low-income plan doesn’t work. That’s why the projects were torn down throughout the city. Mixing incomes is tough, but poor people have to live somewhere, too. Remember, most low-income folks are hard working people, not welfare recipients. They all can’t be pushed out of the city.

Of course there’s going to be some problems, such as in Manchester where owners live next to renters which creates friction when property is not maintained, or kids are not kept under control. All this has to be taken into consideration when coming up with a WORKABLE plan for all.

I can feel what Hop and Malik are saying. This has to be a lasting plan. Not something in which you build new houses and in 20 to 30 years you are back rebuilding the community because the people have destroyed it or it never attracted home owners or businesses. I know the feeling, all but one house in my block is owner occupied, but that one house has been a nightmare for years.

It appears that instead of saying it’s my way or the high way Rev. Burgess and the city are working with the community and their concerns, and many changes have already been made and will be made to make sure that the best plan is implemented.

But with that said, something needs to be done and soon in this area. There’s no excuse for any area of the city becoming this vacant, and blighted. The city is not the only one at fault. Gang violence and crime had a lot to do with the decay of the area, which was once a beautiful neighborhood to live in, with beautiful homes and businesses everywhere. So no, everyone who left the community should not be welcomed back. There was a reason people moved out and others chose not to purchase a home there. Just building new houses will not to turn the community around. It’s not going to attract new homebuyers in this tough economy.

This is a tough issue, but one all concerned citizens must address now. They appear to be going at it in the right way. From 150 to 200 people showed up at the last meeting held by Rev. Burgess. All views were heard, and some clarifications were made, answering many questions and clearing up some misunderstandings, far better than the early stages of the Hill District Project. Hopefully this is the final stage of the Larimer Project, and we will see development begin sometime next year.

(Ulish Carter is managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier)

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