The Hill District: Still waiting for something great to happen

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The Hill looks forward

There are other significant changes in the works for the Hill District. The Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority is working on plans to redevelop the former Civic Arena’s parking lots into city streets, with commercial and residential buildings. In some cases, they are building streets that will reconnect the Hill District with Downtown for the first time in 50 years.

In the 1950s and 1960s some 1,300 buildings on 95 acres of land were demolished in the Lower Hill to clear space for the arena, displacing 412 businesses and more than 8,000 residents and cutting the Hill off from the Downtown area.

The gulf between the Hill District and Downtown has been more than a physical separation. Residents of the majority African-American Hill District have felt cut off and marginalized from the economic activity of the city. And for many Downtown workers and residents throughout Pittsburgh, the district has been an unknown and largely misunderstood place, feared because of its reputation for crime and poverty.

“If you don’t go through a neighborhood, it ceases to exist” in people’s minds, said Terri Baltimore, vice president of neighborhood development for the Hill House Association, a social service agency that promotes economic opportunities in the district and that coordinated the grocery project.

While residents and community leaders welcome reinvestment in their neighborhood, they are watching development plans closely to ensure that another generation of residents will not be displaced. They don’t want the skyrocketing rents of gentrification that have happened in other cities to be the norm here.

“We want conditions on development of the Lower Hill,” said Carl Redwood, executive director of the Hill District Consensus Group.

One of the conditions that the Hill District Consensus Group and other community groups are calling for is equal housing opportunities. This condition would call for 30 percent of new housing to be designated affordable to extremely low-income residents.

While the city cannot require this ratio, there are already models of mixed-income developments throughout the Hill.

Bedford Dwellings, a mixed income community built in 2003, includes low-income rentals, market rate rentals and sale units with attractively landscaped. Similarly, the community of Oak Hill, which abuts Oakland, is an attractive mixed income development built to replace Allequippa Terrace public housing.

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