What does failure of August Wilson Center tell us about Pittsburgh’s economy?

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There has been a lot of finger-pointing and hand-wringing lately about the failure of the August Wilson Center and what many people seem to believe is a reflection of the failure of Blacks in Pittsburgh to support the center.

I’m not so sure that I see the failure of the August Wilson Center as being a failure of Black community support, so much as it is symptomatic of the limitations of an overall strategy for economic revitalization that is not broad enough to lift all boats.

Some have suggested that the New Granada Theater in the Hill District should have been rehabilitated and re-named the “August Wilson Center”, but rehabbing New Granada was prohibitively expensive 10 years ago, because of the damage that has been done to the roof over the years. It’s hard to imagine that it would be any more feasible today.

Pittsburgh has been placing its bets on a “knowledge-worker” and “creative class” strategy for post-industrial economic development. This may have been good, in many ways, for Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Regent Square, parts of the North Side and some other neighborhoods, but it has not yet been demonstrated to be a viable strategy for the Hill District, Homewood and other neighborhoods that are still struggling.

There may have been over-reliance on the culture-driven model for economic development in distressed neighborhoods and, perhaps, for the Pittsburgh metropolitan area as a whole.

C. Matthew Hawkins is on the adjunct faculty of the University of Pittsburgh in the School of Social Work and has worked as a consultant for the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development.

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