Redevelopment wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t morph into gentrification so easily. Last week via social media, I like many Pittsburghers learned of the removal of the “Lend Me Your Ears”, mural. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my entire life, and three things have remained constant. My complaints about drivers braking before tunnels, My use 376; even when it’s unnecessary, and my admiration for the vibrant mural on the corner of Penn Avenue and South Beatty.
I didn’t expect such a strong personal reaction to the mural’s removal. To be honest, I don’t live in East Liberty; never have, but the sense of loss and disappointment that echoes across the city continues to resonate with me. After a year plagued with the unjustified murders of countless Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement, and the perpetual disenfranchisement of urban communities across this country, this was yet another swipe against the cultural and communal pride people of color have been fighting to maintain for decades; especially in the city of Pittsburgh.
One must wonder, would real estate owners and developers feel the same level of comfort going into Squirrel Hill or Bloomfield, and erasing a symbol of pride and identity from the walls of the community? I think not.
In a piece published by the City Paper, Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of The Sprout Fund; the mural’s sponsor, said the building’s new owner would have liked to keep art on the building’s façade. The mural could have stayed, but it would have to be adapted to work with renovation planning.
Adaptation. Beautification; terms that “do gooders” impose and impress upon urban communities to gain support. They tell us our communities will thrive, that our children will reap the benefits of new business and redevelopment, and that our communities will be beautiful again, but to whose standards?
Lend Me Your Ears gave Pittsburghers of a warmer complexion the opportunity to see our young as children, and not as the hardened criminals and teen mother images that we’re so bombarded with. Instead, little brown girls could see themselves as beautiful and worthy of the praise and admiration. By abruptly neutralizing the mural, instead we are telling a community that the images that celebrate you and the pride that empowers you has a price tag; that the owner has the right to decide if you fit into the renovation plans of your own neighborhood, and most of the time, you don’t.
Jourdan Hicks, Pittsburgh, PA