Be My Neighbor – Building Equity in the Steel City

“Mister Rogers Neighborhood” debuted in 1966 to a Pittsburgh that was about to embark on a total economic overhaul. Its foundation as the world’s mecca of steel manufacturing was shaken by a shifting world economy that would send Pittsburgh into economic upheaval.

While Mr. Rogers began asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” neighborhoods throughout the city were splintering in response to the changing economy. Once teeming with activity, communities like East Liberty and the Hill District were thrown into blight thanks to halfhearted ‘Urban Renewal’ plans aimed at slowing the region’s economic losses.     

When the last episode of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” aired in 2000, the Pittsburgh it aired to was barely recognizable from the one when it debuted. The city became economically and racially stratified, with some prospering from the changes and others suffering from the growing problems of inequality and unequitable development. Mr. Roger’s message of inclusivity was only being reflected to a portion of the city he loved.

Today, Pittsburgh is known as a ‘tech hub’ and a most livable city, attracting tourists and accolades from across the globe. But the scars of its past remain. While some continue to prosper from these economic shifts, many have been left out of the ‘new’ Pittsburgh.

GBA’s new series, Equity in the Built Environment, will demonstrate how building practitioners and owners can apply social equity to their everyday work.

The series will provide the building blocks to combat the current consequences of unequitable development. In analyzing real estate data from RealSTATs, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded that in 2017 the average home price in Lawrenceville grew by over 220 percent compared to prices in 2008. While these growths benefitted some, it priced out many longtime residents. Similar numbers were found in neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill and Polish Hill.  

The city’s policymakers and partners are responding to this inequity in many different ways. Groups like All in Pittsburgh and the Affordable Housing Task Force created a strategic roadmap to ensure new developments include everyone in the region’s economic comeback. And the city is prioritizing equitable and healthy development in all of its projects through the p4 Pittsburgh Initiative.

This new focus stresses the role developers and building professionals have in implementing equitable development. Through the infrastructure they build, communities are given the opportunity to thrive.

We’ve already seen the positive impacts of more equitable development put into practice. For example, to redevelop the former Westinghouse factory, Bridgeway Capital made sure that 85 percent of the project’s construction contracts went to minority-owned businesses. On top of that, their main contractor for the project, Ma’at Construction Group, specifically trained and hired young apprentices who faced structural barriers to employment, like a criminal record or disadvantaged background.

Mr. Rogers was particularly interested in helping the most vulnerable among us. After a documentary on his life debuted in 2018, a renewed focus on his inclusive vision permeated through the city. Equitable development packages those ideals into the building process, fundamentally spreading the wealth of new developments throughout Pittsburgh’s communities.

GBA’s series will give building professionals and developers the tools they need to confront and alleviate the disparities of unequitable development directly, in every aspect of their work.

After all, Mr. Rogers asked “Won’t you be my neighbor?” not “Can you afford to be my neighbor?”

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