Fast Company: American cities are reviving–but leaving the poor behind

Fast Company, July 5, 2018: American cities are reviving–but leaving the poor behind

According to the headlines, Pittsburgh is hip right now.

“Built on steel, Pittsburgh now thrives on culture,” a New York Timesarticle from 2017 reads. Forbes declared the city “the new cool” in 2016. Like its post-industrial sister cities–Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis–Pittsburgh is beginning to crawl its way out of decades of disinvestment and economic decline.

But the gushing headlines mask the complexities of these cities’ gradual ascents. In a new book, The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America, historian and urban policy and planning expert Alan Mallach picks apart the slow progress in the U.S.’s post-industrial (or “legacy”) cities, and finds that by and large, it’s leaving a large portion, mainly low-income and nonwhite, of the population behind.

Look more closely at the enthusiasm around Pittsburgh, for instance, and you find that it’s clustered in a handful of neighborhoods. Lawrenceville, which borders the Allegheny River north of downtown, boasts a beer store with over 800 bottles and cans, artists’ studios, and multiple bike shops. On its main drag, Butler Street, outdoor tables host groups of young people late into the night, but just under 20 years ago, the neighborhood was quiet, shrinking, and mostly home to working-class people over the age of 65.

In a way, Mallach says, Lawrenceville is something of a model site for gentrification, which is a term often applied to the type of transition through which it’s moving. It’s near to a key “anchor” institution: An outpost of the city’s hospital system, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is close by. The neighborhood’s layout is largely undisturbed from earlier decades, and features a highly walkable mix of commercial corridors and residential streets. And most significantly, it’s a historically white neighborhood.

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