Tuesday, May 15, 2007

King Connectivity

My inner geographer appreciated the Post-Gazette story about the efforts to improve the Hill District via a greenways project. However, I couldn't find an angle for a blog post when I read the article the first time. A Google news search of "Pittsburgh diaspora" produced a link to the very same piece and I revisited the text to find out how the diaspora figures into the narrative:

Mr. Candy, a community-development consultant, established Find the Rivers! in 2002 to seek remedies for the severed ties the Hill suffered when highways and the Mellon Arena were built, displacing thousands of Lower Hill residents. He was inspired to action, he said, by French urban designer Michel Cantal-DuPart and author Mindy Fullilove, whose book "Root Shock" dealt in part with the Hill District diaspora.

Root Shock served as Chris Briem's first "book of the (undetermined time period) club." He kindly linked to his review of the book, helping me to understand the relevance of the diaspora to the Hill District story:

The uprooted communities -- the author estimates there are more than 1,600 across the country -- were concentrated in the African-American communities of America's large cities.

The consistent theme is that the wholesale displacement of neighborhoods had an impact more traumatic and longer-lasting than is understood.

"Root shock ... ruptures bonds, dispersing people to all the directions of the compass," Fullilove writes. It caused the destruction of the interconnections that "were essential to the survival of the community."

That the urban renewal project influenced out-migration in and of itself is not a bad thing for the community. The problem concerns the disruption of connectivity patterns, the lifeline of any place. The Hill District greenways project is an attempt to reconnect the neighborhood, to itself and the rest of the Pittsburgh.

I imagine a larger project for the Hill District: Re-establish the ties to the formally displaced residents who share the memory of a once great community.

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