Saturday, April 15, 2006

A rose by any other name

Mike Madison picks up on efforts to rename East Liberty--now that the city is trying to transform it into a yuppie enclave--"Eastside", after the development company that is working to revitalize the area. I've discussed such silliness recently, as has Sam over at AntiRust. Mike asks the right questions:

Does East Liberty need a "reverse" branding initiative so that it remains, proudly, "East Liberty"? Or does the apparent naming confusion follow from a deliberate effort to distance the current neighborhood from what some might think are the negative associations of the past (and to associate the neighborhood with the more upscale Shadyside)? On the one hand, my relative lack of local historical knowledge means that I don't carry around any negative associations for East Liberty. On the other hand, why should I? Is this even worth caring about?

It seems to me that if we've really done such a great job of revitalizing East Liberty, then keeping the name in place provides an even greater contrast between what's there now and what was there before. Imagine someone driving through the neighborhood who hasn't seen it in 20 years. "Wow, this is East Liberty? Things have really changed."

And to whom is this re-labeling supposed to appeal? As Mike notes, if you are not a native, or haven't lived here for a long time, then you probably don't hold any negative associations with East Liberty. If you are a native, then it doesn't matter what you call East Liberty, or the Hill District, or the North Side, or any other troubled neighborhood. If a person is so inclined, they'll give the neighborhood another chance. But I doubt a new name will play any role in their decision. ("East Liberty? There's no way I'm going to live in that cesspool. What, they changed the name to Eastside? Why didn't you say so in the first place?")

As Pittsburghers, we need to stop clinging too tightly to our past. We also need to stop being ashamed of it.


Blogger djhlights said...

Historically, East Liberty was a vibrant area of town. It actually housed several theaters; the most notable was the Liberty with its large American Flag on the front. It is in the top left of this photo along with the Cameraphone and the Sheridan which was a major house on the vaudeville circuit for Pittsburgh. The photo is from the late 1920's early 1930’s.

To better understand the neighborhood and the changes it went through goes back to the giant open wound for this city that is the Civic Arena and the white flight of the 60’s and 70’s. The displaced people from the lower Hill who were placed in the tenements built in the circle. The one torn down recently being the most well known since it spanned Penn Ave. To better know the neighborhood and the people who actually live now there I recommend a documentary by local film maker Chris Ivey called East of Liberty: A Story of Good Intentions. Sections were presented during the Art for August exhibit downtown this February and a screening at the Melwood screening room back in March. If you see another screening in the papers, check it out.

I think you guys are missing the point as to what the “branding” really is. The name change, as with the whole North Shore BS, in my humble opinion is used by people from outside the city to describe developed areas adjacent to "black" neighborhoods in order to differentiate them from the “black” neighborhoods that they have never nor are they likely to ever step foot in. The name “East Side” comes from the suburbanites who are going to Pitt, CMU or have relocated to Shady Side, not the people who actually live in East Liberty.

I’d be willing to put a five spot down that the Home Depot or the Kelly Strayhorn on the other end of the circle, on the other side of Penn Ave isn’t in the “East Side” to those who use the term. Just like the train trestle separates the North Side from the “North Shore” except for people who actually live there and it is all the North Side.

"S'liberty" as the yinzers are apt to use, means something more than just a location.

9:39 PM

Blogger Jonathan Barnes said...

JP, you're right, they should keep the name. I think it's neat-sounding, regardless of some bad associations with crime.
And as dj points out, East Liberty was one of the cooler parts of town at one time. Old timers will tell you how the Italians and Jews and all sorts of folks lived next to eachother on nice streets and people got along.
Also JP, nice feature in the Biz Times.

11:26 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Thanks, Jonathan.

DJ, thanks for the perspective. Race certainly plays a big part in this, I'm not arguing that. But this mentality is pervasive, and has many strains, some more malovelent than others.

8:37 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

Well, from what I can tell the neighborhoods adjacent to the North Shore are anything but black. Two blocks to the east are apartments that rent for well over $1000 a month. To the north is a little bohoyuppie enclave known as the Mexican War Streets (yeah, it can be iffy in places). Beech Street is mighty fine (just ask Brian O'Neill) with new lofts selling there for more than $300,000 and Manchester ain't so bad either. Sure, Brighton road qualifies for "black." But on the whole, the North Shore just might be the perfect designation for an area much in need of an identity.

I know a lot of people didn't care for the public funding that built PNC Park and Heinz Field (and whatever else there might be). But six years after PNC Park opened, that area has some life in it. That's about 24 years faster than anything ever happened after Three Rivers Stadium opened. (Of course you know nothing developed during Three Rivers 30 years of existence.)

Before PNC, about all there was around the Federal and Robinson intersection were delerict bars, derelict housing, derelicts, porno shops, and one muddy $3 parking lot after another. No one walked in that neighborhood after dark without a good/bad reason--or a great amount of trepidation.

I'm guessing many of the people who complain about government interference in development are too young or too new to the city to remember that for decades a junkyard occupied most of the land around Heinz Field and about halfway to PNC Park. From Allegheny AVenue (near the Carnegie Science Center) to Federal Street, everything had been running downhill for many years before the original urban revitalization in the 1960-70s. It was dying on its own. Unfortunately, the supposed remedy hastened its demise.

Look, government interference didn't kill the N. Side or E.Liberty. Our parents did (metaphorically, you know?). They wanted to chase the American dream to the suburbs. They wanted that patch of grass to call their own. They wanted garages. They wanted quiet streets where their kids could ride bikes. They wanted it all with a little peace of mind. But they didn't want to be part of a social experiment to keep the North Side and East Liberty and other neighborhoods "alive" when they feared for their safety. Just curious, but does anyone who posts here live in Homewood or Arlington Heights because they want their kids to be exposed to diversity?

Maybe it was the Depression that started the slide for the North Side. Both my parents grew up there and said it was always a damn rough place — even when it was mostly white. Same with my mother in law. She claims "good" girls couldn't walk through West Park after dark. And she's past 90!

Sometimes, government tax breaks just might work. Let's give this one some time. But if you've lived here long enough (at least 7 years) then you know there was never any reason to hang out around Three Rivers Stadium before or after a Pirates game. Now, the PNC Park area attracts people for post and pre game fun...and throughout the day.

Yes, government interference ruined the North Shore in the first place. But at least they're trying to make it right now. Let's hold the verdict on this one for another 10 years. Or at least until the Pirates move to Sacramento.

11:01 PM

Blogger djhlights said...

Well, from what I can tell the neighborhoods adjacent to the North Shore are anything but black.

You're kidding right?

Go to JR's on East Ohio and ask the patrons where they live.

Just go door to door in East Allegheny, Deutchtown, east of and upper Mexican War streets (ie above Sampsonia and east of Federal), Manchester besides the homes east of Allegheny Ave (that excludes Beech) and see who answers.

Sean, considering the majority of your post is a tangent proclaiming the wonders of urban renewal of the North Side and getting off the topic of why we need to rename sections of "iffy in places" that are in the middle of economic renewal, I'll try and bring us back on track and further explain my point.

These sections of town happen to be areas that have already been the victims of urban planning and white flight. They both have had rough times for many years and thank goodness development is occurring in them. This is providing hope for neighborhoods that desperately need them.

That's why name changes on the renewed sections differentiating them from the original neighborhood are a load of BS.

The North Shore is a newly created name for the area that is separated by the parkway/railroad tracks and is along the river. This was part of the lower North Side/Old Allegheny until the new stadiums went up and then they were no longer the North Side, they became the North Shore. Yes, that section is getting a breath of life it desperately needed, but what about the neighborhood itself. Ask people who go to the North Shore to name to a storefront on East Ohio. Besides maybe the Park House, I doubt anyone who comes to the "North Shore" can even name one. So what benefit do the people who live there gain from renaming the revitalized section something new and creating differentiation from the area people will visit and where people actually live?

Now we are seeing people from outside another "feared for their safety" neighborhood using another name to describe the section of a neighborhood that has a government made square that separates the area that is under major development and the area where people actually live.

Call it what ever you want, but the neighborhood section on the street signs still reads East Liberty along side the Whole Foods in “East Side.”

I'm sorry but IMHO the name change is nothing more than an effort by developers or trendy suburbanites creating names so people who come from outside of the city can say they are going to "East Side" or "North Shore" instead of having to step foot in East Liberty or North Side and "fear for their safety."

That's fine. Call it what ever you want, but the people that live there see what it is. The section of their neighborhood that is worth saving gets a name change along with a face-lift and they are still living in the neighborhood that people are afraid to come to.

10:09 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...


the park house is mediocre...but i check out the tunes at stedteford's (sorry for any misspellings); i get fat on the pastries at the priory bake shop; i check out the goods at the pawn shop (no i can't name it and neither can anyone else). But while you're hangin' with your homies at JR's, i'll enjoy some german goodies at Max's Allegheny Tavern, on an even scarier street than E. Ohio and where many white people venture from their suburban utopian enclaves. Or we could meet at North Ave's Legends of the North Side or the Monterrey Pub (where the clientele is oh so white and oh so local). Wanna have a cup of joe at the new coffee shop (beleza) on Buena Vista (you know, the one the earnest kids from Michigan own. Funny thing is, they don't care what the hell YOU call that neighborhood. They call it their future). Then again, why not enjoy some local cuisine at Wilson's Ribs, where the owner isn't exactly caucasian friendly? Or the finger licking good deli on brighton? Does it count if you do breakfast at the Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe on Western (the ultimate white guy Brian O'Neill used to go there a lot)? Is True still around? Haven't been there for a while, but that crowd certainly was "different." And just a little south of E.Ohio is a cool place called Mullin's Diner, near the 16th street bridge? Ever been there? If not, try the corned beef hash and eggs...or the sloppy joe get two of them.

My point is, there's a lot of diversity on the N. Side. Some good, some awful. But the Mattress Factory thrives in it. Hey, how many places can you name?

By the way, for a humorous take on this, visit my blog, please!, at

one other note, i lived on the n.side even before Allegheny Center. Sure I miss the old places (and being able to drive along western right into e. ohio). But that's gone. And I'd rather see what's happening there on the n. shore now than the inactivity from the mid 60s to the late 1990s. And from what i can see, since the city's pulled of the Central N.Side and Mex War streets area, nothing's going on. not much organic growth from what i can see, especially around the garden theater.

It's not 1965 anymore (were you around then?)and all those funky ass names like East Allegheny and West Allegheny didn't exist when I was younger. E. and W. Allegheny are just some fancy sounding tags for the people who can't afford to live on Beech Street.

anyway, check out my blog! see if you can laugh. it's not to late.

2:51 AM

Blogger Chris Ivey said...

Hey Jonathan!

Please keep in touch and stay tuned...

Chris Ivey

Check out 8 minutes from EAST OF LIBERTY: A Story of Good Intentions at:

10:04 AM

Blogger Chris Ivey said...

Hi Jonathan!

The next screening of EAST OF LIBERTY will be at the UNION PROJECT in Highland Park at the corner of Stanton Ave and Negley Ave

Feb 5th 7pm Q and A to follow.

See clips at



11:25 PM


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