In the Context of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is a city in rebirth. At one time, Pittsburgh was one of several major cities that drove the United States manufacturing economy. At that time, every square foot of Pittsburgh that could be built on was occupied either by factories or by residents who worked in those facilities. Unlike other cities that were constructed around power centers, creating suburbs of the wealthy and urban areas of the poor, Pittsburgh was built as a manufacturing city, a city built by and for the middle class. Although there is poverty and wealth, compared to other cities, the rhythm of Pittsburgh is not a relentless march to earn money, but a walking cadence to live comfortably. There is a decentralization in Pittsburgh that allows residents to own property only a short distance from where they work, and for people to live in communities in the heart of the city.
With the reduction in manufacturing in the United States, the city of Pittsburgh fell into disuse, leaving many residences abandoned and the factories to be torn down and left as grey fields where not even the weeds would grow. Now there is a historic revitalization of cities in the U.S., causing residents to move back into urban homes and communities that were previously forsaken to pursue a dream of sprawling subdivisions with two cars in each driveway. As the U.S. finds its place in the world, neither a place of extreme opulence or poverty, it may be that a middle class city provides the right balance for a place to live. This Rock Alley redevelopment project is part of the larger process to reclaim an abandoned part of Pittsburgh for modern and current practical use.
The Once and Future Oakcliffe
In its day, the Oakcliffe area of South Oakland was an urban development with city blocks covered with brick side-by-side duplexes and single family homes, all clustered around a playhouse. Many of the names of the streets still bear memories of that original theme: Ophelia Street, Hamlet Street, and Elsinore Square (now renamed Joe Hammer Square, after the Oakcliffe community’s first casualty of World War II).
Over the century since this development was built, there have been several acts of violence done to that original street plan. The once residential street that was simply another form of transportation into the community has now become the Boulevard of the Allies, separating the community from the playhouse with four lanes of high speed traffic. A city block of these original homes was cleared away for the construction of the Magee-Womens Hospital and parking lot. Another block of homes was cleared for the building of a Cadillac dealership, now left abandoned. And a third block of these homes was cleared when the city excavated into the hillside to create Route 376, leaving the land too steep and unstable for residences. Part of the Rock Alley redevelopment project is to reclaim this hillside so that it can again be used by the Oakcliffe community.