The URA Never Responded to Our Demands and Love Letter

Dear URA,

Last month we delivered a letter at your August 8 board meeting calling for a different vision for development in Black Pittsburgh. We asked for a response and we have not heard from you.

What we did hear were your statements to the press that we didn’t know what we were talking about; that we had it all wrong; that the URA was investing in Black Pittsburgh and “building consensus” with community members for its development projects.

But that is not what we see.  We see your signs in front of construction sites in the “East Side” where an entire section of East Liberty has been erased, renamed, and marketed toward wealthy white consumers.  We see your signs in front of Bakery Square 2, a new mall across the street from another mall, on top of where a school once stood.   We see Black-owned & patronized businesses closing next door to what you’re calling “pivotal projects”.

We see bureaucracy and red tape denying community members land in Hazelwood, Lemington, & elsewhere while acres of land are given over to wealthy developers.  We hear promises made to work with the community in development, but in the Hill District & Larimer we see a process failing to gather or follow input from all residents.  We see offers made to homeowners to walk away from their neighborhoods with less & others be required to have large sums of money in-hand to have their vision for their community respected.

We see all of this while multiple glossy, full-color slideshows of projections, created by external interests, are framed for resident approval & often without information handouts or any negative impact concerns being presented.  This highlights the lip-service you are empowered to provide in lieu of supporting real power for residents to make informed decisions regarding which development projects are deemed viable & are reviewed.

We don’t doubt that, as Mr. Ferlo stated, the URA has spent more money in Black communities than at any other time in its history.  But is that money truly advancing the vision of Black people for Black communities?

We don’t deny that your development projects have attracted jobs. But do minimum wage, service-industry jobs really serve your mission to “improve communities”? How many local, Black-owned businesses have actually started, grown, and thrived in the wake of your mixed-use developments? How many of these projects are actually helping build financial security for Black families?

We know that you attempt to “build consensus” among Black community members and organizations for the development projects you push. But what are you building consensus for? Are you truly responding to the vision and needs of these communities? Or are you setting forth a community input process which still helps advance outside interests?  Do the members of the communities which have been involved in these processes feel that you’ve spent too much time building consensus as Mr. Lavelle suggested?

How do you evaluate whether your consensus building processes are relevant to the whole of the existing community? How do you evaluate whether community members feel every perspective has been considered? Have you ever determined that your actions have left Black people out?  Have you ever acknowledged that your actions have contributed to the displacement of Black people? Have you ever apologized for &/or invested in correcting any of the historical injustices you’ve had a hand in?

What is needed is a development model which supports Black communities’ self-determination.  A model in which Black communities are given resources to organize the consensus process, and the visions which it produces are supported unconditionally by the URA.  One which does not undermine the community by purchasing properties, land & structures, then sitting on them for years until the next big developer is wooed into town or the building becomes unusable.

What is needed is a development model in which the power dynamics are reversed and Black communities have more agency and control than the URA. One in which the URA is not asking Black Pittsburgh, “How can we get you to support the vision that we’ve come up with for your neighborhood,” but rather, “How can the URA invest in each neighborhood’s internal vision, no strings attached?”

What is needed is partnership with data collection firms familiar with research justice who build knowledge from a foundational understanding that those being researched are the authorities on the subject of themselves & that expertise is abundant, while legitimacy is strictly rationed by gatekeepers.

What is needed is a development model which acknowledges & aims to eliminate the racial wealth gap and the historical and ongoing system of white supremacy which has produced it; a model which prioritizes and subsidizes Black economic development in Black communities.

What is needed is a development model which centers on the question, “What does it mean to design a neighborhood where Black people feel safe?”

The questions we raise here are not rhetorical.  We want answers.  And we want you to ask them to the communities you work in and we want you to heed what Black people say.

So that there is no misunderstanding, we are all interested in a “better Pittsburgh”.  How we define “better” is critical.


Pittsburgh for Trayvon

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