When I set up an appointment in January to meet with Mr. Rick Swartz of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation in Pittsburgh, PA, I didn’t know that there wouldn’t be any snow on February 20th 2018, but that it was almost 80 degrees there. Not only was traffic on the freeways fine for a weekday, but for once someone else happened to drive; a fellow East 185th St. Block Watcher named Dennis who actually was willing to drive!
Anyway, the main purpose of this road trip back down the turnpikes was to meet with the Director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation, Rick Swartz, and later finally see Bakery Square. Rick has been the Executive Director of this community development corporation as long as I have been familiar with the neighborhood. In January, I sent him an email asking if I could ask a few questions related to the project I’m working on. He replied that he’d be more than happy to and eventually agreed to meeting the day after Presidents’ Day. What turned out what I thought would be a fifteen to thirty minute chat became almost an hour until our busy schedules put an end to it. He was very nice in answering not only my questions but providing more information and leads than I imagined (of course most will be put in my project and not on this blog). I will say this though; they have a lot of hard-working people working there and it’s all based on the premise that a decentralized, and team player, approach to community revitalization is what really works.
The day was full of surprises in a way, not just the almost summer like weather or the hamburg I had for lunch with Dennis and one Jason Sauer at a place called Tessaro’s. By trying to find out where Jason (the subject of a few posts on this blog) is renovating an old house he bought (named Rowdy Park after his son), my colleague and I accidentally stumbled upon one of the latest and I think more impressive projects built in the neighborhood; Garfield Commons. Driving up the hill from Penn Avenue, I did see the infill housing construction done on vacant lost on those streets but a development like Garfield Commons really surprised me. Built by a public-private partnership between the City Housing Authority and a private developer, Garfield Commons is the only mixed income project in the neighborhood. Only one-half the units are slated for low-income households, the rest is moderate. In fact, as the picture below shows, the units wouldn’t stick out in a suburban development here in Hudson or Avon. This is not what one would imagine for low-income residents and that’s the point. While there is still a lot of blight and abandonment in Garfield, things have really been changing in the past ten years.
The development corporation got into developing housing originally because no one else wanted to do so. Now, developers are coming in on their own. For existing home owners, many being African-Americans, whereas in the past if you sold your house you’d only get what you paid for, property values have now risen enough that they actually have equity. Instead of being pushed out like they were in places like the Lower Hill decades ago, neighborhood residents will see their homes appreciate in value.
Ironically, the existence of Bakery Square a mile down the road, and Google’s 450 employees there, hasn’t really impacted the community. What has, are the universities with their adjoining technology programs and the researchers who need a place to live. However, Garfield is far from being gentrified which is exactly what Rick and his staff don’t want to happen. Somewhere down the line, he would like to see a Land Trust set up to focus on preserving the neighborhood’s affordability. “We will not be here forever as the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation,” he said.
Once again, I am absolutely grateful for Mr. Swartz taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me in person like he did. For someone like myself who has basically self-published or written locally that was quite amazing.
Sometimes you are just meant to do something.
Photographs by James Valentino