This is a braided narrative on the South Side neighborhood in Pittsburgh, coupled with readings from “South Side Stories” by Tami Dixon.
Based and Adapted from “South Side Stories” by Tami Dixon
Written and Presented by Danielle Levsky
In Tami Dixon’s “South Side Stories,” the playwright presents the vibrant and dynamic South Side neighborhood in Pittsburgh, contrasting current inhabitants and past, families that have been in Pittsburgh since the early 1900s to families that only moved in in the 2000s. The changes in property, business, house ownership, and neighborhood population lend themselves to gentrification.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”
On the South Side, where parking chairs and bar stools mark parking territory, students and young professionals, or ‘yuppies,’ abound and mix about the streets of townies, yinzers, and Pittsburgh families.
Dixon showed the range of characters that exist and exited in South Side, mixing the voices and having them interact with one another.
I found this quote by Dixon: “For over 100 years, the South Side was cast in the shadow of The Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill. The steel helped to build our country, and the mill defined this region, its people, and the culture. Now, with barely a trace of the mammoth structure left behind, the South Side continues to be home to families that descended from this industrial past.”
Out of the many areas and neighborhoods in the Monongahela Valley, South Side was one of the few that was never officially declared depressed in the 1980s. Perhaps it was South Side’s strong sense of community and a shared identity, perhaps because it was such a prominent neighborhood. Or perhaps it was because of the social structures that existed within the neighborhood: the churches everyone attended, the schools family’s children went to, the family businesses, and the multi-generational families. At its peak, the South Side was home to nearly 40,000 immigrants who walked to jobs in steel mills along the river.
Artists seeking low rents replaced life-long families in long-row homes. College students replaced newlyweds. Absentee and irresponsible landlords replaced neighborhood real estate agents and mortgage brokers. National retail shops and restaurants replaced schools and churches.
To get more specific:
- The South Side’s redevelopment started on the level riverfront, called the Flats; now “For Sale” signs are creeping on the century-old homes up the Slopes, as the adjoining hillside was long dubbed.
- Before SouthSide Works, with its Cheesecake Factory and national-brand stores, the historic, 34-acre Jones and Laughlin Steel Company stood there.
- The former St. Michael the Archangel Church is now a condo building called the Angel’s Arms, and its 1861 tower again has a working clock.
- An American Legion hall was renovated into a showplace with three cliff-side decks and sidewalk planters.
- The Workingmen’s Beneficial Union has been transformed into Carsons Street’s first white-tablecloth restaurant, UUBU 6.
- The 1889 Duquesne Brewery factory became The Brew House: a space made for galleries, apartments and performances; this is a co-op where 24 residents exchange volunteer time for breaks on rent.
Economically speaking, South Side is thriving. There is a sense of loss with the missing families, the missing businesses, churches, and schools, and most of all, the overall sense of a strong community, a caring neighborhood. Personally, I think there is still hope. Yes, students and young professionals are moving in, but they are creating new businesses, new endeavors, and new art to bring the community back together. Perhaps South Side will be a strong community, a caring neighborhood again; it just might look a little different.
Miles, Liz. “Five Great Neighborhoods for Pittsburgh Twenty-somethings.” Pop City Media. Pop City Media, 9 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <http://www.popcitymedia.com/features/youngestneighborhoods040914.aspx>.
“Neighborhood Information: South Side.” Visit Pittsburgh. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <http://www.visitpittsburgh.com/about-pittsburgh/neighborhoods/south-side/>.
O’Toole, Christine H. “Pittsburgh’s South Side, Resurrected.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 29 Oct. 2006. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/27/AR2006102700494.html>.
Stankowski, Ed. “South Side Was Genuine.” South Pittsburgh Reporter. N.p., 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://www.sopghreporter.com/story/2012/03/13/opinion/south-side-was-genuine/5450.html>.