EAST LIBERTY (KDKA) — After a public outcry, a controversial billboard in East Liberty will be allowed to go back up.
The billboard was an artist installation that read: “There are black people in the future.” The landlord of the building demanded it be taken down after she received complaints, but she has now relented.
This controversy though seems to have revealed a deeper rift in East Liberty over changes in the neighborhood.
Tensions there have been simmering over gentrification, but boiled over recently with removal of the controversial billboard.
Activist and businesswoman Liana Maneese believes the controversy reveals a deeper wound.
“If you’re afraid of a sign that says there are black people in the future, you have to reflect on why you’re afraid that there are black people now. Because we are here, no matter how much you push us or shun us,” said Maneese.
East Liberty has gone through wholesale changes since the demolition of Penn Circle Towers and two other high rise housing complexes.
Though a mix of low and moderate housing has been built, thousands were displaced. All the while, a new class of urban professionals took up residence in several new luxury apartment houses, spawning an explosion of restaurants and stores that cater to them.
“Look at it before, this used to be a business district. Half the businesses are gone. There used to be shoe stores, five and dime, none of that’s here anymore,” said East Liberty resident Tony Cox.
Nowhere are the changes starker than on Penn Avenue. One side of the street is lined with upscale stores, and the other side are old family businesses, many of them now boarded up.
“Some of the development that they’re doing is helping folks, but it’s not helping everybody, and that’s what needs to be done. They need to help everybody,” said Cox.
Maneese believes in help for homegrown businesses to survive and prosper rather than be replaced by national chains.
“It’s really about allowing people who have been historically left out, the opportunity to own their spaces. They can’t displace us if we own our space,” she says.
It seems there’s no slowing down the redevelopment of the neighborhood, but how it proceeds will be a matter for debate with longtime resident demanding to be heard.