How do we understand the world around us? What does the built environment express when we're not a part of the building process? What do we read from the people when we're not a part of the community? As I walked around Wilkinsburg, PA this past week, I kept returning to these questions, and finding different answers to them at each bus stop sign, each street corner, and each abandoned property.
Wilkinsburg has changed. It used to be busy; it used to be in a higher income bracket than it is now; it used to be a different shade. At this moment, the neighborhood seems poised to change again. Community groups are developing, residents that I spoke to are looking forward to what the future holds, and an energy exuded from the painted boarded houses that I felt as I passed by. The future is always exciting and can bring revitalization and renovation, but if carried out irresponsibly, it can bring unwelcome change and create pressures that disrupt existing cultures.
By wandering through a neighborhood, one stumbles into things that were once manifestations of prosperity that sit as objects indefensible to the forces of the environment and the passage of time. Some times, the walk revealed spaces reflecting the beauty of human participation in the built environment (like painted boards covering broken windows). Other times, the neglect and struggle of survival is evident as people tried to salvage everything they can from a forgotten property. As Wilkinsburg enters into what could be a massive community revitalization, it is critical to pay attention to the history of the place and of the people that invested energy, even when all seemed lost.