The Hill District of Pittsburgh - Part III


As noted in our previous installment, the Hill District grew into a cultural hub, a thriving musical culture leading it to be considered the “Crossroads of the World”. But time placed a heavy toll on this neighborhood, one of the oldest in Pittsburgh. Much of the housing had been built as far back as the 1800s and had no running water, toilets, modern kitchens, or central heating. In the late 1940s, the U.S. Supreme Court gave redevelopment authorities the power of eminent domain to acquire properties that they deemed “blighted”. Much of the neighborhood's spirit was crushed – literally – in the mid-1950s when the city demolished the lower part of The Hill as part of an urban renewal project. Every building in the Lower Hill was demolished including historic churches and profitable business establishments. “No attempt was made to preserve or repair historic buildings. Everything had to go. The jazz of the Hill was gone forever.” (From Pittsburgh Music History, "Crossroads of the World")


By 1990 The Hill's population had plunged to slightly more than 15,000 from more than 50,000 in 1950. Most of the remaining residents were poor and living in public housing. This is the setting in actuality that real-estate developer Harmond Wilks faces in Radio Golf. However, since the mid-1990s, more than $300 million in government and private money has been committed to tear down dilapidated buildings, rebuild public housing and provide upscale housing. A young man standing in front of an abandoned row house said in a New York Times article that he doesn’t see the Hill District as it is now: “I see it as it could be because I know what it was.” The issue is still the same in fact and in fiction – how to rebuild without losing cultural identity.

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