In 1974, the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning published community profiles of the City’s neighborhoods, working mostly from 1960 and 1970 census data. As a preface attached to each profiles notes, “One thing that citizens need if they are to take part in planning for their neighborhoods is up-to-date information about their neighborhoods. This booklet is an attempt by the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning to present information, primarily from the United States Census of Population and Housing, for use by citizens and community groups.” To plan a neighborhood, to diagnose a problem, to form a community, you’ll need accurate information. True enough at the time, but some information and some presentations of information seem more interesting or useful or clear in retrospect.
The Community Profile of Bedford Dwellings, when you read it in a scanned digital format, looks a bit like any old document. There are three lines on the cover page, presumably staples. There is the occasional oddness of spacing or alignment or an off angle of a word, all the typical typewriter issues. A star on a sketchy map of Pittsburgh marks the neighborhood for this community profile, Bedford Dwelllings, which the report places in the broader area of the Hill District, Pittsburgh’s historically (and currently) most African-American neighborhood.
The neighborhood was once a thriving and lively cultural and community center in Pittsburgh, but by the 1950s, was beginning to fray and decay a bit at the edges—at which point the City slated it for “urban renewal,” which amounted to the wholesale demolition of the Lower Hill, displacing more than 8,000 residents and 400 businesses. The City erected a new arena. In 1968, riots between April 5th and 12th, sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., caused fires, destroyed yet more property, and brought about many arrests.
Perhaps a bit euphemistically, the report describes a section of the Lower Hill called Crawford-Roberts as a place “where extensive residential abandonment has taken place.” I suppose that if you demolish much of an area, people won’t live there anymore. They mix a bit of searching for a silver lining with a dose of understated realism: “However, the Cliff Street area (part of Crawford· Roberts) has had some new housing construction and rehabilitation. The lower Hill redevelopment project (now part of the Golden Triangle) remains incomplete, with the controversial Melody Tent site still a temporary parking lot.” It is nice, at least, to see a nod toward the community
It is with this past that the Department of City Planning must survey the area in 1974. There is a variety of demographic and socioeconomic data in the report, in an attempt to broadly sketch the community. The median age of the neighborhood is 23.9, nearly ten years younger than the citywide average of 33.6. 94.4% of the population of the neighborhood is black in 1970, compared with 20.2% in the city. Nearly 40% of the population has at most an eighth grade education. The median income for the neighborhood was barely more than half the median income of the city in 1970.
(Graph showing income growth, Bedford-Dwellings vs. Pittsburgh at large)
It is an odd experience to read this looking back. Was this the best knowledge we had to offer on this community? Is this the most truthful? I am intrigued by this not just for the numbers themselves, though that is something to see. (Median rent was $75 in 1970.) Why, in a report following a decade of deep unrest, do we not have some mention? The report opens with a qualitative overview of the neighborhood; where is the context for the Hill? But I suppose that’s part of why we keep these: the data is helpful, sure, but so is seeing the history of thought.