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Visual Representations of Redevelopment in Pittsburgh's Hill District, 1943-1968

Grantmyre, Laura (2014) Visual Representations of Redevelopment in Pittsburgh's Hill District, 1943-1968. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Visual representations of the Lower Hill District created by Pittsburgh’s redevelopment coalition and by neighborhood insiders reveal the conflicting ways redevelopers and residents understood older neighborhoods and their redevelopment. The maps and photographs created by the city’s redevelopment coalition documented the Lower Hill’s built environment—its older housing stock, its densely built-up blocks, and its intermixture of residences and businesses—as definitive examples of blight that threatened downtown’s economic health. Models and architectural sketches of the Civic Arena, the jewel of the Lower Hill’s redevelopment plan, promised to wipe away blight and renew the city. Redevelopers distributed their imagery through brochures and the city’s daily press. Framed by captions labeling the Lower Hill “blight” and the Civic Arena a “wonder of the modern world,” these images sold the public on redevelopment. After the Civic Arena opened in 1961, redevelopers used its image to symbolize their success. However, Lower Hill insiders, most notably the neighborhood’s African American newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier, and the Courier’s lead photographer, Charles “Teenie” Harris, envisioned the Lower Hill and its redevelopment differently. Harris and the Courier criticized the neighborhood’s dilapidated housing but celebrated its thriving social life. Harris and the Courier supported redevelopment but saw it primarily as a route to new jobs and improved housing for Hill residents. In 1961, when new jobs and better housing proved illusory, the Courier protested by fusing symbols of racial injustice to images of the Civic Arena. In the 1960s, anti-redevelopment protesters used this symbolism to force redevelopers’ retreat from the Middle Hill. Visuals illuminate redevelopers’ narrow focus on the Lower Hill’s built environment and Harris’s and the Courier’s broader inclusion of its people and history. Pittsburgh’s business elite, however, ran the city’s redevelopment coalition. They distributed their visuals en masse and backed them with their economic and political might. As a result, redevelopers’ guiding vision won out in the 1950s. By the late 1960s, however, the Courier’s visual critiques of redevelopment rode the momentum of nationwide black protest and defeated the Middle Hill’s redevelopment.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Grantmyre, Lauralsg10@pitt.eduLSG10
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairGreenwald, Maurinegreenwal@pitt.eduGREENWAL
Committee CoChairGlasco, Laurence
Committee MemberMuller, Edward K.ekmuller@pitt.eduEKMULLER
Committee MemberToker, Franklin ftoker@pitt.eduFTOKER
Date: 31 January 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 19 July 2013
Approval Date: 31 January 2014
Submission Date: 16 December 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 264
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: American History; African American Studies; American Studies; Visual Culture; Urban Redevelopment; Hill District, Pittsburgh, PA; Social Documentary Photography; Charles "Teenie" Harris; Allegheny Conference on Community Development
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2014 17:02
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:16


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