Gentrification. The jazz saxophonist Oliver Lake began a residency with City of Asylum Pittsburgh in January of 2014. Towards the end of his residency he, in collaboration with City of Asylum, decided to create a performative piece about the organization’s surrounding neighborhood—The Northside. And so began the makings of what would finally be titled “Stoop is a Verb.” It’s a 60-minute collection of jazz poetry pieces comprised of music composed by Lake and the words of Northsiders who he interviewed in the subsequent year.
Photo Credit: Brennan Maine
If you are familiar with Pittsburgh neighborhoods, it will come as no surprise that when Lake asked people to talk about their neighborhood, the g-word was inevitable. As one interviewee was quoted: “I love the Northside, but I hate the Northside politics.” But love it or hate it, gentrification is a reality in the Northside and a reality for an organization like City of Asylum. As a recent recipient of a CITF (Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund) grant, which will enable City of Asylum to transform the former Masonic Temple into a community literary center in the North Side’s currently dilapidated Garden Theatre Block as a part of the Federal-North Redevelopment project, the delicate dance of making positive contributions to the neighborhood while maintaining its current integrity and indigenous population is one with which the organization is destined to grapple.
Photo Credit: Brennan Maine
Perhaps one of the best ways to do this grappling is with a healthy sense of self-awareness and objectivity. I think the project “Stoop is a Verb” illustrates the organization’s willingness to openly dive into that dialogue. Towards the middle of the work, one Northsider is quoted:
But the new people have more resources and more capacity. They are very disrespectful of the indigenous, home grown people in the community and it causes a lot of culture clash and a lot of problems for people.
Culture clash not getting support to make the coalition stronger, instead, help is going to foreign writers.
The words sparked a knowing laughter in the audience comprised of founders, board members, staff, and the interviewed neighbors themselves. The piece didn’t result in any finite conclusions, but continued the dialogue– the grappling. In that vein, a few questions to ponder from the text of “Stoop is a Verb”:
“What is the ‘North Shore’?” (The individual challenges the seeming fabrication of a neighborhood to differentiate it from the negative connotation of the Northside”
“But if something happens on the East End, they’ll say Squirrel Hill, Homewood, Point Breeze…14-15 neighborhoods, and every time something happens, you say the ‘North Side’?” (The individual questions how local news stations report stories differently throughout the city.)
“Three crack houses, and we turned them into functioning houses again, and I said ‘We are the bad guy?” (A individual questions his role in gentrification.)