By Tim Hayes
Every now and then, when business takes me over that way, I make a slight detour and drive through the neighborhood where I grew up. Sometimes it makes me smile, but more often it pesters my mind and hurts my heart.
Because, you see, the old neighborhood looks just that – old. Tired. A little beat-up by life, and age, and an encroaching sense of decline. It also looks a lot smaller and the houses squeezed a lot tighter together than I remember.
Maybe it’s something that a fresh coat of paint on the front porch awnings could help remedy, but I fear the trouble goes deeper than that. Driving down the street, rattling off the names of each family in every house I passed, I wondered if any still lived there. It seemed unlikely.
Recalling the hours spent playing and riding bikes with friends in the front street, or in the alley behind our house, or in the open field behind the houses across the street, I wondered if the kids living there now did the same. For whatever reason, that seemed just as unlikely.
Now, please understand, all of these observations come as the result of a 30-second car ride, so the chances of me being completely wrong remain fairly high. And I hope I am wrong, because I could not have asked for a happier, safer, more loving and support-based childhood, growing up where I did. My fondest wish would be for every kid to have the kind of family and neighbors – in the truest sense of the word, where we each looked out for each other with shared concern and support – that my sisters, friends, and I had.
The impression in late 2014, however, draws a somewhat dimmer view. But there is hope. Tangible, tactical hope, that the old girl can make the long climb back to prosperity and pride. The first glimpse came in a brief newspaper article a few days ago, describing how a young couple recently purchased a long-established bar and grill, and converted it into a friendly neighborhood bistro.
The story placed this effort into context, saying that, “For every Lawrenceville, East Liberty, South Side or Downtown that’s been the apple of developers’ eyes, there are dozens of other struggling neighborhoods like (mine) that have never fully recovered in post-steel Pittsburgh…With a business corridor with great bones, new leadership and activity in (an organized) neighborhood group and a planned urban farm (nearby), the (bistro owners) may be buying in early on an area poised for a turnaround. Here’s hoping more will do the same.”
We’re knee-deep into the season of gift-giving, thanks-giving, and second chance-giving. The season of rethinking, rebirth, and renewal. The risk that this couple has taken on, in attempting to plant a flag of confidence and belief in the potential of my old stomping grounds to start over, is not only admirable, but worthy of applause. And action.
It took 30 seconds in a car to create a mental image of neglect and regret. It took 30 seconds to read a story in the paper that created a mental image of hope and fortitude. At some point during this holiday season, I plan to punch my ticket on behalf of – and in appreciation of – the place where I grew up, and eat a meal in that new neighborhood bistro.
I’m betting the long climb back could start with a beer, a hamburger, a grateful respect for a neighborhood’s wonderful legacy, and a healthy dose of faith in its future.
Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting