Last month, NEXTpittsburgh founder and publisher Tracy Certo interviewed Majestic Lane on the subject of gentrification at the Covestro THINC30 summit. He was a big hit and we got lots of comments following the event. “I’m still thinking about your talk with Majestic Lane,” wrote one atteedee days later. We were, too. So we got together with Majestic again for this concise and illuminating Q&A to reach more people on a topic that is often discussed, but not always understood.
TC: How long have you been in your job and what is your role?
ML: I am deputy chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto and in that job, I serve to forward the goals of the administration especially around equity, housing, workforce development, etc.
How do you define gentrification?
I define gentrification as neighborhood change plus involuntary displacement.
How do you achieve a balance between investing in a neighborhood and avoiding gentrification?
There’s a distinction between gentrification and neighborhood change; there needs to be investment in people as well as place.
Can you cite examples?
Much of the work happening in Hazelwood and Second Avenue by the Hazelwood intuitive and URA and philanthropy. They’re bringing new resources to the neighborhood as an example of investment and improving quality of life for all.
Our investments in Warrington Ave. are also an example. A lot of the work community groups and the URA have done along Warrington Ave. to move properties in repair to support businesses to be purposeful — community-serving businesses like Leon’s Caribbean restaurant.
What have we learned from neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and East Liberty and the Strip District, where gentrification has occurred, and what lessons can we take away moving forward?
That it’s best to invest early, particularly for government to be an early investor in making sure they maintain a sense of place and retain long-time residents and other people who would like to stay.
What does that early type of investment look like?
Community land trusts like in neighborhoods that may see rapid appreciation. Investment in community-serving, like the mid-rise project in Homewood (Ed. note: a senior housing project with four commercial spaces below) that also supports commercial opportunities in neighborhoods.
7800 Susquehanna is another example. It was done purposefully to bring in these resources, to bring businesses in and to support local businesses. Bridgeway Capital was very purposeful in making sure local businesses would participate.
To avoid gentrification, is there one big thing that needs to change or a lot of smaller things?
It’s an ecosystem question. Gentrification is often the proxy for the economic, political and social vulnerability of a community in the sense that it’s a symptom of what can happen to a community. It’s not the cause; it’s the symptom.
Some investment is needed in neighborhoods to maintain a strong tax base. Can you address that?
Investment in neighborhoods should be done to build up people as well as place, so the tax base can be increased by people living in and part of the neighborhood as well as others coming in.
By investing in people and place, we build a base and hopefully a vibrant neighborhood that will attract other people coming in from other cities and building the tax base from there.