Pittsburgh’s economic re-development has earned it the reputation as a “most livable city.” But growing numbers of residents ask, “Livable for whom?” It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the reality of a growing divide between two Pittsburghs—one affluent, professional, and largely white, and the other, low-income people with long-term roots in the region, largely people of color.
Despite the links between economic growth and urban diversity, Pittsburgh continues to have the whitest metro area among large U.S. cities, and this is worrying to local officials. It also has higher than national average rates of racial disparities in poverty, unemployment, and educational outcomes. African Americans in Pittsburgh fare far worse than those elsewhere in the country. Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems reported that “Blacks often reside in areas where there are fewer resources for a good quality of life compared to more advantaged residential areas where Whites live.”
What is happening in Pittsburgh, however, is not unique to this city. Nor are the responses that are emerging. Patterns of growth, rising inequality, increased economic and racial segregation, and displacement of poor African American residents is, according to many analysts, the direct result of global processes that have turned cities into “growth machines.” The growing commodification of urban spaces privileges external investors and markets over the needs of residents for whom the city is primarily a place to live and work, exacerbating inequalities and conflict in cities around the world.
There is a notable gap in awareness among local organizers about global-local impacts, and dialogue with community leaders has revealed a reluctance to embrace human rights and other frameworks deemed to be ‘international,’ which are seen as removed from local experiences. Our aim for the Housing Summit is to help strengthen connections between local, national and international advocates for more just social policies in our cities and contribute to a growing body of scholarship on the complex relationships between the global and local as they affect human rights. The Housing Summit will provide space for participants to learn more about the solutions that have emerged, not just in Pittsburgh but also around the world, to address the loss/lack of affordable housing. In addition, the Summit will provide spaces for community leaders to meet with university faculty and administrators to explore how we can make better use of data and research to support community needs, and how we can improve our education and training to better support practitioners and to cultivate the kind of leadership today’s urban challenges demand.
The University-Community Housing Summit will take place November 10-12, 2016, will provide a space for diverse constituencies in Pittsburgh to come together to learn more about the impacts of the affordable housing crisis as well as its underlying causes and solutions. The experiences in Pittsburgh regarding displacement and gentrification are not unique: they are happening in cities around the world. Therefore, we are inviting national and international scholars and practitioners to help inform and advance discussions about the relationships between affordable housing, urban social movements, and globalization.
A key goal of the Summit is to build connections among diverse groups in the city to generate momentum and political will for a more human rights-centered approach to economic development and housing. We seek to shift the focus of debates from the supply of affordable housing to include more attention to the forces driving the growing demand for it. In particular, we will consider the global and local factors that are driving up the costs of housing while keeping wages low. The summit will also help highlight lessons from struggles in cities around the world that can advance efforts to achieve the human right to housing in Pittsburgh.
The Summit will consist of public lectures and panels, skills-building workshops, community-university dialogues, and cultural events held over the three days of the Summit. In addition, we are encouraging synergistic activities in the months preceding and following the summit, including work to integrate the themes of housing and poverty into classrooms (K-12 and university), university panels and community reading groups on selected books related to displacement and housing, and films.
Support is requested to enhance the content and community outreach components of the Summit. We seek to maximize participation by residents most impacted by the lack of affordable housing and helping support continued work following the Summit to develop and sustain relationships and advance initiatives identified through the process of building the summit.