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This Isn't Your Father's Pittsburgh: 2 Generations Reflect On A Changing City


Next week, I'll be in Pittsburgh for one of our live events where we talk about big issues people are thinking about. In Pittsburgh our theme is reinventing the American city, and Pittsburgh is a good place to talk about that. The city has experienced a makeover, moving from steel and manufacturing to leadership and technology in advanced medicine. When we head to Pittsburgh, we'll be hearing about how different people and neighborhoods are weathering those changes. We wanted to start off the conversation today with two Pittsburghers who have seen and lived through the changes. Damon Young was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He's one of the writers of the popular blog "Very Smart Brothas," and he brought his father into the studio with us to talk with us as well. Weeb Young came to Pittsburgh in the 1970s and also witnessed firsthand how the city has changed. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

DAMON YOUNG: Oh, thanks for having us.

WEEB YOUNG: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: If I were to say how Young's doing, I guess - I don't know.

W. YOUNG: Young's.

MARTIN: Young's?

W. YOUNG: It's Young's. Nobody else says Young's but people who were born and raised in western Pennsylvania. Young's.

MARTIN: Young's, OK. Weeb, why don't we go back with you? You moved to Pittsburgh in 1978, right?

W. YOUNG: Correct.

MARTIN: What brought you to the city?

W. YOUNG: My wife. This was her home town.

MARTIN: That's a very good reason, if I may say.

W. YOUNG: Yeah, she was born and raised here, and this is where we settled. So I've seen significant changes happen over the years in the Pittsburgh area. I was telling Damon as we were on our way over here that there used to be a Jones and Lockland steel plant, a gigantic plant that was right off the parkway as you were coming into town. But now that place is gone.

MARTIN: Weeb, would you say that the changes have mostly been for the better or for the worse?

W. YOUNG: I would say that they have been for the better.

MARTIN: What would you say is the biggest change?

W. YOUNG: When all the steel mills closed. And, you know, like I was telling my son earlier, I could home from college in the summer and put an application in at five or six steel plants and then wait for all of them to call me to come to work. It was steady work.

MARTIN: So how is it better? You're saying the changes have been for the better, in your view, so how has it...

W. YOUNG: ...Yeah, well, I say it's been for the better, now you - when you go down to that area, those businesses there, those restaurants, those department stores, they're supplying employment. But at the same time, you have places like Brad Hauck or Ducane or Clairton. They don't seem to be benefiting from the change in the sense of being developed in their community.

MARTIN: Damon, what about you? Do you think the changes since you've been awake and alive and aware of things - better or worse?

D. YOUNG: There's a lot of ambivalence there because I do appreciate some of the redevelopments that have gone on. This was the area I grew up in, and I remember when it was a very high-crime area. I remember when the Bloods and the Crips converged in East Liberty and there would be shootings, drive-bys. And now you have all these redevelopments. You have restaurants. You have all of this money just pouring in and people who wouldn't have been caught dead in East Liberty 20 years ago, you know, walking their dogs and riding their bikes and doing CrossFit in the streets and stuff like that, so -

MARTIN: So what's not to like?

D. YOUNG: (Laughter) Well, the part that's not to like is the displacement, the fact that a lot of people who grew up there, who had homes here there have been either been forced to move or have been priced out. And there are people who just don't feel as welcome in East Liberty anymore, and these are primarily people of color, black people.

MARTIN: You actually wrote a piece about your barber, "A Eulogy For Andre Fleming (My Old Barber); And For East Liberty (My Old Home)."

D. YOUNG: I - about a year ago I actually stopped going to that barber because he was a good friend and he was a decent barber, (laughter) but sometimes, you know, I'd go home and my wife would look at my hair line and be like, your barber, did he have a seizure while he was cutting your hair(laughter)? What happened? And Dre - my barber's name - very often, he would get distracted. He would run across the street and go play the number or he would go get some Cheetos, and so I stopped going to him. And now that shop no longer exists. If you walked past it right now, it's just an empty storefront. And I hate to say that that's, like, some type of analogy for what's going on in a larger sense in East Liberty and in Pittsburgh, but...

MARTIN: ...But it is though. I mean, it does encapsulate a lot because on the one hand - let's just tell the truth. Maybe the service wasn't as tight as it should have been. On the other hand, it was comfortable. It was home.

D. YOUNG: Yeah.

MARTIN: And so there's a struggle, right?

D. YOUNG: Yeah. It was home. It was one - it was an institution. When you lose those types of businesses, then you do lose a bit of what made East Liberty East Liberty, what made it home for people.

MARTIN: All right, well, we have to leave it there for now. Damon Young is a blogger. He's one of the founders of "Very Smart Brothas," a popular blog. Weeb Young is his dad, and they both joined us today from the studios at WESA in Pittsburgh. Thank you so much for speaking with us, both of you.

D. YOUNG: Oh, no problem, thanks for having us.

W. YOUNG: Yeah, thanks for having us. Have a pleasant day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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