Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: University of Pittsburgh students see South Side in a different light
April 7, 2015 12:00 AM
Students in Pitt's urban skills seminar researched the South Side last fall.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Last fall, 47 students in Michael Glass’ urban skills seminar at the University of Pittsburgh spent a month traversing the South Side Flats to put numbers to the neighborhood’s nightlife narrative.
Five will present their findings at city council’s post-agenda session at 1:30 p.m. today.
The students interviewed more than 2,100 people to discern how feelings of safety, neighborhood identity, lifestyle satisfaction and bar scene experiences vary by age, gender and status as residents or visitors. They talked to people from the riverfront trail to a senior high-rise, from the SouthSide Works to the 10th Street Bridge, on the streets, in shops and in a variety of bars.
Each day they were on site, their official research ended at 8 p.m. because, as university-sanctioned work, there was liability involved, Mr. Glass said. “But some enterprising students went on their own [later] doing pedestrian counts, witnessing fights and ejections” from bars, he said.
In four decades, the post-industrial character of the Flats has been replaced by a vibrancy that, each week, suffers a couple of toxic nights. A few bars that pack ’em in and fill ’em up show little regard for the safety and well-being of anyone, either inside or outside, and do not deal with the street-level Sunday aftermath.
This scene prompted city Councilman Bruce Kraus to lead a responsible hospitality movement that resulted in the city’s hiring of Maya Henry as its first hospitality manager last summer.
The study “confirms a lot of the things Bruce has been saying for 10 years,” said his chief of staff, Kevin Kerr.
Fifty-two percent of those interviewed in the study are male and 75 percent are white. Ninety-eight percent reported having at least a high school education and more than half had attended or graduated from college.
Student Nick Goodfellow, 23, of Washington, D.C., said he interviewed women who reported harassment and the absence of security inside some bars.
“We interviewed a female bartender who said she has had to leave jobs because of sexual advances,” he said. Employees “talked about how management influences the atmosphere and experience. If a club owner or manager set the policy for security out front and not in back, there was a higher likelihood of victimization.
“There are a handful [of bars] that are really problematic because of how they promote their events and the way management operates, including lighting and crowding.”
Mr. Goodfellow said the problem bars are ones that advertise drink specials with fliers depicting scantily clad women. “That sets the scene for an expectation of sexualized behavior.
“I’ve been on the South Side [as a patron] and not had a great experience,” he said. “People get really drunk and have no filters and no respect, in my experience.”
At Pitt, Mr. Glass chooses a neighborhood and an issue each semester for his students to investigate. The prior fall’s seminar focused on Lawrenceville, comparing the lower and central parts to the upper part to study the effects of gentrification.
“I was interested in the South Side because students go there, and also because of the concern in the British and European literature about nighttime economies,” Mr. Glass said.
As a point of comparison, European policies are more regulatory, making nightlife in cities such as Berlin, Stockholm and Amsterdam less brutish than in some British cities, where policy-makers are looking to use those other European models to temper nightlife that caters to “the ‘lad’ culture — soccer fans, the masculine mono-culture,” he said.
Student Lauren Rowland of Philadelphia said she talked to South Side residents who wanted to emphasize the neighborhood’s good qualities, the reasons they live there.
“We interviewed local businesses and long-term residents who didn’t feel the South Side was portrayed fairly” in the media. “A lot of people were pleased by our presence, glad somebody was talking to them.”
“Residents love their neighborhood,” she said. “Pride is high. People talked about the great history. A lot of residents said they tried to have a relationship with young neighbors, so they feel some sense of responsibility and respect.”
Ms. Rowland said the data that were assembled collected words that were most often used to describe the South Side. “Most of the words weren’t negative,” she noted. “Two of the most common were, in fact, ‘busy’ and ‘fun.’ ”
Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette-com or 412-263-1626.
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