Ruth Ann Dailey: The many sides of the North Side are rising

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When we've done somebody wrong and feel guilty about it but don't have the courage to apologize and make amends, we tend to do anything we can to justify the initial bad deed.

I know this because I've been both perpetrator and victim, and I've watched others caught in the same nasty trap. You too?

I'm beginning to believe it's also true of group psychology. It certainly explains the North Side's special place in the collective Pittsburgh psyche. And by "special place" I mean, "What's that gross thing on the sole of my shoe?"

Here's my theory: Pittsburgh did Allegheny City a huge, history-changing wrong by annexing it stealthily one night in 1907 and has consequently been dumping on its "North Side" ever since.

At the recent, 25th anniversary of the cooperative agreement between Allegheny General Hospital and the many neighborhoods it serves, former Mayor Tom Murphy mentioned, fondly, the North Side's "inferiority complex" and "defensive" posture.

I've been thinking about this situation for years. As a non-native, I arrived here two decades ago wonderfully unburdened by your past. I hadn't a clue about the century-old burden of guilt or bitterness you all -- yinz -- were bearing.

Once I learned the history, though -- well, no wonder! As Wikipedia's entry for "Allegheny, Pennsylvania" puts it, by way of explaining the sudden downturn of Ridge Avenue's Millionaire's Row, "the entire North Side community was beginning to fray after having been annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907."

That's predictable: Allegheny City lost, overnight, its identity. The fraying followed.

Kidnapping will do that to a person -- or to a people. The city coveted us, stole us and has persuaded us -- through constant belittling -- that we deserved this fate.

No other geographical region in Pittsburgh has such a strong collective identity, as large a geographical footprint and as many distinctive and diverse neighborhoods, but bizarrely, no other quadrant is treated in as undifferentiated a way as the North Side.

My favorite recent example of this disregard from the rest of the city was a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that identified the perpetrator of a crime as a "North Side man" and his victim as a resident of Friendship.

Think about that: Both men's identities and addresses were known, but the victim was respected as hailing from a tiny East End community of about 1,800, while the perp came from a huge swath of 48,000. Really? The police and reporters couldn't nail that down a bit more accurately?

Yes, it matters. Coverage like that paints a big area with a broad, negative brush. Another recent PG story mentioned a couple's roots in the "North Side" five times without ever determining which North Side neighborhood they came from, even though the wife's street address was included.

This rankles because it was Madison Avenue -- or what remains of it after the wholesale destruction necessary for building I-279 North -- which means it was my neighborhood: East Allegheny, or as we're calling it these days, in a nod to more than two centuries of history, Deutschtown.

It's not just the PG. No other paper or broadcast outlet can be bothered to distinguish between Allegheny West and Troy Hill, Spring Hill and Spring Garden, Fineview and Manchester, between a millionaire's enclave and housing projects.

Where else in town would such sloppiness go unprotested?

Longtime North Siders' response to this has usually been the "defensiveness" that Mr. Murphy noted -- a posture that has become counterproductive. I've noticed I'm not the only one who cringes whenever anyone leads us in reciting, "You're either from the North Side or the outside."

We're past that. After 13 years' immersion in the North Side's impressive network of community organizations, I believe the only way to shake a century's injustice is to move serenely forward and to insist that others acknowledge your progress.

When the Buhl Foundation announced last month that spending from its $90 million endowment will henceforth be divided 80 percent to the North Side and 20 percent elsewhere -- a reversal of previous years, in deference to its North Side roots -- Buhl president Fred Thieman specifically noted the goal of changing public perceptions of an area that's on the verge of rebirth.

His announcement took place in the old Buhl Planetarium, now an annex of the Children's Museum -- a lawful and peaceful annexation. The lovely result stands in the middle of the Allegheny Commons, the city's oldest park, in the heart of old Allegheny City.

Welcome to our neighborhoods.

Ruth Ann Dailey:

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