By Kenneth Gormley
On Nov. 1, Duquesne University hosted the Opportunity Zone Association of America (OZAA) conference. We were thrilled to host this prominent group, and we greatly value their work as they create rich opportunities for people in regions like ours.
The attendees met in Duquesne’s Power Center, which overlooks the city with dramatically different views. This location provided OZAA members a clear view of what can happen when parts of communities are left behind.
At one corner of the conference room, the perspective is of downtown Pittsburgh’s thriving commercial district, rightly a source of pride.
At the other corner, attendees look to the Hill District, a community just as complex and ripe with possibility as any other. But it is one that has been repeatedly left behind by past planners, businesses and others.
The difference in these two views is a clear illustration for those who point to Pittsburgh’s “renaissance” that this metaphor only works for some.
According to The Pittsburgh Foundation, about one-third of the Pittsburgh region’s population lives at or near the poverty line. And for those in tough economic straits who live in opportunity zones, too often they do not see direct benefits from investments made in their communities.
Working at Duquesne for the past 25 years, I’ve had the chance to witness and participate in initiatives that have created mutually rewarding partnerships with our neighbors, especially in Uptown. We’re fortunate that other anchor institutions here — businesses, nonprofits and other universities —continue to invest in such initiatives.
Yet, we aren’t doing enough. With access to vast and varied data, we know more about our communities than ever before. However, we must respond to needs uncovered by that data with the same urgency as we respond to financial opportunities.
Anchor institutions can take meaningful actions in opportunity zones that aren’t necessarily big and complicated. For instance, on Aug. 17, three buildings near DeRaud Street in the Hill District were condemned by a fire, leaving 17 families displaced.
These properties are located within the EcoInnovation District, for which Duquesne is a lead convener. So, we acted swiftly. Duquesne’s Office of Community Engagement worked with Rep. Jake Wheatley, Councilman Daniel Lavelle, County Councilman Dewitt Walton, Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh and other organizations.