Bloomfield and the nexus of theology and community development

This is all a very hyperlocal and personal musing. The more global readership may want to filter it out.

There are two stories in the PG today that have everything to do with one another, yet have no reference to each other at all.   On first glance, the first story may appear to only have a very local interest, but I can assure you that for some impacted it is the single biggest story all year. See: Several Local Catholic Schools to Merge.

That strikes home for me on more levels than you want to read on. For a long time I could find a spot on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield and without moving look around and document much of my life. I was born at St. Francis Hospital, baptized in St. Joseph’s Church, went to grade school at Immaculate Conception. All were still there, just as many of the storefronts on Liberty Avenue were occupied by the same owners as were there 30, 40, in some cased 50 years earlier. Rare main streets across the nation could maintain such continuity across the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Then came a time when people would tell me Bloomfield was changing. I was like..sure, a bit, but Bloomfield was still Bloomfield was what I really thought. There were too many visual cues telling me things were much the same as always. Even a preponderance of the anecdotal could not overcome my own obstinate memory..and I ought to know better. Maybe I didn’t want to think it any different?

Then there is this story about Garfield changing: Garfield’s main drag is ‘growing up’

Bloomfield and Garfield are apocryphal of Pittsburgh’s inner divisions. By geography Bloomfield and Garfield are the same place. The distance between the main street of Bloomfield (Liberty Ave) and Garfield (Penn Ave) is at points measured in steps. Yet the two neighborhoods have maintained distinct identities as far back as matters. No hills, rivers, valleys or train tracks separate the two neighborhoods… just sheer geographic  fate fueled by the self-selection of generations.

So no mention in the latter article on Garfield of the parish consolidations which are central to both Bloomfield and Garfield. The schools being impacted once enrolled most all of the children in the neighborhoods is just the beginning of the linkage.

Yet. It all is connected. There used to be 3 Catholic parishes in Bloomfield and Garfield. The Bloomfield Garfield Corporation was both created by St. Lawrence Pastor Father Leo Henry. That history is relevant to a lot of neighborhood infighting to this day. Why was the BGC as formed not the Garfield Corporation. The geography of the parish probably had a lot to do with it. Technically in canon law St. Lawrence was the territorial parish for both Bloomfield and Garfield. The other parishes in the neighborhood, St. Josephs and Immaculate Conception, even those were actually national (or personal) parishes which means they did not have geographic boundaries. Historically St. Josephs was the church for German immigrants, and Immaculate Conception for Italian immigrants. But when the Bloomfield Garfield corporation was set up,it inherited a name based on the geography of the St. Lawrence Parish..which was technically Bloomfield and Garfield.

Despite their proximity Bloomfield and Garfield have evolved quite distinctly over several decades. The segregation we talk about is as stark as it gets in the dividing line between the two neighborhoods by race. Talk of change not withstanding, actual Garfield residents in 2010 were under 14% white..while Bloomfield is over 81%. The line between the two is about as sharp as such patterns get. Garfield proper has depopulated faster than most anywhere else in the city with one of the fastest declines of any city neighborhood between 2000 and 2010. So as the Garfield focused story today focuses on the main street of the neighborhood, it remains a very open question how much of any of that has pushed into the residential neighborhood.

I have to say though, but any story on the retail main street of Garfield has to mention the two most useful stores in the city. Kraynick’s and also the All Appliance Parts store. If you have not been to both, you really need to stop in.  I can’t really point to a web site for either business.. but both are irreplacable in their own ways and I guarantee you many a Pittsburgher has been impacted more by either of them than a lot of other businesses you hear about.

Amazing how all things come around in Pittsburgh. One of the BGC’s first big battles was to try and save a neighborhood supermarket. Giant Eagle once had a supermarket on Penn Ave. Its closing was one of the things that the residents of Garfield fought hard to prevent, but like so many of the other smaller neighborhood level grocery stores it was a losing fight. Cause or effect is too much to get into here, but the closing of the Garfield Giant Eagle was in many ways a correlate of the decline of Garfield.  Yet..the news of late is that a supermarket may again move into the neighborhood. Bottom Dollar has an option on a property that was indeed the property the Giant Eagle once used.

So who knows what tomorrow will bring….

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