Exploration of Lawrenceville

Corine Britto
Apr 16, 2019 · 11 min read

Lawrenceville — History, gentrification, Demographics

This weeks assignment was to visit a new neighborhood in Pittsburgh. We were asked to observe the architecture, services, demographics and other noteworthy sightings. We chose the neighborhood of Lawrenceville because of its vibrant art scene, rich history and variety of dining options. Our visit deepened our knowledge of this neighborhoods history and culture. Below are our observations.

Allegheny Cemetary

Lawrenceville History

The neighborhood of Lawrenceville in Pittsburgh, PA was founded in 1814. It was chosen as the home of the Allegheny Arsenal because of it’s accessibility the country’s only iron producing district. The neighborhood recent real estate boom has given rise to rampant gentrification

Left: Construction of new apartments Right: St. Augusting Church built in 1901
Senior Living Complex
Signage for new lofts

Gentrification

Construction of what seemed to be luxury lofts was underway adjacent to a historic church. Advertisements inviting retailers to sell from this “hippest neighborhood” covered the window of soon to be upscale stores. It was clear that the trend of catering to the needs of young professionals showed no signs of stopping. We spoke to one long time resident of Lawrenceville who commented on the lack of social interaction between the old and the new population. She also spoke of the disregard for neighborhood history and for older adults.

Bike Shop
Bike Rental Station
Residents of Lawrenceville

Demographics

Throughout our stroll through the neighborhood, we observed a steady stream of pet owners and young families. We also noticed a fair amount of people riding on bikes. They appeared to be affluent and educated residents. Although many people were in their 20’s or 30’s we did notice some older residents as well.

Services

Many shops seemed like they catered to the younger and more affluent audiences. We saw a tattoo studio, a salon, a shop that called itself ‘ a Lifestyle Store for Parents and Children’. Even everyday services like restaurants looked upscale and young, going by the typography and the forms they used for their branding.

The barber shops were particularly interesting because even though they were new and were meant to attract younger audiences, the signs on their windows were intentionally made to look vintage. It seemed like they were marketing some elements of the past. The words on the door below were also trying to leverage history through their copy as seen in the image below —

The window displays looked upscale and fancy.

There was an interesting mix of the old and the new. We saw old buildings like a church, a cinema hall, a school, a bank. There were some old looking shops and services too — real estate offices, a chiropractor’s office, and a shoe store.

We saw a number of real estate ads — an obvious sign that more and more people were moving into this area. One tagline read ‘Commercial space — now available in the hippest neighborhood.’ Lawrenceville seems like one of the cool places to live in, especially for young people!

There were a lot of bike stores in the neighborhood. We even saw stands for rental bikes on the road. It seems like people here love cycling, or they are really health conscious and make sure to get good exercise.

One interesting building we saw was an apartment complex for senior citizens. We learned that some seniors who could no longer afford the high rent in the neighborhood were given shelter in this building.

Built Environment

Lawrenceville was selected as home to the Allegheny Arsenal in 1814 during the Civil War, and the architecture in the area reflects that fact. Looking down the roads perpendicular to Butler street one can see plain row houses in the Italianate style, which were characteristic of the working class during the Industrial Age. While many of the buildings in the area have had the benefit of receiving restoration, some distinctly appear their age and look to be barely holding together.

Lawrenceville is a showcase of the push and pull of modern and historic style that can occur when new businesses and developers move into a historic neighborhood. This is most apparent when one examines how the design of the shop-fronts along Butler St. negotiate with the preexisting gestalt of the area. Some choose to maintain the existing wood and glass facade, choosing to repaint or stand out by using modern graphics in their signage. Updated facades still tend to utilize wood as a primary material, or attempt to maintain an understated street presence otherwise.

Lawrenceville has recently seen a fair amount of growth due to the influx of younger residents and new businesses in the area. New developments carry the potential to supplant the historic feel of the neighborhood that seems to be so coveted by its residents. Straighter and cleaner edges and colder materials run against the rough and natural style of the existing buildings, and lead to a sense of discontinuity when walking through the area. Should the developers take more care in preserving the “feel” of the neighborhood? Could such architectural discontinuities in the neighborhood also leads to gaps in its social fabric? Or would these harsh differences eventually become softened over time? Lawrenceville appears to be at a critical point in its growth, in which its identity has a significant potential to shift in a new direction.

Brainstorming Session

Our group gathered during the next class to brainstorm possible services for our City Sprint. We discussed possible services that —

  1. Might bring residents together: Lawrenceville has a population of local residents, many of whom are senior citizens. There is another group of residents, the younger population that has moved to Lawrenceville in the recent past. The older residents are dissatisfied because of the lack of interaction with the newer residents. Facilitating communication between the older and the new residents will help instill a stronger sense of community and ownership among all the residents to make them feel like they belong there.
  2. Provide historical information: Lawrenceville has a rich history. Its older residents have many stories and anecdotes and are eager to share them. There is an opportunity here to exchange historical facts and personal stories among residents and visitors.
  3. Strengthen communities that have common interests or routines: We saw many people walking their dogs, riding bicycles, running. What if our service catered to one such group that had common goals?

Here are some ideas that we had at the end of our session:

  • Senior Citizens give new residents a historic tour of the neighborhood.
  • Trash cans as a touch point for neighborhood info
  • “The Smell of history” Dogs find unique scents which lead owners to historical information
  • A game for dog walkers
  • Involving older residents in gathering stories
  • Community Board for sharing feelings
  • Events that bring older and newer residents together
  • Preserving the history of the people and memories in Lawrenceville

Bonding over dog walks

Betty is looking to move into Lawrenceville but doesn’t know too much about the neighborhood other than what some of her friends told her. She walks around the neighborhood then notices a small storefront with what looks like a bunch of people who are going to go walk dogs. The people are several long-time residents of Lawrenceville who are about to set off on their scheduled dog walk of the day. Anyone who wants to can join them on their dog walks and have a chat. She walks up to the storefront and gets matched with Andy, a man who has lived in Lawrenceville for 20 years. Walking up and down Butler street, Andy tells Betty about the neighborhood and his experiences living there. After the walk, Betty learns more about the neighborhood and the people there. Months later when Betty moves into the neighborhood, she goes on more shared dog walks and makes friends with more people in the neighborhood, both young and old.

Community vision wall

Mary and Arnold are paired at the meet at the monthly neighborhood meetup. They are given the task of creating artwork that captures the history as well as the future of Lawrenceville. Arnold tells Mary about his old experiences and what the neighborhood was like 30 years ago. Together, they discuss an ideal future they would like to see. Mary says that she would like to volunteer for different community activities. Arnold suggests that younger residents should interact more with the community and suggests that there should be more meetups. Together, they create a vision board. Later, there is a show and tell for all the participants at the meet-up where they tell each other their ideas. The coming week, all pairs will get a space on the graffiti wall in the public park to paint their ideas.

History of the people of Lawrenceville

A couple is in line at an upscale dessert shop. On the wall, they see an old photo of a group of teenagers in the ’50s hanging out. They scan the QR code and learn the location used to be a diner. They watch a video of an older woman tell stories about her group of friends and their adventures as a teen. They recognize her as neighbor they see around on their walks. Next time they see her, they ask her more questions about Lawrenceville in the ’50s. Over time they become friends.

Idea Consolidation

After sharing our scenarios with one another, we found that the ideas happened to mesh well together. With an overarching desire to create a service that would help aid in reinforcing the social fabric of Lawrenceville, we decided that we would achieve this through creating a delivery method for the history of Lawrenceville that incorporated walks through the neighborhood.

We found our initial ideas to be too direct, as not everyone has the space for more friendships in their life. Instead we thought the service could encourage interaction between individuals indirectly through the transfer of historical information. Knowledge could lead to further curiosity, which could create opportunities for conversation between generations. As a result we decided on a primarily solo experience.

Layers of Lawrenceville

Our resulting service was Layers of Lawrenceville, an app through which people learn about the hidden history of the neighborhood through gamified interactions with real-world locations. We thought that through a partnership with the Lawrenceville Historical Society, we would be able to construct a database of historical “nodes” which tied real world locations to significant moments of the past of the neighborhood. Users would be learn about the hidden history of their neighborhood while they’re out and about, which would hopefully lead to a deepening of their personal connection to their environment.

The app can be experienced on two modes: exploration or guided. Guided mode generates a walking path through a number of history nodes. Users should be able to set the beginning and end of the walk, as well as the number of nodes they want to pass by. Exploration mode is simply on all the time and will notify the user at a selected frequency whenever they are nearby a history node.

Guided mode

When the user walks by a history node, the app will notify them promptly. Then, if the user is willing to participate, the app will guide them to the object of the node through a series of hints and a hot/cold game using phone vibrations. The user is looking at their phone screen at this time, trying to find a virtual object in AR.

The objects are added to a personal inventory from which they can be accessed again in the future. Users can skim through the contents of the information page tied to each object, knowing that they can read it in full later on without stalling their walk for too long.

Users will be rewarded with a coupon for local businesses — especially cafes, once they have collected enough objects along their walk. The intent behind this is primarily to lead users to a place where they can rest at the end of their walk. While sitting down, they can go back and dive deeper into the information pages tied to each object. They can also read comments and personal stories left on the pages by others who have collected the object.

Value exchange diagram

While our solution may not be the most direct, we hope that it does aid in reinforcing the social fabric of Lawrenceville. Upon our first visit we heard that the newer residents of the neighborhood were not showing interest in taking part in the neighborhood — they rarely interacted with elder residents, and had low presence at neighborhood meetings. We hope that through the transfer of history to newer residents, they become more personally invested in the neighborhood and come to be more open to the idea of becoming a closer part of it’s future.

Service Design Neighborhood Exploration — Team Constellation

The chronicles of our exploration of Lawrenceville…