Renee had an idea

After a presentation at the CAA conference in Los Angeles where we talked about our SL Dumpster project, a woman (Renee) approached us and said: “Would you ever consider working in a urban context with vacant land?”

Invitation to Pittsburgh

email from Renee:

Hello Hajoe and Franzy,

I hope you both are doing well.  I have some good news.

The URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh) is able to fund a research trip for you to come to Pittsburgh!

Our first meeting in Pittsburgh

We arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport in the morning, rented a car, checked into the Renaissance Hotel and met 12:30 pm at the URA offices with:

Renee Piechocki (Office of Public Art)

Lea Donatelli (Office of Public Art)

Rob Stephany (URA)

Lena Andrews (URA)

Morton Brown (City of Pittsburgh)

What follows is a rough transcript of that meeting.

Renee: I was talking with some colleagues about this and they just thought that it was really exciting that the URA even entertained this idea of having artists come in and thinking creatively about some land use stuff. I am, like… it’s Rob and Lena, I am not surprised. What we are hoping to do over the next couple of days is show you as much of undeveloped Pittsburgh as we can and look for some kind of proposal or report of what could happen.

Rob: We are grateful that you guys came out. The city is going through some really interesting reverb that masks in large part some of our historic and heritage of loss, the city has lost 50 percent of its population. Some of our neighborhoods are the most vibrant from a market standpoint as any place on the East coast and some of them have lost up to 90 percent of their population. You would be hard pressed in your tours to call them non neighborhoods. You would be hard pressed to say that there is not a there there. We are the development authority and we believe in some kind of grass roots change, but not all togethet sure that they all have to be redevelopment. Not altogether sure they have to be re-population strategies. We have challenged a few neighborhoods to start thinking about what’s the vision of their neighborhood that acknowledges loss.

Population loss shouldn’t mean a vision for a neighborhood that deals with some of this market loss shouldn’t be uninspired. So at places like Larimer we are starting to think…how do you extend regional parks into their neighborhood.

Other folks from Hazelwood are thinking about not just green ways but real expansive notions. And we are willing to be as regressive as any community group might want to be in that endeavor. I think some of our conversation has been, and I can’t wait to hear your vibe on this, but there are places like Homewood that will be very exciting neighborhoods 20 years from now. They just happened to have the life sucked out of them right now. You drive down the street and 60 percent of the property is vacant land or vacant buildings. The other 40 percent is either slum landlord property or owned by people who will be leaving the neighborhood in the next couple of years. These are heavily senior populations. You can do one hundred units of housing in Homewood and not keep ahead of how much housing they are going to loose over the same four years that it will take you to develop a hundred. So is that a park, where 50 percent of those housing units had their roofs ripped of and their porches ripped of, and the skeletons and bones of those structures become a sculpture garden. We keep wondering, how does an artist inspire community based on loss.

We have these neighborhoods up on Plintz and there are these steps that are still a part of every day working life’s – what if these steps, instead of being goofy, crazy, utilitarian public steps that do nothing but disintegrate from the moment they are constructed, what if they were some pedestrian narrative that inspired folks. The other neat thing is… there is good plans. Pat Hazad? is a good co-conspirator for us. If I was able to find some money to rebuild some steps he would be a guy who could figure out how to get us through the bureaucracy that doesn’t want an artist designed railing. We got the director of the department ready and willing to make me not step into my own shit and figure out how to do that.

Renee: Pat Hazard works at the department of public works. A great ally there.

Rob: ..and a career bureaucrat who has always found a way to find inspiration.

So. That’s it. I think we want to give you some context today of the city at large and respond to some questions you might have.

Lena: This is a map. As Rob has mentioned, we lost 50 percent of our population since 1950, so we used to have about 700.000 people living in the city boundaries, and now we have 330.000.

Rob: But what I think is important, this is really a tale of three neighborhoods. Some of these have actually not only lost a minimum amount of population but have actually gained population.

Lena: If you drive around a lot in these green neighborhoods you can’t even really tell that they have lost population. It’s probably just that household sizes have gotten smaller and there are fewer people living in these enormous houses.

Rob: My house in Lawrenceville was built by the builder, the inspiration was a single family house but by the time it got constructed there was the need for so many jobs at the mills down at the river that it was built as a three unit apartment building. The early census shows about 4 or 5 people per unit. So my one little house that has four people, and we feel a little cramped in there, had twelve people living there.

Lena: So, the population loss seems really extreme, but in some of the neighborhoods in the city you can’t really even see it. It just varies a lot depending on where you are. This is a chart that shows that we have lost 50 percent of our population but only 15 percent of our housing units. A lot of that are smaller households but there are lots of vacant structures that are still standing.

So we have a lot of vacant land, vacant buildings and public property. This is a map that shows public owned property, some of it is parts of that is parks and hillsides. A lot of times the city and the URA take possession of land when it‘s tax delinquent, when people are not paying taxes anymore. So this is an indicator of blight. These are all properties that are either owned by the city, the URA or the housing authority.

So you can see we have these kind of clusters of vacancy and blight and then we have larger areas that are fairly stable.

Rob: These parks might be the only property that would show up as an asset. Even housing authority they have been selling their properties to private individuals.

What’s so interesting about this is… a lot of our hills used to be the worst places in the city to live, because from there they used to look out over hell on earth, these steel mills just polluting…and so much of the slope housing that was built by Polish people with their own hands, or Italians and not with the greatest construction methodologies. Unlike where they came from, we have really frail slopes. So we have a constant kind of slippage. Much of our population loss has been dealt with by houses falling off of hillsides, and the forest growing in instead. Usually we have topography and green as the underlay to these maps, and if you did this all this garbage would show up as terrible, but if you look at it as green as an asset, a lot of that stuff starts to get hidden, and what ends up peering out are what insiders of Pittsburgh read and recognize as blight. Here is the hill district, Garfield, Larimer, Homewood, Brushton, Bellshoover just outside the inner rim of the North Side. That I would say reads to Pittsburhgers as the place where this population loss is flat. It’s our Detroit. But Detroit has no mountains and Detroit lost 50 percent of its population, but Detroit across the board reads like it’s lost. That’s our Homewood.

Lena: But a lot of land that we own is steep and undermined and flood plains.

So there are areas that are hazardous and we can’t really build on them. We have been trying to make the case that the green space is a part of the economic development. That was a study of what the University of Pennsylvania did where they looked at what happened when you improve vacant land, what happens to the property around it and in Philadelphia they did this massive greening project of vacant lots and then they looked what happened to adjacent sales and property values. When you are next to a vacant lot that is green the property value went up by as much as 30 percent. They also looked at street trees. This is making the economic case for doing these types of improved green space projects. And we are about to do a study like this in Pittsburgh.

Rob: I think art and green have similarities and differences. It cost us so much to develop property and I can spend a Million Dollars on a deal and I am ok spending this as long as it impacts people off of the site. I am really interested in trying to figure out how the senior citizen gets equity in her home. I don’t just wanna do a deal. There is a lot of data in places that relates to greening efforts and how that has market impact on nearby real estate. Now, I believe in this arts thing at my core…it’s a leap of faith and I am willing to take that. It’s how its implemented. I think if you did the right thing in Homewood where 10 houses were converted into sculptures people might flying in from Chicago…so it’s just a different thing. So with what we are obsessed with is: How does it add value to the people who have stayed there long enough.

Renee: I always love seeing studies like this but to my knowledge there is no entity that has studied this with access to cultural institutions. Is it public art, is it a museum or a gallery, I don’t know if anyone has actually done a real study. It would be really great if there was a study like this, because a lot of the information about art being valuable is really anecdotal. You always hear people talking about the artist come in and get the neighborhood going and it becomes completely gentrified and then the artists are pushed out and can’t afford it anymore. That’s something that happens in bigger cities all the time, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I don’t know that is has happened here in Pittsburgh yet.

Rob: Gentrification hasn’t happened in Pittsburgh yet. I think the idea of the artist as pioneer and somebody who believes in neighborhood and doesn’t suffer from other ills, like racism, the artist as pioneer is a different move than public art as reclamation of place.

Franziska: How do you define an increase in value?

Rob: We can show you how we define that. It’s looking over time at actual sales prices. Assessed value has no meaning in our region right now for a variety of reasons. If 30 people sold property in Homewood last year and the average was $30.000, 40 people sold property in the year before and the average was $40.000, we can get a sense that we are going downward. It’s pretty straight forward. There is 10 For Sale signs up on this block today. Artist moves in works with community…whatever. Fast forward 2 years from now, all 10 For Sale signs have been taken down. Homeowners interviewed, Homeowners believe that there are not on a downward spiral, which is why they pull their property off the market. Even any level of stabilizing.

Franziska: When the population decreased, because you just said, homeowners believing that they are not on a downward facing road, where there some kind of things that were happening here, where suddenly there was this hysteria and  people just started selling their homes, and other people followed and there was not a real reason may be?

Rob: Early on during suburbanization there were things like block busting, where realtors would sell their first house to an African American Family in a white neighborhood and then start essentially a rumor mill to the rest of the block about race. And then other people would start to sell so that those realtors could do, so that was called block busting. At this point, unless there is a gang house across the street, unless there is some decremental social thing that actually starts driving people out quickly, it’s more kind of a nutrition issue. It’s sort of watching something die on the vine. And for all our predecessors, that was an ok strategy to let it die. I feels there is a way to not let it die and I think we have to figure out other strategies, cause you can let it die by building housing. The exact opposite of the intent of what we do could unfold in some of these places that don’t have a lot. At this point there is a slum landlord condition, where people have purchased property for nothing and now they are renting properties…I don’t mean to over- characterize it, but it’s not that far off. And there is Senior home owners. That’s where they have lived and they are not going to move because of market value. They are going to move because their son or daughter tells them they can’t cut the grass anymore it’s time to go. Or they pass on, and we have a substantial amount of them. And it’s interesting because a senior home owner is one of the safest conditions known to mankind, next to a slum landlord which can be a haven for  poorly managed  rental housing, be a haven for crime.

Hajoe: So what is your vision for it? To get the slum lords out to keep the retired people in the place, or to get new people in there.

Morton: There are problems with maintenance with slum landlords. That is a problem that we all have. You can’t get them to maintain their property properly so it contains that visual blight.

Rob: yes, I think well managed rental housing is great. But these neighborhoods don’t have a lot of it. These neighborhoods have some kind of path of least resistance transactions happening. So we don’t want to perpetuate more slum landlords. I think we have to be humane with seniors. One of the things going on regionally right now is that Pittsburgh is probably better than any place in the world

Providing services to seniors in place. Lot of other cities have just built a ton of senior housing, moved everybody out of their big mansion and into their little efficiency apartment. We have networks like Meals on wheels, Health and Human Services. But we still almost monthly run into a condition where that senior shouldn’t simply live there. She is afraid, she is sequestered into the first floor of her house. And she got all kinds of emotional ties. Just last week in Polish hill, there she is right on Bergen street pleading for us to buy the property next door because she is positive there are people in there. And at some point when you don’t feel safe other weird shit starts to happen. But we are really good at keeping people there for very long periods of time, and I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s a core capacity. I think by the end of the day trying to clearly get good people to want to be there, I don’t care if it’s rental or for sale, other people obsess over owner owned occupancy above rental, but in many of these transitional places people are more likely to rent just to test it out. If it is really transitional I make a year commitment to this place but I don’t know if I want to put my $5000 on the line as equity. There is a future vision for these places where they are the green, gracious neighborhoods. Diversity will always be a part of that. What sets them apart is that they weren’t frankly the 5000 people living in row houses. There is something a lot more gracious about Garfields future and Larimer’s future and Homewood’s future.

Homewood hurts me, because in Pittsburgh many of the neighborhoods that have great architecture have rebounded. We had workers and we had middle management neighborhoods and in some instances we had the mansions on the main street. These middle management neighborhoods, and Friendship is one of them the markets rebounded there and for the most part much of our distress in these working class neighborhoods, frame, row house, brick row houses, it’s only built to last ten years and it has lasted 95. It was built in some instances by the mills to accommodate an influx of immigrants to service the mills. Homewood has a characterization of Friendship, within 2 blocks you can have houses selling for $25.000 and $450.000. And this whole area is actually the only place in the city where I think they are figuring out, this line right here is where stability meets instability. We haven’t it figured out yet in Homewood and North point Breeze. Larimer is still much of an outpost, but I think we are getting excited about Larimer.

Lena: you see here right on the map. this is this street called Penn Ave. it goes all the way from the east quarter of the city and it goes all the way downtown. These are some of our strongest real estate markets here in the county and then here houses cost like $10.000- $15.000.

Rob: it’s one of the few places in the city where it’s not encumbered by some crazy topography.

Lena: Yes, it’s flat. It’s just a street in between.

Hajoe: Is there like a bleed over happening?

Lena: There is actually a physical barrier that is hard to cross. There is a bus way corridor.

Morton: it’s like a highway but only buses can go on.

Renee: It’s unique. Who else but Pittsburgh has a bus way?

Lena: We have this open space group that comes together that encourages creative use of vacant land in the city. So we meet with the City Real Estate Department, City Planning, the Mayor’s office, all these different city agencies that work with vacant land and we try to help neighborhood groups in technical assistance provider to urban gardens or community farms, or extend the green ways.

Rob: It is funny. It is so rewarding having the city people talking amongst themselves about all the same shit they are dealing with.

Lena: It’s funny because each one of us deals with a different piece of it, and the vacant land projects are confusing. The ownership is confusing, how you permit it and so we are all working together in this.

Renee: Is that working group new?

Lena: It’s been going for a year. We are now called Osnap, Open Space Neighborhood Advisory Panel.

This is an example of a neighborhood development project that we did recently.

Rob: It’s kind of a transitional neighborhood, called Marshall Shaveland. The two vacant parcels used to accommodate 44 row houses that were really poorly managed. They negotiated the sale of the property, the URA ultimately had to buy it from the community group, we tore down the buildings. It’s been green space for about 8 years and the community group has been pursuing a 22 housing development on that parcel, because that’s all that we told them they could ever build on that parcel. In the interim they started using, what is really crappy green space, but you have seen kids throwing frisbies..

So we reengaged them a little bit and said, what if we abandoned the idea of building 22 units of housing that would taken a decade to sell. So it costs on average $235.000 per address to build, the average sales price in Marshall Shaveland is $35.000. So we said, what if we built three new houses and they will front a new public park. (…) It’s a really successful project.

Franziska: Who used to own the row houses?

Rob: one of those slum land lords. And then the community bought it from him.

Franziska: And who is the community?

Rob: There is a community group. We have a very robust community development system. It was formed literally out of …when our industry started to collapse we were the front runner in kind of employee led organizing efforts that really transcended into a community development setting. So we have community groups that are 40 years old now. It ranges from being totally dysfunctional to being cutting edge. But every community has some structure of people meeting monthly try to figure something out.

Renee: I don’t know if you guys are interacting a lot with community boards in NYC., It’s that same system but they are not legislation. Because in NY every neighborhood is part of a community board. They have the same function but they don’t have the official capacity.

Rob: One of the things these guys are constantly confronting is to sit down with the community group that can do really good things and trying to work with them on a public art project…

Lena: We are looking for creative ways to use vacant lands and there is this group in the city called Birded Bees. They are putting aviaries on vacant lots. We are working with them to do a license agreement in Larimer, which is next to Homewood to give them a more permanent use of a lot.

Another group is the Landslide Community Farm

Hajoe: What about contamination? Do you do soil testing?

Lena: Yes, we work with Penn State. They  have an Extension Center in Pittsburgh and they do a lot of the testing.

Rob: I think some of the technical assistance providers on the green landscaping front are some of the best in the nation and well funded by philanthropy. So we have Grow Pittsburgh, that can work with anybody on the creation of any kind of community garden. You wanna have to own that garden, you wanna have to manage and maintain that garden but they can do soil testing through Penn State Cooperate Extension, they can help you with the right plantings and the right crop rotations. We have a student conservation core which at a drop of a head could bring 40 talented young people to a neighborhood to eliminate basils?? on a hillside, as long as the community is there. We got G-Tech, some kind of cutting edge thinkers as it relates to soil remediation through bio crops. Then we have some grass roots folks like Diane Swan, who is sort of a hero. She has just taken 35 lots around where her house and where her business is and doesn’t care who the owners of those properties are. She maintains those lots and has been doing so for 20 years.

Lena: We have a really extensive green way network in Pittsburgh. It’s something that’s unique to the city. It’s passive green space that belongs to the city. A lot of our wooded hillsides, they are not parks but they are green ways. So there are mainly trees and there are trails that go through them. We have been helping people turning vacant lots next to their houses into side yards. We sell them at a reduced price. There is a thing going on in Larimer now called The Experiment Station.

Rob: Heinz founded through Kingsley. Essentially giving them the opportunity to pursue creative ideas as they materialize from their community planning process. And it’s specifically whre vacant land reclamation and development might intersect. There are great stories nationally of the High School planting herbs on a vacant lot creating a salad dressing and being all the rage at the high end restaurant in LA and actually making money out of that. So I think it was Christine from Heinz essentially saying: I like what I am seeing here, here is some cash Kingsley.

This Experiment Station is like: It’s ok to F-up. It’s not ok to not try.

Renee: I think that’s a Pittsburgh theme actually. People really expect you to try things and it’s ok if they don’t work. Because we’ll do a study them and do an evaluation and that will help the next person.

Rob: But it’s not ok to be inspired only to have it fizzle out because there wasn’t any fall out. So, our parole center has to be relocated to accommodate Target just down the street. One of the things they are actually thinking about is: Can you move the Parole center into one of the buildings on Hamilton Avenue? The neat thing is…30 detectives coming into a neighborhood near you every day. They are actually the safest places in the city. (…)

If we have done anything then it’s trying to encourage people to think about a reuse strategy that’s not an expensive development strategy that won’t do any good.

Hajoe: so in a way you are advising?

Rob: we have taken on a purposeful, early stage, kind of technical assistance team, we have 7 or 8 folks from the URA that will go into a community setting and help them with some of their re-visioning activities. It’s their vision but we can help them get passed the… Literally for the last 40 years the idea of loosing population was a negative that people couldn’t get passed, like we don’t even want to think about it. Shut up and build the house. Now all of a sudden it’s like, well this could be an asset.

We have worked in Garfield, Polish Hill, we are now in Hazelwood and help them think through what’s going on with Land Use.

So Larimer is actually thinking, so what if we took all this vacant land and extend the park (Highland park) into our neighborhood? All of the sudden Larimer would go from being a plimphed to being next to a regional park.

Lena: And groups started coming to us.

Rob: We don’t impose our will on neighborhoods. We used to.

Lena: Yes, we can show you some projects…

Rob:… many of them we are trying to undo.

Renee: It’s interesting to think about the idea of population loss and asset, because in most affluent cities, it’s all about people who have the most space. It might be interesting to get people to rethink about this asset they don’t know about.

Franziska: And these vacant lost, are they used in any kind of unofficial way, by individuals or groups, or are they just vacant, overgrown?

Rob: I would say the general condition across the footprint of the city is overgrown and unmaintained. Some neighborhoods started to take control of that.

If you think about scale and the other part of the land issue (maintenance)  you start to have a condition where something is a small scale low maintained solution would be side yard. I own this house. I am going to buy this yard right next to me from the city and I am going to maintain it. That’s a good solution and one we are trying to encourage, all the way to something that’s a large scale high maintained solution which would be a public park. And at the end of the day we are trying to shift things into that direction. (public park) The general overarching condition off city and URA owned land is probably easily read as poorly managed vacant land. The URA is better than the city is at keeping grass cut and this kind of stuff.

Hajoe: Oh, this actually happens? It’s maintained at that level.

Lena: If it’s owned by the government it’s supposed to be maintained.

Rob: The stuff that you will see during your travels… that multiple year rat’s nest, that’s privately owned.

Hajoe: So there is a gradient in maintenance of what is city owned, URA owned and privately owned?

Morton: What’s up with the green up program?

Rob: It’s a great resource. Public Works Department of the city has set aside a dedicated crew to be supportive of grass roots efforts at land reclamation. Plublic Works has access to huge earth moving machinery, if you wanna get rid of 50% of the material on site, they just do it. If you put this kind of work out to bid I am in the 10th of Thousands of Dollars just to prep a site. When you start thinking: oh, this almost feels impossible the green up team can essentially say: We can do this.

The bad thing is that they are getting a bad reputation among these other technical assistance providers which I think is somewhat unwarranted, that they do things for communities, not with them.

Renee: I think one thing that we should think about when we look at stuff is the ideas you come up with should be as big as they can be. Potentially we could have access to these amazing people who can move dirt, or funders that are interested in ideas and experimentation. Don’t fell like as you go home and think about this that any idea is too wild, because it would be great to have a list of all the ideas. Don’t edit, is what I am saying. There are so many people and resources here who are interested in helping Pittsburgh be as good as it can be that any idea is really worth putting out there. The access you can have to people that can make things happen is completely different. The scale is very different to NYC for example, but in a good way. People want things to happen. It’s not a cynical place…It’s a cynical place in the sense that people are famously feel bad about themselves, but that is trying to shift.

Morten: The city itself has a self esteem problem. But the support you are talking about is all across the board on all levels. It’s the government all the way down to the homeowner. People in the neighborhoods are proud of where they live, they want to see it rebuild itself, they want to build new pride into it. I agree. The support will come from everywhere.

Rob: It’s an interesting task, because much of this has its inspiration in the people you will never talk to until you do a deal, right?! To a certain extent your task is to inspire us about what could be. Here is 30 crazy ideas. People will give you a pass as long as you ask for it. We don’t wanna do it, if you don’t wanna do it.

Hajoe: Is there actually information about how many of the houses are rented and how many are owner occupied?

Lena: Yes, we have this data. It’s different in every neighborhood.

Hajoe: I am curious, because I think it reflects how the community is built and what the interest of the people is.

Rob: And I continue to challenge. There are places where there is community, you can feel it and I would say home ownership is higher there than where there is a loss of traction, there is more stuff going into rental, going into for sale, and I want to push a little bit on: Is there a role for a kind of community engaged public art move in those different settings? And it’s a hard push, because you want to find a place where people are going to fall in love with this, own it, it will be theirs. It’s really easy to want to move away from these places where everything moves away and I am wondering if public art is one of those things that could set a flag into the ground, or may be it can’t.

Hajoe: That’s something we have to consider because in our work whenever we worked with a community we were never assigned to a community and for us that is very important. That’s something what’s interesting for us working here: How can we solve that issue. Because we are not interested per se in a group that is already willing to work with us. For us it’s more like: oh, now we are here, now we have to figure out what happens.

Rob: So in your ideal world you can calk something catalytic and then it materializes.

Hajoe: No, it doesn’t. That’s the point.

Rob: Ok, let me just say that I am cool with … I have been down every road. I have commissioned artists and I walked down the long and excruciating path of what hyper community involvement looks like. And almost everything else is a hybrid. If I could be in this position… since I am a public entity…but this is where we have conversations with philanthropy… if you gave Kingsley this over a three months time period… once the curtain comes down, this is what could unfold and I am not asking anybodies permission for it. And Kingsley has enough tentacles in the community to say: wait…this should be exciting. I am not obsessing over one or the other

Renee: I think…see what happens. This might also causes shift for experimentation in your own work.

Hajoe: That for sure will happen. Pittsburgh already is different than a lot of settings we have worked in. It has a lot of similarities for example to the desert, I did some street views with google earth…and it looked like the desert, which at the same time looks very familiar.

Franziska: I think, we were never interested to do something for a community. We usually turn things around, where we have this idea, and then we need people who can help us and that approach really integrated only people who wanted to do something. And not just like…there is a groups and here we present you this and we hope you all like it.

Renee: And that’s why I was interested in bringing you two here, because these are places that need ideas. I think the whole idea of the artist and the community working together to come up with something… like nothing has these communities really stopped from coming up with their own ideas. So the concept of, coming in, you have seen the space, and then coming up with some ideas and then seeing which ones become magnets  for peoples inspirations and aspirations makes sense in the neighborhoods we are talking about.

Rob: These are all neighborhoods that have had the big brain development imposed on them, only to have it failed. Not many have worked. It’s how do you prep for success? These zones are primarily African American, it’s just too easy to say: Here comes the white people again.

Renee: Part of that is coming up with the right partnerships and unveil the ideas at the grass roots level. It’s not going to be like: Oh we have this great idea and then we get money from Heinz and come and say: Look we are going to do this here. It will be about real grass roots testing before we go, because I think that would cause the funding to happen. We brought these people in, this is the geographic space they are thinking to work with, this is an idea and look we have aligned all the support and people who want to participate in it, now we need money to make it happen.

But I think the danger is going to be… not only here comes the white people, but these two white people with accents from somewhere else. They are not even with CMU, where do they come from?

Hajoe: That sometimes helps.

Renee: but I think some neighborhoods in Pittsburgh have CMU project exhaustion. And they have tons of really good programs that try too hook up students with real neighborhood projects. But I think if the hill district gets another studio for creative inquiry project they might just start crying. We don’t wanna work on another project that doesn’t lead to anything.

Franziska: Why didn’t these projects work?

Renee: Because they just last a semester. They don’t get deep roots. Some of them do. I am not trying to sound very negative.

Hajoe: That’s interesting to know, that there are some communities which are may be already saturated with artists coming in there proposing great ideas.

Renee: I don’t think Larimer is one of those places.

Rob: I don’t think any of these places are saturated with artists.

Morten: But the outsider can’t be overstated. I mean this outside syndrome you are talking about is very real. I think you have to treat it carefully and go through a community group.

Hajoe: That on the past was avoided by us owning property. Every time we did a project, when we bought land in the desert, in Germany and other places, we became neighbors. We were not the outsiders coming and doing something there, we had a reason to be there.

Morten: … a right to be there.

Hajoe… there were people who brought presents and said: Welcome neighbors, even though we did not intend to move there. This could provide a lead in which could provide us with a different reason than just being assigned to do something there.

Franziska: This idea is also based in the belief that land comes with a responsibility. You are basically in the same boat as the people around you. And even though we haven’t been there very often the fact that we owned the land counted.

Renee: That’s why you asked about all these $100 lots.

Hajoe: Yes, that’s a way to approach this, a point of entry.

Our First Tour through Pittsburgh

November 19th, 2009

After we ate some lunch, Renee, Lea and Lena took us on a tour through Pittsburgh. We paid special attention to two neighborhoods, that are possible places for a project that deals with vacant land and population loss. Larimer and Garfield. While driving Lena told us through what we were seeing and photographing through the windows of the rental van.

Garfield is a neighborhood  in the east end of the City. Like many parts of Pittsburgh Garfield is a fairly steep neighborhood, with north-south residential streets running at about a 20% incline from Penn Avenue at the bottom to Mossfield Street at the top.

Garfield’s earliest settlers were predominantly blue-collar Irish laborers and their families, who worked in the mills and foundries down along the Allegheny River, shopped in local stores on Penn Avenue, and built and lived in modest brick foursquare homes on the streets running up from Penn Avenue. The community, then almost exclusively Catholic, built St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish on Penn Avenue in 1897. From 1880 until about 1960, the neighborhood remained as it began: a solid, working-class area, with all the closeness and xenophobia that such a place entailed. Neighborhood activist Aggie Brose described Garfield in 1960 as a place where “You sponsored each other’s kids, you went to all the weddings and funerals, you never wanted for a baby-sitter, you never had to call a repairman, you didn’t need for a social. When you put the kids to bed, the women went out on the stoops.”

Things changed in the 1960s, when some Garfield residents began to leave the City for nearby suburbs in Shaler and Penn Hills. In response, the City’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) used eminent domain and attempted to change nearby East Liberty from an urban shopping area, then the third-busiest retail center in Pennsylvania, to a suburban one. The URA knocked down many small shops, accessible on foot or by bus, and thereby opened land for larger ones, accessible by car. At the same time, the City’s housing authority built several massive public housing complexes on Garfield’s borders: Garfield Heights, a 600+ unit complex high up on Fern Street, and the East Mall, a 20+ story tower straddling Penn Avenue at the entrance to East Liberty.

These changes, designed to halt the slow trickle of Garfield residents to the suburbs, instead turned a trickle into a torrent. East Liberty lost most of its businesses, and the new housing projects, inhabited by poor African-Americans, unnerved Garfield residents. In 1969 the federal government gave the City funds to enforce housing codes in Garfield so that as old residents fled, their homes were not allowed to deteriorate. This move also backfired: long-time residents, told that homes built in 1900 (and often passed through families over the years) did not meet codes written in 1960, moved away rather than pay for upgrades.

Thus began a textbook case of white flight: in 1970, Garfield had a population of roughly 10,000 people, 80% of them white. In 2000, Garfield’s population had been cut almost in half to 5,450 people, 83% of them black.

Garfield, which had been a haven for working-class Irish-American homeowners, is now called home by African-American renters, and the steady industrial jobs that supported the older Irish-American residents are gone for good. Garfield’s current residents have established some of their own traditions, including the “Turkey Bowl,” a formal, full-contact football game on Thanksgiving Day played in full pads by teams called the Old Heads and the Young Bucks. But some of the neighborhood’s current traditions are negative ones: drug dealing, prostitution, and illegitimacy are not uncommon in today’s Garfield, and children attending the neighborhood’s Fort Pitt School often fall behind their peers on national tests.

To halt what they perceived as the neighborhood’s decline, in 1975 parishioners at St. Lawrence O’Toole founded the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, a Community Development Corporation that uses private and government funds and activism to encourage homeownership and business development. Over the years, the organization has built or renovated dozens of housing units, and renovated commercial properties for dozens of small businesses, from restaurants to art galleries to theater companies.

In the 1980s, a similar group called the Garfield Jubilee Association formed, with a goal of creating affordable housing. In recent years, the two groups have joined together in a joint project to build dozens of new single-family homes. In 2000, the BGC and Friendship Development Associates, Inc. formed the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative. The PAAI encourages artists to live and work along the Avenue by rehabbing properties, making small loans or grants for facade renovations, and organizing joint marketing events such as Unblurred, held the first Friday of each month, where the venues of Garfield and Friendship open for special events.

Efforts by groups like these, along with a recent recognition that massive, 1960s-style social welfare projects often had negative consequences, have helped to revitalize the neighborhood. Commercially, Penn Avenue is recovering from the flight of local businesses in the 1970s and 1980s. Some bastions of the old neighborhood remain, as groups like the BGC and GJA, and FDA have worked to keep some banks and stores along Penn Avenue. Since 1990, these have been joined by newcomers: African-American barbershops and salons, tiny family-owned Vietnamese restaurants, and a series of arts-related businesses (e.g., theatres, galleries, an architecture studio, a glass factory, a coffeeshop, and much more) attracted by the PAAI. There has also been some positive residential development: the East Mall and Garfield Heights Senior highrise was razed in 2005, and the townhouse units are scheduled to be demolished in 2007–2008, and replaced with mixed income units, as well as new replacement homes scattered through the neghborhood. Visitors to Garfield today will see a neighborhood on the rise, a formerly blighted community that is now becoming a vibrant community, with a focus on the arts, while not forgetting its roots.

We then drove through East Liberty into Larimer.

Larimer was originally settled by Germans in the later half of the 19th century. By the early 1900s Italians from Abruzzi, Calabria, Campania, Sicily and Northern Italians became the dominant ethnic group. These settlers were slightly better-off than their kinsmen who moved to Bloomfield around the same time: the residents of Bloomfield built modest frame row-houses, while those in Larimer built somewhat nicer detached brick homes with small yards. Before long, Larimer residents had built and were running concrete foundries and commercial bakeries along Lincoln Avenue towards Two-Mile Run (some of which still exist today), and a successful commercial district at the intersection of Larimer Avenue and Meadow Street, near the community’s spiritual home of Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church (1898). In 1928, the Italian Sons and Daughters of America was founded in the neighborhood. Larimer was Pittburgh’s Little Italy until the 1960s.

As with other neighborhoods in Pittsburgh’s East End, the 1960s were a turning point for Larimer. Some residents began to move to the suburbs in the early part of the decade, and this process was hastened by the urban renewal of East Liberty and the construction of a 320-unit housing project on Larimer Avenue near the entrance to Larimer from East Liberty. Today, aside from a few remaining businesses along Lincoln Avenue, no vestige of the neighborhood’s Italian community remains (Our Lady Help of Christians was closed in 1992). The once-proud brick houses are now either abandoned or neglected by absentee landlords, and the residents, largely African American are among the poorest in Pittsburgh.  Many can consider Larimer one of the saddest stories of white flight in Pittsburgh.

Larimer is surrounded on nearly all sides by small valleys, or “runs” in the vernacular: branches of Negley Run form a border between Larimer and Highland Park on the North-West, and between Larimer and Lincoln-Lemington on the North-East, while the last bit of Two-Mile Run, the present site of the East Busway, forms a border between Larimer and Homewood on the South-East. On the South-West, there is a natural passage from East Liberty to Larimer along Larimer Avenue.

Our Second Day in Pittsburgh

We met in the morning with Renee and Morton in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel and together went on to a second tour through Pittsburgh, this time listening to Morton’s version of the stories behind the things we were seeing.

We first went on top of Mount Washington. a spot which USA Weekend Magazine ranked as the Second Most Beautiful View in America.

“In a nation with a wealth of stunning cities full of compelling stories, ranking Pittsburgh as the No. 2 beauty spot is perhaps our most surprising choice. But the Steel City’s aesthetic appeal is undeniable, as is its very American capacity for renewal. Standing atop Mount Washington, the steep hill that rises giddily on the city’s south side, sightseers enjoy the unforgettable panorama of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers flowing together to create the mighty Ohio, that waterway so essential in the nation’s settlement. The rivers cup downtown’s lustrous Golden Triangle, where landmark skyscrapers thrust upward like rockets. At night, lights twinkle on no fewer than 15 bridges. Almost as breathtaking as the vista itself is the urban renewal that made it possible. A century ago, a pall of smoke lay so thick over town that streetlights burned all day. As Pittsburgh continues an evolutionary course that has taken it from trading post to transportation hub to industrial goliath, we salute its reinvention into one of America’s most scenic and livable communities. In the life of a city, there’s nothing more beautiful, or inspiring, than a renaissance.

From there we continued our second tour through Garfield and Larimer and after that had lunch at the Quiet Storm on Penn Ave. in Garfield. where we asked Renee and Morton what Pittsburgh is known for. They didn’t mention all of the things we found on this list, but quite a few:

  • First Heart, Liver, Kidney Transplant – December 3, 1989
    The first simultaneous heart, liver and kidney transplant was done at Presbyterian-University Hospital.
  • The First Internet Emoticon – 1982
    The Smiley 🙂 was the first Internet emoticon, created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Scott Fahlman.
  • First Robotics Institute – 1979
    The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University was established to conduct basic and applied research in robotics technologies relevant to industrial and societal tasks.
  • First Mr Yuk Sticker – 1971
    Mr Yuk was created at the Poison Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh after research indicated that the skull and crossbones previously used to identify poisons had little meaning to children who equate the symbol with exciting things like pirates and adventure.
  • First Night World Series Game – 1971
    Game 4 of the 1971 World Series was the first night game in World Series history, a series that Pittsburgh went on to win, 4 games to 3.
  • First Big Mac – 1967
    Created by Jim Delligatti at his Uniontown McDonald’s, the Big Mac debuted and was test marketed in three other Pittsburgh-area McDonald’s restaurants in 1967. By 1968 it was a mainstay on McDonald’s menus throughout the country.
  • First Pull-Tab on Cans – 1962
    The pull-tab was developed by Alcoa and was first used by Iron City Brewery in 1962. For many years, pull-tabs were only used in this area.
  • First Retractable Dome – September 1961
    Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena boasts the world’s first auditorium with a retractable roof.
  • First U.S. Public Television Station – April 1, 1954
    WQED, operated by the Metropolitan Pittsburgh Educational Station, was the first community-sponsored educational television station in America.
  • First Polio Vaccine – March 26, 1953
    The polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk, a 38-year-old University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor.
  • First All-Aluminum Building – ALCOA – August 1953
    The first aluminum-faced skyscraper was the Alcoa Building, a 30-story, 410 foot structure with thin stamped aluminum panels forming the exterior walls.
  • First Zippo Lighter – 1932
    George G. Blaisdell invented the Zippo lighter in 1932 in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The name Zippo was chosen by Blaisdell because he liked the sound of the word “zipper” – which was patented around the same time in nearby Meadville, PA.
  • First Bingo Game – early 1920’s
    Hugh J. Ward first came up with the concept of bingo in Pittsburgh and began running the game at carnivals in the early 1920s, taking it nationwide in 1924. He secured a copyright on the game and wrote a book of Bingo rules in 1933.
  • First U.S. Commercial Radio Station – November 2, 1920
    Dr. Frank Conrad, assistant chief engineer of Westinghouse Electric, first constructed a transmitter and installed it in a garage near his home in Wilkinsburg in 1916. The station was licensed as 8XK. At 6 p.m. on Nov. 2, 1920, 8KX became KDKA Radio and began broadcasting at 100 watts from a make-shift shack atop one of the Westinghouse manufacturing buildings in East Pittsburgh.
  • Daylight Savings Time – March 18, 1919
    A Pittsburgh city councilman during the first World War, Robert Garland devised the nation’s first daylight savings plan, instituted in 1918.
  • The First Gas Station – December, 1913
    In 1913 the first automobile service station, built by Gulf Refining Company, opened in Pittsburgh at Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty. Designed by J. H. Giesey.
  • The First Baseball Stadium in the U.S. – 1909
    In 1909 the first baseball stadium, Forbes Field, was built in Pittsburgh, followed soon by similar stadiums in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and New York.
  • First Motion Picture Theatre – 1905
    The first theater in the world devoted to the exhibition of motion pictures was the “Nickelodeon,” opened by Harry Davis on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh.
  • First Banana Split – 1904
    Invented by Dr. David Strickler, a pharmacist, at Strickler’s Drug Store in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
  • The First World Series – 1903
    The Boston Pilgrims defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three in baseball’s first modern World Series in 1903.
  • First Ferris Wheel – 1892/1893
    Invented by Pittsburgh native and civil engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-1896), the first Ferris Wheel was in operation at the World’s Fair in Chicago. It was over 264 feet high and was capable of carrying more than 2,000 passengers at a time.
  • Long-Distance Electricity – 1885
    Westinghouse Electric developed alternating current, allowing long-distance transmission of electricity for the first time.
  • First Air Brake – 1869
    The first practical air brake for railroads was invented by George Westinghouse in the 1860s and patented in 1869.

map of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The stops we made are marked with red dots.


Even though we like the appeal of both neighborhoods, there is something about Larimer that immediatley is more compelling to us than Garfield. Larimer is flat. It’s half abandoned character reminds us of the left over settlements of former gold rush towns we visited in the West. There are associations that for us come with the idea of the desert: capaciousness, openess, harsh, unforgiving, straight forward…There is no hill to hide behind, and no hill to look down into Larimer. It’s own plateau, enclosed by valleys. Topographically Larimer is an open book. Because of this flatness there is something generic about Larimer. This place could be anywhere. We like this imagined flexibility.

In Pittsburgh, says Patrick Horsbrugh, “the topographic form and the consequences thereof, are inescapable. They condition every action, they confine every vista, they expose every prospect.” Walter Kidney observes that in Pittsburgh, “more than in almost any other city, the third dimension is important in the look of things. You cannot go far before you find yourself looking up the side of a hill, or forward into empty space.” Pittsburgh, says photographer Clyde Hare, “stands up and looks you in the face.” And we look back.

first ideas for Pittsburgh

We sent the following email to Renee, Lea and Lena.

Hello Renee, Lea and Lena,

We have been thinking about strategies on how to proceed in developing a project for you and we wanted to start where we had left off at our last meeting.

In the second part of the email, we paraphrase some of our preliminary ideas so you can get a sense of what we are thinking of. But, none of those ideas are final, we even believe that they are the most obvious ones and we have to go further and get behind these initial ideas. But maybe there is something in them to keep the discussion going.

To reiterate what we think is important for a successful project we created this list. It is meant as a first guideline so you can see our approach and interest:

– For all our past land projects, we worked with the surrounding community as “neighbors”.

– Investing our money into a piece of land was a straight forward approach that legitimized our presence.

-Our commitment to own a piece of land “there”, created a certain equality with people who lived around. We were in the same boat.

– For Pittsburgh the land owning approach could avoid placing the project in a (maybe) familiar category like parks, city or renewal initiatives or studies, which could result in habitual responses.

– Our intention is not to fulfill an obvious need, but rather construct something that needs to be understood, seen, felt or executed in order for it to exist.

– A project is successful if it comes into existence because all participants believe in it.

– Usually there is no audience, everyone participates.

– There might not be something physical.

– It might take time.

– The project could take the form of a series of smaller events or a slow progression towards a bigger event.

– An event can have many forms, but the least likely form is a spectacle for an audience.

– We don’t provide a social service and don’t operate out of mercy.

– Active participation is important, the project is not for someone (community), but with someone.

– Our projects operate on the basis of give and take. All involved parties are equal in this respect and all parties have their unique qualifications, but we are not attempting artistic equality.

– We might start by giving an idea, but only continue, if this idea grows through the input of others. Otherwise it’s the wrong idea and we have to come up with something new.

And here are some of our initial ideas:

– operate a grocery store in either Larimer or Garfield

– turn Larimer into a large scale Golf course covering the entire neighborhood. Individual holes are created and maintained by individual custodians.

– initiate a dude ranch with horses and cows using the meadows between the houses to graze (Larimer)

– establish a specialized barter system for the local economy, set up trading places (Larimer or Garfield)

– We fix your house, in exchange for housing a public “institution” for an agreed amount of time (e.g. Dedicate one room as a gallery and keep it open to visitors) (Larimer or Garfield). Something along the lines of Cesaro Corneo’s project “Puno Museum of Contemporary Art.”

– create a large scale environment of a functioning, possibly romanticized village structure, similar to the set of Lars van Trier’s “Dogville” (in Larimer). All basic public services (post office, grocery shop, school, etc.) exist only as minimalist scenery, possibly as white painted outlines, which have big labels on them. For example, the outlines of the post office are marked on the actual lot by white charcoal lines. “Over the door” is a wooden sign with the label “post office”.

The “set up” could be activated through a period of role playing games. Members from the community become “the postal clerk”, the school teacher, the shop owner…. they will interact with the stranger who comes to town. The bare staging serves acknowledges the artificiality of the setup, while at the same time focuses on storytelling.

Apart from these “concrete” ideas, we are also interested in other gestures and effects which might affect the area. One of which was the streetlight situation. How does light affect a space, what about an artificial sun or moon which lights bright above Larimer….

In order to “play out” some of these scenarios and to think of their feasibility, we would be interested to know how many of the houses/properties are occupied by their owners, if there are clusters where most owners live. Are many lots owned by the same people/investors/slumlords or are most places owned by individuals (besides the ones owned by the city and URA)? What is the ratio owner/renter and what is the ratio vacant to inhabited property.

So many questions and such a long email, but we are excited about it and look forward to hearing from you. We really enjoyed being in Pittsburgh and appreciated your hospitality and openness!

All the best

Franzy & Hajoe

Telephone Feedback

In order to get feedback on the first ideas we proposed, Renee organized a conference call with Lea, Lena, herself and us. Here is a summary of what we discussed.

From the first ideas we proposed, the Pittsburgh Team liked the “Golf Course” and the “Village” idea. After having discussed the ideas among themselves the P-team 🙂 thought it would be a good idea to combine both into one –  for example think about a miniature golf course that integrates a model of a village (based on visions of Larimer). Concerns with the idea to turn the whole neighborhood into a large scale golf course were of practical and logistical nature. Also the fact, that golf is a primarily white, middle class sport, while Larimer is an African American neighborhood, seemed to be a big concern.
We didn’t like the idea of a mini-golf course. It seemed too “mini”and too many artist mini golf courses do exist already, see examples here or here. What we liked about the abstract idea of a large scale golf course was the fact that it integrated (or connected) the whole neighborhood through a layer of (possibly imagined) green maintained grass and that holes could be created and maintained by individual people from the neighborhood. That it is a middle class white sport does not mean African Americans would not play it. But… how can we know? We don’t know a single person in Larimer, have never talked to anyone there. The only way to find out, is to do a test run.

We therefore all agreed that it would be a good idea to get us started with a simple, easy and fun “warm up project”. This way we could spend time in the neighborhood, learn about it, get to know some people and form some relationships.

This is a list of “warm up ideas” we had prepared to read over the phone:

– flower chart
Seed flowers on vacant lots that bloom according to the colors of ownership map. This way ownership information will be easily accessible. It can be seen from above and from street level. Help is needed by volunteers to seed and to maintain the flowers.

– free outdoor cinema
Playlists, put together by people from Larimer, will allow for interesting film selections which will be screened from various houses onto screens situated on open lots. This should happen during summer nights or a dedicated week of screenings. We could imagine them being simultaneous or individual, each night on a different plot.

– traffic rerouting
While we walked around on Larimer Ave. during our first visit, we noticed that many cars crossed the neighborhood with passengers that didn’t seem to live in Larimer. That might be an assumption, but based on this observation we could imagine developing complex scenarios where each car entering Larimer will be sent on different detours in order to cross it (“gently enforced sightseeing tour of Larimer” ) For a certain amount of time “traffic controllers” (people from Larimer)  would be installed on all main intersections to direct the individual cars in their dedicated directions. A complex pattern of criss-crossing cars will be controlled by the local traffic controllers.

Other thoughts about traffic:Detours, parking or a parcours where cars can’t drive straight but have to go around obstacles which are mobile and human controlled.

– hill over house
a house is buried underneath a mountain of dirt. All what is showing is the chimney. It is the only elevation in Larimer. In the winter, the hill can be used for sledding.

After hearing the list, the Pittsburgh team liked the movie screening idea as an introduction best.

We asked, if  Renee, Lea and Lena could re-summarize their goals for a project again and they agreed on the following points:

–        the project should create a place where a cross section (age-wise) of people from the neighborhood could come together and do something collaboratively

–        the project should not be made for an audience but primarily for and with people from the neighborhood

–        it should not have charity character

We then talked about the next steps:

How can eteam purchase a lot in Larimer? (permanent, private ownership as opposed to temporary license agreement with URA) Lena mentioned a friend who works as a real estate agent. She will ask him about available properties and prices.

Lena, Lea, Renee will attend some community meetings to figure out what’s going on and introduce us and our project. We hope that we can attend one or a few of these meetings as well.

Renee will think about funding sources.

We’ll work on details about the warm up movie screening and keep thinking about possibilities and abstract approaches for the bigger idea.

Thinking about it again …

After thinking about the phone conversation and the process in developing a project we felt that we might have made some incomplete statements in an earlier email where we said:

– We might start by giving an idea, but only continue, if this idea grows through the input of others. Otherwise it’s the wrong idea and we have to come up with something new.

This is misleading and would have needed some more clarification to put it in the right context. First, we are not yet at the stage where we think that any of the projects we listed following this statement are elaborated or worth pursuing( nevertheless it was fun to hear someone else mix and develop different scenarios.) They are merely structural elements to provide a transparency of thoughts. – At the same time  it made us aware of a process we want to avoid and which isn’t applicable to our artistic practice. The process we experienced as standard practice of many public art/community commissions:

– Invitation to the artist for a specific site/community

– Artist proposes idea

– Commissioning institution proposes artistic changes in order to be able to fund, facilitate, maintain, protect it, etc.

– Negotiations between commissioning institution and artists discuss the changes until both parties can agree on what’s doable and what’s not. By the time they approach the community many things have already been decided based on previous agreements. Now both sides have to integrate another voice into the dialog (community).

– The artwork which was conceived during this meeting process gets realized.

– Receiving community says thank you and awaits the next token of appreciation.

This might read harsh and exaggerated, but we feel that it is important to emphasize what we don’t want to happen. Some of these steps we have already successfully avoided and we want to make sure we will avoid the other ones too. We consider all of the ideas we have proposed so far as exercises in imagining possibilities. Like a piano player who has to keep practicing his finger work, as conceptual artists we have to keep practicing imagining ideas. For us it’s very seldom necessary to share these early “sketches” with outsiders. It’s mostly our internal studio practice to keep telling each other ideas for a certain place. Now we made the process public and came up with a preliminary list of possible events for a place and a community in Pittsburgh. But the list should  only be used as an indicator and to start a conversation, which has already happened, so this works.

We want to keep the development of this project open and accessible. But have we found the right form to present these ideas as sketches yet? An old graphic designer once told us: “you get what you see”, meaning, if it’s a quick pencil drawing on a napkin everybody knows that this is a sketch. If you do this same sketch on the computer and print it out does this rendering look more like a final version? Maybe this blog can serve as something more in flux and immediate than a weekly email or phone conversation. Comments welcome!


Two questions:

Why is the URA actually interested in working with artists on a project in Larimer?
And why are we actually interested to work with the URA on a project in Larimer?

What interests eteam to work in Pittsburgh?

  • urban setting
  • urban history and historical development
  • landscape
  • exciting partners in the form of Renee, Lea and Lena
  • option for a large scale project

Possible next steps

Since we are making our working process public, the back and forth between ideas and revelations might seem confusing for an “outsider”, but it demonstrates our dialog with the site, the conditions and our ideas. (- And as stated earlier, this process usually happens in the privacy of our studio, now our studio practice is made transparent through this blog.)

Currently there are three (or even four) parties involved in the creation of this artwork.

  • The artists
  • The commissioning institutions (URA and Arts Council)
  • The (or a) community of Larimer (not involved yet)

Is this list sequential? We have been thinking about this a lot and we were wondering if it is possible to mix it up more, reorder it into artists, community, institution.

By examining this process we also questioned the discussed warm-up project “movie screening”. Even if we, as for example discussed in the phone conversation, would do an outdoor  movie screening as a warm up project – even if people in Larimer could create their own playlists, etc., were they ever involved into this process from the beginning? Did they ever have the opportunity to choose not from the list of movies but from the list of original ideas? Would it make sense to have them choose? At this point none of our ideas seem acceptable to us, but we see them as necessary steps towards a clarification of what we can achieve in Larimer. We still think that a smaller “warm-up” is important for a successful larger project, but having spent more thoughts to it we need to revise it more. Community involvement is a term which is heavily used and takes on many forms. Most often the form of meetings and paper clippings. Our idea is a bit different and we framed our approach on a different page since it is fundamental to our practice and it is essential that we all agree on the same strategy.

What are ways to start before a specific named project and what could be ways to finance this approach?

Option A:) The artists get an R&D funding from the commissioning institution. They find cheap real estate and buy some land (as private people) in Larimer. They go to Pittsburgh a couple of times over the next year to “hang out” on their property and explore the neighborhood as neighbors. The artists oblige, that by the end of the next year the people of Larimer and eteam in collaboration will propose an idea (or a couple of them) to the commissioning institution.

Option B:) Eteam finances this first phase themselves. At the end of next year (2010) they, in collaboration with some people from the community, will approach the commissioning institution with the request for funding a proposal. They will include a honorarium for the proposal phase into their budget for the project.

Would either one approach make a difference? This project and the way to get there is an experiment, that hopefully will work not only as a project in itself, but may as a strategic model for future artist commissions. At least that’s our interest as well… to find a way of how we can not only collaborate with land and a community, but with a community and a commissioning institution.

Maybe it’s too much to assume one could satisfy the needs of three or four parties (that all consist of sub-parties) with one project. May be that is impossible. May be we need to appear differently. Here is an example:

Option C:) Could the URA train and hire us for a certain amount of time as workers so we can go to Larimer and for example, cut the grass on their lots and do the required maintenance work?  This way, things would be a clear and simple work relationship. We are paid by the URA to be in Larimer and do some work. It would be a straight forward start and an alternative, plausible reason for being in Larimer to our initial idea of owning land there. We would approach the land as hired workers (what we are in this case anyway). Also, we would not be fixed to one location, but could move around, we would not be a neighbor, but a neighborhood worker.

Here are some lists,  juxtaposing what we think each team has to offer (besides the qualifications each individual team member has) :

Pittsburgh (P-team)

  • Various data (census, ownership, etc)
  • Permits
  • Equipment
  • Network
  • $$
  • Connections/PR
  • Contact information


  • Streetwork/legwork
  • Personal/individual
  • Neighbors
  • Relationships
  • Belief
  • Artistic interest

Map of Larimer

A pretty thorough neighborhood map of Larimer by Alexandra Woolsey Puffer and Jeff Maki

View larimer in a larger map

landownership questions

$100 and $200 lots in Larimer

View Larimer $100 in a larger map

View Larimer $200 in a larger map

Skyscraper for Abandoned Houses

Since its invention there has been a competition between cities and countries about where the tallest skyscraper stands. Instead of “how many stories high” cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Cleveland could now compete for “how many homes lost” while still relying on the powerful symbolic meaning of the skyscraper.
The idea: A Skyscraper for abandoned Houses
In the center of Larimer (which qualifies as a symbolic place) a steel structure for a skyscraper gets erected.
Whenever a house in Pittsburgh gets abandoned, it will be transported to Larimer and stacked up into that structure, like a completed file into a filing system, or an unused box into a shelf, or a car into an elevator parking garage.

human powered smoke generator

“As Pittsburgh attacked its smoke problem, the view looked clearer and clearer, and the city looked worse and worse to the spectator.”

(from: The Spectator and the Topographical City by Martin Aurand)

If blight is a problem in Larimer, black smoke could be its traditionally approved cover up. The post-industrial production of black smoke should of course be a healthy activity. Like a sport. Let’s say 10 chimneys get installed in Larimer, each one connected to a machine that has the possibility to produce black smoke by burning human energy (through the operation of a stationary bicycle for example.) If people in Larimer feel like raising hell, or working (out) they go to the chimneys and blow off some steam. The black smoke can be seen from far away.

Turn-of-the-twentieth-century Pittsburgh guidebooks included industrial and engineering sites and encouraged visitors to view and tour the manufactories that made Pittsburgh the workshop of the world and a tourist attraction. When visitor James Parton described Hell-with-the-lid-taken-off Pittsburgh, it was, he said in a sublime analogy, “a spectacle as striking as Niagara.”

(from: The Spectator and the Topographical City by Martin Aurand)

The house where nobody lives

paint – a – demo

Reading through the list of people and places in Larimer it becomes clear that there are many different interests within this one community. One way to address all of these is to hold individual oil paint sessions where a professional oil painter is hired to paint a demonstration. The demonstration is held by those who have various interests, ranging from sport fields, to gardens and parking spots. But since it is perceived as a live painting session, the question remains if it is a demonstration or still just a live painting session. These sessions will be held at various locations throughout Larimer, each at a different place, the length of each session is determined by the amount of time it takes to create the painting. During the event photos will be taken. The final paintings will remain in the possession of all members of each interest group. The hanging of the painting will be administered through a website, so that everyone can reserve slots for a temporarily beautification for their homes.

Elephants for Larimer

In Asia Elephants have been used for labor and to maintain order. In the western world their fate is mostly reduced to the circus or the zoo. Could both (Larimer and the elephants) profit through a partnership either through an elephant sanctuary, a yearly elephant procession through Larimer Ave or as alternative demolition equipment when houses are torn down?


A weekly, monthly or yearly procession. The procession could be used for the delivery of food to the local food pantry.

feral houses

some pictures from Detroit

Foam steel beams

Liked the “foam steel beams” mentioned in the article, as well as the description of the steel producing Pittsburgh attitude…

link here

Pittsburgh dancing traffic cop

The idea of an unusual traffic direction has a history in Pittsburgh…

Terence Valencheck, Director of Video & Technology at the Mount Ararat Baptist Church contacted us via email. He had found our blog through google maps, liked it and encouraged us to “keep on dreaming”.


Got rejection letter from Jerome Foundation. We had applied for the Travel and Study Grant Program to support another research trip to Pittsburgh in August 2010.

back again

Thanks to Renee we are back in Pittsburgh for Part Two of this pilot program. The plan is to spend time in Larimer, develop and execute a “test” project before we’ll be leaving again on August 14, 2010 (less than two weeks). We are staying at the “city of asylum” on the North Side of Pittsburgh, and are very happy with that setup.

office space and walk through the neighborhood

In order to have a base  from where we can operate, and get more insights on what is going on in Larimer, and provide a space where we can meet people, Renee connected us to The Kingsley Association, a community center in Larimer. We were provided with an office at “Imagine Larimer”, an initiative that experiments with ways and methods to create a sustainable green neighborhood. We had a couple of interesting meetings and then we walked around the neighborhood. It was hot, the streets were pretty empty, whenever we approached trees, a shrill creaking sound probably produced by hundreds of crickets , intensified. We thought that it would look much better, if we put on a hat and sit on a horse riding the streets, but voila here we were, red-faced, pushing a stroller. Walking through a deserted back alley made us think of elephants roaming the streets, or tigers, or giraffes or penguins, until the sound of a heavy chain dragged over wood replaced all the thinking with primal fear. A big, brownish pittbull came out of his house behind some bush and yawned. We had complained about the brutal heat just minutes earlier. Now we thanked the sun for making the beast so slow and sleepy. Yes, Larimer felt a little bit like a Wild West frontier town after a gold rush, surviving to possible have another busy hay day, for when the next mine would be opened and exploited.

After all the “green” returning to the air conditioned Kingsley Association building with it’s thick grey walls and a sign in sheet felt a little bit like returning into a safe fortress.

Lemonade and Iced Coffee

We thought a good start to get a feeling for the neighborhood and its people was to spend time there. So, we opened a Lemonade Stand, that also offered Iced Coffee. We set up shop at 12:30 on a public lot on Meadow Street, near the corner of Paulson Ave.

For the first 45 minutes not much happened. For a while a guy who was sitting on the porch in the building across the street was watching us. His shirt gave us a smile. It said: “I am with stupid”, with a big arrow pointing towards the right. After a while he left his seat and walked around the block. Cars passed by, people looked. A man with a couple of white plastic bags (probably food delivery) rang the bell at the building across the street a couple of times, until an elderly woman opened and took the bags in. Around 1:15pm, a middle aged man who seemed to live in another building across the street approached us to get a Lemonade. We asked if he would like to get a small or a big cup. He said, that he was a pretty big guy (which was true) so he could handle a big one. We put ice in the cup, added the organic lemonade, put on the lid, gave him a straw, he gave us a dollar.

Around 1:25pm a middle aged woman with a loud voice who passed by on the other side of the street described our set up to someone she was on her cell phone with. Shortly after that a van slowed down in front of us, the front window went down, the back door slid open and two woman, enjoying what they were seeing took pictures of us with their cell phones. One of the woman said: “I am telling everyone about that”. Cars passed by, more cars passed by. A few people walked by on the other side of the street. A few laughed or waved. About one hour later an older lady approached us inquiring about the license plate of our car, and if we had a permit to do this, and where we were from. We had a little bit of an exchange and when she walked away she concluded: “You are strangers in my neighborhood”. A little later another elderly woman in a blue t-Shirt walked by raising similar concerns as the first one, just more aggressively, and without giving us any opportunity to say anything. A car with some teenagers stopped across the street and the driver said: “Dude, don’t do that. This is dangerous”. Another car stopped and the driver asked for an iced coffee, which we prepared. Then, a man who was trying to visit somebody in the building across the street who probably wasn’t home, sat down at the porch. Louis, waved to him, and he waved back. We asked him about the crickets and because they were so loud up there in the tree, he couldn’t hear and came over. We chatted for quite some time, then he went back and sat down on the porch again. Around 3:45pm a police car approached us. Window rolled down, the  police officer in the driver seat inquired about what we were doing. Then, the elderly woman in the blue T-Shirt appeared again and announced: “I was calling you, because they don’t have a permit, and there are no bathrooms, and they are white people trying to sell us stuff, etc. The police officer asked about what white people were trying to sell what kind of stuff and that he didn’t think that it was a criminal activity to run a lemonade stand, whereas the woman replied that she just wanted to make sure the police knew that we were here. A mother with her child approached and because the police was right there and we didn’t have a permit, the little boy got his lemonade for free. The elderly woman went away saying that it doesn’t make sense to call the police. The police officer stayed and asked more questions (where we are from, where we are staying in Pittsburgh, who owns the property, what our profession is and who we are associated with) and then informed us, that this is a dangerous place, especially with a child and that he would advise that we should pack up right now. We said, that we were planning to pack up around 4 pm anyway, but that it would look bad, if we would do that immediately after the police was here, especially since we would like to come back tomorrow. We asked if it would be ok to stay at least another 10 minutes after they left. He looked at his big watch and nodded and then they drove off. More cars passed by and around 4:10pm we packed up and went back to the Kingsley Center, where we were to attend the Consensus meeting.

It would be so much easier if attending meetings would give us ideas about what to do in Larimer. The engaged members of the community are right there sitting on a big table, introducing themselves, their agendas, their concerns, there are printed out agendas, projected plans and diagrams and bullet points on the wall, everyone puts their contact information in the sign in sheets, people talk loud and clear, its interesting to listen, we get the opportunity to introduce ourselves… but… things become quickly  complicated. At least for us. One gets caught up in the details, one looses the overview. The lemonade stand approach seems more effective for us to experience the cross section of people, but huuuu…. it’s true, it costs quite some effort to sit out there on that empty lot and expose ourselves as what we are – the strangers.

Lemonade and iced coffee day 2

We set up our stand around 1:00 pm at the same place as yesterday. Nothing had changed. We could still see the impression on the grass where the table had set before, so we just used the same spot again.

It felt vaguely familiar and after we had settled in, routine started quickly. Nothing happened for the first hour or so. One of us walked around, pushing the stroller while the other sat and waited for customers.

The first customers to arrive where from Paulson Avenue, just around the corner from where we were and in visible distance. Two guys and a kid slowly approached us and asked what we had. Iced coffee and Lemonade. Iced Coffee? – What’s that asked the one guy, he had never had an iced coffee and didn’t know what it was, but besides that he only drank cola anyway. – How much the Lemonade was? – One Dollar. – He only had 50 cent but promised to bring the missing 50 tomorrow. – Kids usually get it for 50 cents anyway.

20 min later another car stopped and a woman asked what we had. She was all excited and got out of the car and introduced herself as Victoria. She explained that she run a motor coach and was about to go on a trip to NYC for a weekend shopping spree. They would drive there tonight, sleep in Jersey and spend all day Saturday and Sunday in the City before returning to Pittsburgh.

Lemonade and ice coffee day 3

We had a late start today, one of us was battling some kind of stomach flu. We arrived at 2:30 pm and set up. Since it was Saturday it seemed like more people were home, so more cars were parked on the streets, two in front of the lot, one of them directly in front of our past table location. We parked our car behind the two and set up right next to the electric pole. Not in the center of the lot, but still within its limit.

Being there today felt almost like a routine,  setting up the table, the umbrella and the signs, pouring ourselves an iced coffee, starting to read. Around 3pm, a man who was fixing cars further down the road came by and asked what we had and how much it is. He didn’t drink coffee, but he did get a lemonade, a small one for 50 cent. Since he was in the business of repairing cars, we showed him some pieces of metal we had discovered sticking in one of our back tires. He looked at them and said he could pull it out and stick a plug in there to seal it again.

The next person who inquired about the lemonade stand was a kid on a miniature motorcycle. He was interested in free stuff and took off quickly after he heard that a lemonade for kids is 50cents.

Not long after a woman on a bicycle with a trailer behind her stopped. Two of her children were sitting in the little cage. The girl was 4 years old, the boy 11 months, and he could already walk. While we were talking to the woman, our next customer had already arrived and was patiently waiting for his turn. He had parked his car further back at a spot where he could not have seen the lemonade stand yet,  so after he had left we were wondering how he had discovered us.

Not much else happened except a fender bender right in front of us. A woman in a mini van had ripped of a mirror of a car parked on the side. For some reason she wasn’t willing to share her insurance information with the guy whose mirror she had destroyed (and her own, too). The guy was pretty considerate, but at one point, when she started screaming, he lost his patience and called the police. Two police cars showed up not that much later. We packed up at around 5:15pm, to meet D.Jones, one of the long term residents of Larimer.
Mrs. Jones was still working at a big warehouse across the street from the Kingsley Association where she volunteers two days a week. The warehouse is stuffed with donated high quality furniture that is slightly damaged; big sofas, beds, tables, leather couches etc. The furniture is sold for very reasonable prices, one woman told us that she just had furnished her son’s apartment completely for $230, including kitchen, bedroom and living room. She was there to get a black leather bench that was part of the living room set, even though she wasn’t sure what this bench would actually be used for.

After the lights and the refrigerator were turned off for the week and the warehouse closed, Mrs. Jones told us about her life, her children and her 10 year old grandson who lives with her and her husband in Larimer. In a very enthusiastic way, she encouraged us to walk around the neighborhood, knock on doors and talk to people. “This is not a poor neighborhood”, she said. “People might be broke, but they are not poor”. Since she had to cook dinner for her husband, and one of us was still battling the stomach flu, we postponed our original plan, to look at her rain garden, for next week.


We decided to let the lemonade stand rest for two days. Sometimes people start to appreciate things more once they are gone. We used the morning to check out the “waffle shop”, a restaurant, initiated by artist Jon Rubin, which produces and broadcasts a live-streaming talk show with its customers. Before we could enter the shop, we were approached by Erin, who seems to be well known locally for riding around on his car bike, which is a bike that has a car bumper attached to the handles. Erin, who tries to raise awareness for how easy bikers get into accidents because cars don’t give them enough space on the road, is a regular on the talk show in the waffle shop. Before we went into the waffle shop, Erin insisted on taking some pictures with Louis, so Louis would remember him, once he grew up and promised him to build him a Spiderman customized car bike some day.

The waffle shop consists of a counter, a stage, and tables. When we entered (at 10 am Sunday morning) the tables were all occupied by families with kids, while the counter with students and the stage with 2 girls who were trying to set up a microphone. The atmosphere was very lively.

We sat down, ordered a classic and an omlette waffle and then watched how Erin took the stage.

Unfortunately the acoustics of the life broadcast were pretty bad, so it was hard to understand what host and guest were talking about. After 10 minutes, the next “show” went on, a new host interviewed a young man, dressed in black shoes, pants, shirt and skinny necktie with long hair, who was a bassist.

After that, we followed Mrs. Jones advice and attended a church service at the Saint Benedict the Moore Catholic Church, which “is an African-American community that celebrates the Gospel of Christ by welcoming the stranger among us”. It was great to see some people in traditional African clothes, the colors, the patterns, the head wraps… Unfortunately half an hour into the service another wicked wave of the stomach flu hit again, so we had to leave.

Later in the afternoon one of us went to the Urban Green Growth Collaborative Cookout at Mellon Park and talked to Liana, an activist from Pittsburgh who has spent a lot of time in Larimer and runs an initiative called Get Larimer.

Monday, Aug.9, 2010, More of Larimer

At 12:50pm we knocked on the office trailer that is parked in front of the old school building in Larimer. Carlos had sent us this way. He thought it would be interesting to talk to Mr. Emmett Miles who had bought the school building in 2005, developed plans for it and since then uses the trailer to make it happen. When we entered, a woman was in the process of explaining a job application to a young men. We waited in the front part of the trailer that was used as a kitchen and appreciated the air conditioning. A copy of this article was in a frame on the wall. After the potential job applicant had left, we introduced ourselves to April. She told us a little bit about the job training program that Mr. Miles is running. Since it sounded like a great opportunity for people from Larimer, we asked why there wasn’t a long line out the door? “Because people know, that Mrs. April is closing up at 1pm, that’s why”, she said with a big smile.

She gave us Mr. Mile’s phone number so we could make an appointment with him. We asked her, if she knew of any artists in Larimer, and with another big smile she said. “Artists? You are the first artists that knocked on the door, let’s leave it at that.” When we left she handed us a job application, just in case.

We then followed one of Mrs. Jones’ advices and visited Mama Rose. Mrs. Jones had talked about a Gazebo in the backyard and that Mama Rose was close to the community gardens on Larimer Ave., so we drove towards this area and looked for the gazebo. When we came down Auburn street a big, dust cloud emerged from the left side in the middle of the block. A bulldozer was demolishing a two story house. We drove around into Mayflower street. The first building on the left in the middle of the block was a well kept blue house. A woman was sitting on the porch. We stopped and asked for Mama Rose’s and she said, it was right here. While we parked two young men came up from behind the house carrying white styrofoam food containers in a plastic bag. We followed the little path leading towards the back, and felt less obtrusive, once we spotted the official “We are open” sign that hang on the back door. We entered and faced a wooden counter, behind that was a kitchen with lots of big pots on the stove. It was hot in there. Mama Rose welcomed us and told us the choices of the day. Five dishes were meat based, (and since we are vegetarians we can not recount them here) and then there was grilled Tilapia, the whole fish, with head and tail for $14, with cabbage and rice. We ordered the fish and Mama Rose said we could sit down at the glass table under the big umbrella in the garden and eat there if we wanted to, even though she was technically speaking only a take out restaurant. When she brought us our food, she told us that she came from Jamaica to Pittsburgh in the 80’s and “didn’t like it”. Since she had six children, she needed a flexible job, so at one point she came up with the idea of cooking Jamaican Food from home, which she is doing now since 35 years. People love her food. Once, she said, a guy went to jail and when he got out after 14 years, he came to her and told her, how he had been thinking every day of Mama Rose’s food and that he prayed that once he would get out, that she would still be there! Mama Rose and the woman who helps her and who also maintains the vegetable garden cook about 30 meals a day, a little more at the beginning of the month, when people have more money than towards the end. Her customers are residents from Larimer, people who work in Larimer and people from other neighborhoods, including a judge and some white lawyers.

The one with the stomach flu ate the rice, the other one the fish and the cabbage, the third one picked out the beans of the rice and made a big mess. For dessert, we went to the back of the garden and looked at the vegetable garden and the BBQ drum.

Then Jade and Treasure, two of Mama Rose’s granddaughters appeared, equipped with water guns and towels. They were the best behaved girls we had met in a long time, and we had a nice conversation until… one of the water guns went off:)

At 4pm we had made an appointment with Mr.Miles at his office trailer. We arrived two minutes late and were greeted by a man who let us in and informed us that Mr.Miles was on his way. The man turned out to be The Pittsburgh Poparazzi, a professional photographer who makes his money with what he loves doing, which is documenting events like weddings, birthdays, etc. He told us how he got into the business and how woman are usually much more concerned about how they look in the pictures, while men are more concerned about the whole composition of the image. Then we flipped through the TV channels. There was a show on called “Dirty Jobs” and somehow we got on the subject of poop and The Poparazzi couldn’t get over it, that we insisted that cow poop smells better than human poop, or dog poop for example. Anyway, we had some good laughs and after that, Louis took the stage. The Poparazzi turned out to be the most technically advanced play mate Louis ever had and he let him use all the gadgets Louis always wanted: remote controls that blink, a cell phone Louis was allowed to make calls with, two big cameras that flashed….

Around 5pm Mr. Miles entered the trailer. He slowly walked around the table, sat down, opened his mail, smiled at a check. Then we talked about his plans for converting the big old beautiful school building, into a mixed use facility (Hydrogenic garden, senior citizen home, fishery, day care center, solar panel manufacturing site). He told us about the 15 lots he owned and that he plans to build a zero net home (that operates completely off the grid) in Larimer, construction starting in September. In comparison to other people who had described Larimer to us as a dangerous place, Mr. Miles said, that it was actually safe, at least in comparison to other neighborhoods and that the only thing that ever happened to him here had happened last week, when some kids smashed the front window of his truck. We asked about artists again and he said he was sure there were some around and he would think of some and let us know. And, then he inquired about Louis weight, which he suspected was less than that of his three month old son. He was right. Louis, almost a year weighs less. “But”, he said while he was scooping up little Louis with his big hand to rock him on his knee, “no worries, little guys get things done too.”

We left around 6:15pm and when we drove up Auburn St. to see if Mrs. Jones was home (we still wanted to see her rain garden), we passed by the site where a few hours earlier the bulldozer had been taking down the house. Nothing was left of it now, not even some dust in the air. The ground was covered with straw. Somehow we felt sad about it.

back on Meadow Street

What can we do right now besides showing that we are here?  How do we communicate some kind of commitment without waving around a glossy print out of a five year plan? If we could have thought of a better way we would have done it, but nothing came to mind. So, here we were again, squeezed under the sun umbrella on Meadow street behind the lemonade stand.

When we returned at 2:10 pm we were greeted with a smile by a man, who was hanging out at the porch across the street, talking to another man. We had seen him twice last week. We remembered him and he seemed to remember us.

After an hour of sitting, listening to the crickets and birds and some reading a woman approached us and asked what we were doing. She was living in the house next to the lot we had temporarily occupied. We answered her questions and asked a few ourselves. The woman told us that she was trying to figure out how to purchase this lot from the URA and use it to grow some vegetables, and that the process was very difficult, not only for her, but for many people in the neighborhood who tried to aquire properties from the URA. She also had been laid off since nine months, so it was not easy to get the money together either. We talked about gentrification, the Caucasian guy who had moved down the street and that Larimer had been founded by Italians who mostly moved into the suburbs in the 60’s and 70’s. After a while she left and said, that she would send her daughter to get some lemonade.

While we were pushing the stroller up and down the block the door our neighbor’s house opened and a girl asked, how much the lemonade was. About 20 minutes later she came by and got one childrens lemonade for 50 Cent and one for adults for $1. We told her, that there were free refills.

That Caucasian guy from down the street turned out to be Mike, whom we had met a couple of days earlier at the Kingsley Center, where he worked with the Summer Youth Program that Carlos was running. Mike, originally from Syracruse, had applied for the summer job at the Kingsley Center, because he needed a summer job after graduating from College. Carlos had put him in touch with the landlord on Meadow street, where he could live rent free with his two pittbull’s in exchange for doing some work on the house. When he moved in, he said, people in Larimer thought he was a cop. Mike was the second person who bought iced coffee, and while we are trying to crush the big junk of ice cubes so it would fit into the cup, Mike mentioned, that we got some competition going. His neighbors, he said, had opened up some kind of lemonade stand as well this week.
To check it out, we walked together down the street. Two white people with their weapons of defense, two pittbulls and a stroller.

The new business on the block was Emma’s shop. When we arrived a young woman was in the process of selling a popsicle to a young boy from across the street while Emma explained the advantages of her store to the mother: “It’s too dangerous to go all the way to the grocery store. So why not come here, when you can get your popsicle right across the street.”

When the boy was five Cents short, Emma said: “Don’t worry hon, we are neighbors.” We got two red white and blue popsicles and Emma said, that she was German. Her grandmother, who had come from Germany two Pittsburgh as a young woman had 21 children, one of them Emma’s father. Her grandmother became 106 years old, and on the day she died she was baking bread.

Back at the lemonade stand, eating our popsicle, watching the cars pass by, observing what was going on  around the car repair down the street and across the corner on the porch, we realized that we really enjoyed sitting on that green meadow. The moment had the romantic potential of being a glimpse into an urban village life fiction, where residents run their businesses from their homes, where neighbors walk up and down the street and talks to each other,  where kids can  ride around on their bikes without adult supervision, where crickets chirp in the trees and butterflies and bees fly from flower to flower in search for nectar. Was it strange to find the situation beautiful, was it naive? Why were we even capable of having these thoughts, when people had warned us about gun violence and robberies? May be we appreciated the authenticity of the situation. May be we hadn’t been been to a place without tourists in a long time. May be it was satisfying that all we had set out to do with the lemonade stand, was to be there. That being there, was already an accomplishment in itself. May be it was a relief to discover that there are probably always alternatives to the stereotype, and that these are actually easy accessible.

For the rest of the afternoon business was slow as usual. The neighbors daughter came back and asked for her free refill. She had not brought her old cup, so we gave her a new one, and wondered if that, technically speaking was really considered a refill? Around 4:30pm we packed up and rang the bell at Mrs. Jones house again. A hand written paper on the column of the porch informed us that we were entering Jesus’ zone. Mrs. Jones opened the door and invited us in. We sat down on the sofa in the cozy living room and talked for a while. At one point, Mr. Jones joined the conversation. We then walked through the kitchen out into the backyard, where Mrs. Jones showed us the rain barrel Carlos had hooked up as part of one of the programs that focused on turning Larimer into a green and sustainable neighborhood with local food production. The rain barrel was filled with water, but the potted plants around it were all dried up. It was obvious, that Mrs. Jones potential did not lay in growing basil and tomatoes. Mrs. Jones did not belong in a backyard. She belonged amongst people, where she could use her powerful voice to tell stories; her personal ones, the ones of her neighborhood, the history of her people. “I am a stakeholder. I am the voice of my community. I am the community… ” were the words she had used the week before at the Census Group Meeting, where the new development plans for Larimer were introduced.

Anyway, we couldn’t stay too long, because there was another meeting at the Kingsley Center, we were asked to attend. The Urban Leadership Institute meeting was led by Fred who introduced a ways to approach and communicate with strangers to the 20 people that sat around the big, grey plastic tables. As an exercise for the group who had met for the first time that evening, we had to first interview and then introduce each other. Since there was a small buffet with healthy food we could eat while doing the exercise, the atmosphere was relaxed enough to have some fun with the task. For us it was as interesting to listen to the presented facts (who was there from where for what reason and with what kind of family history), as to the way the data was presented. It was amazing how fun and engaging a few of the elderly woman could make this simple presentation.

More meetings and more lemonade

Today we met Renee at 9AM at our house to discuss what had happened so far and to hear what she thought about our approach and the project’s process. Halfway through our coffee, the phone rang and Maria called to let us know that Mr Bankston would be able to meet us at 11AM at the Kingsley Association. Mr Bankston is the director at the Kingsley Association in Larimer and had to sign off on the Grant application Renee had submitted to the Heinz Foundation. We hadn’t met him yet, but were interested in getting to know him.
Despite the short notice, Renee was able to shift an upcoming phone meeting and said she would join us for the meeting, so we used the little time remaining and prepared a short presentation on our work and our process.

When we arrived at 11:15 AM at the Kingsley, Maria and Renee were already there. While waiting for Mr Bankston, we looked at some pictures from last night’s block captain meeting to shorten the wait.

During our meeting, Mr. Bankston gave us a detailed introduction into the history of the Kingsley Association. After that, we explained what we had done so far. It turned out that Mr.Bankston had heard a lot about it already from a variety of different sources. He agreed on our approach and strategy towards Larimer and emphasized the time it takes to get to know someone. He therefore appreciated our intention not to come with a fixed and determined idea, but rather get to know the neighborhood and its residents first before developing any proposal.

When we left the meeting it was time to head over to Meadow street to open our daily Lemonade stand.We tried to be there at 2pm the latest. – When we arrived the thermometer showed 94F (=35C), a perfect temperature for ice-cold lemonade or and iced coffee. The atmosphere was humid and it felt like everything was wet. In comparison to the day before the street felt very quiet. Instead of people there was some tension lingering around. Or was it the thickness of the heat?
The advantage of a routine is, that you don’t have to decide what to do next or wether to do it at all. Table first, then the two signs, followed by the two chairs, the umbrella, the icebox, the pitcher with the coffee, the cups, a bag for trash and the sugar.
Ready for business.

It was slow for the first hour, so slow that we felt nothing would happen today. There were even less cars on the street. At around 3pm our first returning costumer strolled through the heat. It was the daughter of the woman who owned the house right next to us and who had already got a cup of lemonade (and a free 2nd) yesterday. She was on her way home from the last day of summer camp and stopped for the lemonade. We prepared her one, she paid and asked, if she could get her 2nd free (the “refill”) too? We were caught by surprise. Our idea for the refill had been that customers would return with their old cup and get it refilled. Now we had to learn that a “free refill” could mean different things.

A little later a college teacher who was riding his bike along Meadow Street stopped, got a large lemonade and chatted a bit with us about what we were doing. He was riding through the neighborhood and was surprised to find us there.

20 minutes passed by until another guy on a bike came by and stopped to ask what we did and how much a lemonade would be. After hearing our prices he decided to choose a small one. While we poured the lemonade, he deposited his money on our table so he could receive his lemonade and continue his ride. When he had left and we took the money off the table we discovered that he had given us only 30 cents. Since it had looked like he was living around the corner, we assumed he would notice and return with the missing amount.

We had just decided to close for the day when a guy stopped his car across the street and walked over to us. He too wanted a lemonade. It seemed as if he was from the neighborhood since he was greeting people. When he spoke there was something different to the way he pronounced sentences. Not a dialect, but more a pronunciation, which made us curious of why he sounded different.
Since we had already decided to close, he was our last customer for the day.

When we left Larimer, we drove past a demolition site we had discovered earlier.

A backhoe was sitting on a pile of rubble where 132 Mayflower Street used to be.

(google street view image)

Now, just a couple of hours later, all what was left was a vacant lot with the backhoe sitting like a fat and full animal on flat ground.

While we were taking photos of the newly created vacant lot, two neighbors came out and started taking: “Hi Donald did you just built a new parking spot for your car?” – Since it sounded like Donald (or Ronald) could be approached with all kinds of questions, we asked him what he knew about the demolitions. He told us that he didn’t know much, but that the city seemed to have decided to demolish the better houses and leaves the ones standing that are in disrepair and bad shape. Looking at the house right opposite of the newly vacant lot, we could see a house where the awning was ripped down and the windows were boarded up. It seemed like the building would collapse any minute by itself. We asked Donald if he new when and where the demolitions took place. He told us that crews come into Larimer to do the demolitions, but he didn’t know when and where, but if we would leave him our phone number he would ask the guys when they return and give us a call. We wrote our phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to him.

The conversation with Donald repeated some things we had heard about before, like not knowing which house will be next. but it also reminded us of something we had read about the feelings of former residents who had witnessed the demolition of their homes. We can say that watching a house being demolished is a great spectacle, how it goes from a protecting structure to an empty lot. It is a mesmerizing transformation, but after seeing the second lot covered with straw it leaves a strange residue. The lots start to look like voids and can become eerie.

Here is an interesting article about this topic.

Thursday, same slow business day

Around noon we gave a short presentation of our work to the to kids of the summer youth employment program at the Kingsley Center. Afterwards we went to Mama Rose’s again and ate shrimp curry and shared a fruit punch. At 2pm we arrived at Meadow street and while one of us was setting up the table, chairs and sun umbrella, the other one talked to Tony, the neighbor across the street who sat on his porch. Tony has been living in Larimer since 27 years. He is 57 years old and used to be a steel worker. On the first day of working with the Union a piece of iron fell on his shoulder and disabled him. Since then he is at home. He talks to a lot of people from the neighborhood and he hopes that talking to the young people,  could make a difference in their lives. In some cases it did, or at least he hopes it did. Tony would like to fix up his house, but he can not. So his mission is to sit on the porch and talk to people.

The afternoon almost felt like “open porch day”. There were at least ten different people who stopped by at Tony’s and sat down next to him on the chairs or on the steps, and out of the three hours we operated the lemonade stand, there was probably just one minute when Tony wasn’t involved in a conversation. The quiet street became busy and for us it was interesting to be able to listen to bits and pieces, it was like a neighborhood radio talk show.

Even though business at the lemonade stand was extremely slow, we had two returning costumers. One was Mike, who showed up at 3:20pm to get iced coffee again. At 3:46pm Sherwood returned on his bike and asked for another cup of lemonade. Sherwood had liked the lemonade he had tasted the day before for the first time, when he had gotten a small cup to try it out. So, this time he wanted a big one. Since he had paid only 30 Cents the day before, we didn’t want to shock him with the price for a big one and asked for 50 Cents. He paid the 50 Cents and inquired: “How is business going for you?” “Kind of slow. Actually very slow!”, we answered. Sherwood pulled out a dollar bill, put it on the table and said: “I like your lemonade stand. Let me help you out a little bit. ” He then told us that he works at Carnegie Mellon University as a receiver, a person who unloads incoming trucks. He goes to work everyday by bike, which takes him about 20 minutes.

At around 5pm, we packed up, said good bye to Tony and his crowd. At 7pm one of us attended another Green Team meeting. Since the members of the Green Team Group were almost identical to the ones of the Consensus group, and, since Mr. Bankston felt that we had done a very confusing presentation about our project at the Consensus Group meeting (we basically had said, that we didn’t know what we want to do, that we first wanted to get to know the neighborhood and some people before making any plans) he had asked us to come back and do another presentation. The atmosphere at the meeting was lively, people seemed to like each other. There were 6 agenda points for the evening, we were agenda point 4. To go through with agenda point 1 took one hour and 10 minutes, so before the group could move into the next topic, we asked to become number 2. To our relief, our request was granted. Mr.Bankston then introduced our project to the group, who was involved and how it was funded and then we briefly talked about the lemonade stand. Everyone laughed. Everyone knew already that we also sold “iced coffee”. Our idea, to go and sit on an empty lot for a week seemed to get approval. That Emma opened her own little shop in response to ours seemed to be a good outcome of the project. That we would come back in the fall and dig deeper seemed to be logical. People wished us well, and before we left, Mr. Jones asked, if the business was for sale, once we would leave Pittsburgh.

last day of the lemonade stand

In the morning we had breakfast with with Renee, Lena and Maria to evaluate what had happened the last two weeks and to talk about the next steps. We decided to return in the fall. In the mean time, we will hire Ngani to be our studio assistant. She will start mid-September by doing some video interviews with people we have met and we will take it from there.

Back in Larimer around noon, we walked by  the jitney place on Paulson Ave. in order to do our “sightseeing Larimer tour” with them. The big, black metal fence gate was pulled shut, and the guy who had said that that was not a problem wasn’t there. From behind the dark room behind the gate a woman told us to return around 5pm.

We walked back on Paulson Ave. and visited Mrs. Jones, who was volunteering in the furniture warehouse again and brought her a small pot of roses. She told us a little bit about her German great grandfather who had been the first man in the state of Ohio,  who had married a black woman. Before we left Mrs.Jones gave us a big hug and we took another picture of her in front of the mural at the wall of the warehouse building.

At 2pm we set up the Lemonade stand for the last time. Nobody was across the street on the porch. Emma’s husband, the car repair guy from down the street had put two huge loudspeakers in the windows of his house and blasted some soul music. When we walked down to get our daily popsicle, Emma was nowhere in sight. Before we were even able to say Hello, her husband, who was talking to a younger woman, started blaming us (or the world?) for all kinds of things. Besides “white” and “shooting” and “gangs” it was hard to figure out what exactly he was referring to, because the music was so loud. After a while he finally asked a question, we knew the answer to:
“What do you want? What do you want?”
“My popsicle”
“What color?”
“Red, white and blue”
“What is Emma charging you for that?”
“25 Cents”
He disappeared into the house and returned in a better mood, with the popsicle in his hand.

Ngani came by around the lemonade stand at 3pm. We all squeezed under the sun umbrella and explained to her the idea with the video-project. She told us about her last art projects, her jobs and the places she volunteered. While we were talking a car stopped on the street and a woman came out and ordered three lemonades. It took us a while to prepare those, because we had a hard time to put the lids on the cups.
Somehow they were not the original ones and a little tight. We felt slightly embarrassed that after almost two weeks of being on the job, our procedure of crushing the ice, putting it into the cup, adding the lemonade, putting on the lid and inserting the straw was still bumpy. The woman was in no rush and waited patiently. When we were finally done, her son jumped out of the car and helped her to carry the lemonades to the car.

At 3:46 a man in a grey sweat suit bought a lemonade and we chatted a little bit. His name was Homer and he lived around the block. Once he was gone, Nghani asked, if we noticed how odd it is to walk around in a fleecy sweat suit when it’s 90 Degrees outside, which reminded us, that an hour earlier, a young men had been walking down on the other side of the street, wearing boots, jeans and a black winter coat. We had asked ourselves, if he worked at a refrigerated warehouse or at a slaughter house, or if there was enrolled in a government funded free home air conditioning program and just enjoyed the cold.
After Ngani was gone, not much more happened. We had sold five lemonades in three hours, the most business so far.
Once we had packed up we passed by the jitney garage again. No car was parked in front, the metal fence was closed and no one was inside. We would have to postpone our trip for next time, or ask Ngani to do it.
While we stepped into the Kingsley Center to use their restrooms one more time we were approached by Verna, who inquired about project. We had met Verna briefly at the Kingsley at an Urban Green Growth meeting the week before. We told her about the lemonade stand. She liked our approach and loved that the police had showed up the first day. “Take two black people and put them into a white neighborhood selling stuff, I bet they would have called the police too. So this is real.” She then invited us to visit her dance studio on the third floor, where we also met Felicia who teaches Yoga there. We hang out for another hour and talked and laughed, until Louis used the big nice dance floor to stage a dramatic belly down collapse. It was time to go.

Evaluation and plans

Today is the deadline for sending a general report about our August experience and our plans for the future to Pittsburgh. Here is what we put together:

eteam’s report, Sept.13, 2010


It’s the end of the summer. We are back in NYC and after weeks of sun and heat, the sky turned grey and it is raining. We check our smart phone for the weather in Pittsburgh. It’s supposed to be 71 Degrees. It looks like there are some clouds, but no rain. In fact, no rain until Thursday. What happens if it rains in Larimer? We wonder. Will the weeds on the vacant lots grow again? Do the streets get cleaned? Will Mrs. Jones’ rain barrel fill up? And what will she do with the water? Will the rain dribble into the attics – of how many houses? We picture how the wood is getting wet, turning dark, the air dampens, the growth of mold picks up, there is this special smell. It’s not healthy, that’s why somebody is sleeping on the couch in the living room since two years. That same somebody who grew up in Larimer. He was, at some point a little boy who pinned two postcards on the wall above his bunk bed. What postcards we can not even imagine. We do a google search: “Black Kids Postcards”. The first result is 100 years old. That’s how far behind we are. Literally. A vintage postcard, tinted, depicting naked and semi nude African boys fighting for money. The inscription reads: Negerknaben kaempfen um Geldstuecke. The postcard has been sent from Monrovia to Wien. The German Deutsch – Suedwest Afrika – stamp has been tied by a Swakopmund 1910 – strike. Fine condition. Price $48. So? Yes, the postcard could have been pinned up on a wall in Vienna. Yes, we can picture that scenario perfectly. But what about Larimer? What do we know by heart about that place? Still, not much. We fall into the google trap again: the empty lot syndrome, shrinking cities, blight, crime, African American community, temporary urbanism is filling the void, dead malls, instant parks, rain gardens, mushroom farms, compost bins, community gardens, outdoor markets, short-term retail outlets and event locations, activists, grass roots, revitalizing, murals, short term, high impact, potential, possibility. There are more words on the web than weeds on vacant lots in Larimer that describe the post-industrial inner city phenomena not only in American cities, but all over the world.


No, the Internet is not going to solve this one for us.  There is too much pre-digested information out there. And, even if we wanted to start anew… it’s overpriced. You can buy for  $2495 from

We don’t know what happens when it rains in Larimer. We assume that the rain will leak through some roofs, causing the mold to spread, like the stereotypes. “Why is this a bad place?”, we had asked the guy. “Bang bang”, he said and shot his two index fingers into the air. We have only been there for ten hot days in August operating an afternoon Lemonade stand on a vacant lot on Meadow Street.

What was the result of that? We spent time on site.
What kind of time? It’s hard to say. Setting up was scary. For the first hour we felt uncomfortable. Like intruders. We nervously waited for the first costumer. Once he crossed the street and bought a lemonade without asking anything but the price, the possibility that our presence could be accepted went from 0 to 100%. To realize that we had a chance was a great relief. We could have packed up after that, but we stayed to test the hypothesis. Count the people. Take in the reactions. Observe how they walked down the street. Since there were only 1-2 lemonade exchanges per hour, we had a lot of extra time. Time to sit and look at the houses across the street. Time to look at the grass, the bees, the sky, the clouds. Time to sit on a folding chair and sip on an iced coffee. Time to listen to the crickets, to look at a butterfly. Time to do nothing. Every day we liked the place a little bit more. There was beauty in the simplicity of things. Something direct. Something real. We were able to see it there. A plot of nature. Along comes a man. He likes the place. He builds a house to protect him. Wind and weather stay outside. What destroys the house from within eventually is man’s own nature. So he leaves and starts over some place else, which might be the same place. Or the same nature some place else. Whichever way, it will take some time until the remaining destruction becomes a starting point for the next man, who – for example – comes of age during a period when, across Europe, a growing disillusionment with materialistic society is giving rise to a new appreciation of spirituality. His name is Caspar David Friedrich. He is a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, best known for his allegorical paintings which feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or ruins. The figures are small, allowing the landscape to hint towards its metaphysical dimension. There is something powerful about the contemplative depictions of stillness. To experience the void is impossible, but in Larimer there is at least some emptiness one can get close to. If we allow the luxury of taking the time to drift off.


What do we see when we look at the ocean? A lawless domain where brute economics trump moral considerations? Vast? Wild? Mysterious? Chaos? Crime? Is that what people think, when they spend their family vacation sitting in front of the big empty blue?  What do people see when they look at the vacant lots in Larimer? It probably depends on the people.


When we return in the fall we need to look at the vacant lots again. And we need to see how others look at them. If we felt like we were missing 100 years of combined personal histories in Larimer during our last visit, let’s skip another 100 years backwards, and approach the situation truly out of context, like two romantic German Plein Air Landscape painters, who are intrigued by the idea of employing the Rückenfigur – a person seen from behind, contemplating the view. In August we made ourselves visible, and have seen a little bit for ourselves. But, you only see what you know. At our next visit we need to see what people see when they look at the vacant lots. How the landscape changes through their eyes.

In more practical terms: The three returning customers of our lemonade stand meant a lot to us. They didn’t “check us out” the second time, they returned, because we offered something what they liked. Larimer offers things we value, so we would like to return. Ideally the returns will be a week each time. This should suffice to establish a mutual familiarity with people, which is necessary for the development of collaborations. We would like to spend time in Larimer again towards the end of October and in the beginning of January. We expect these two shorter visits will deepen our relationships, and our understanding of the place. We will use these visits for collaborative test runs with individuals or smaller groups.

In the mean time – we purchased a high definition video camera, which we’ll send to Ngani, our artist assistant on site, so she can start doing video-interviews, and some landscape shots in Larimer. These video interviews will have several functions. For once they allow us to maintain a continued presence in Larimer, a presence, which is not as immediate as us being there, but one, which reminds people that other people are looking at the place. Secondly people get used to the video- camera – or Ngani with the video camera. And lastly, when Ngani sends us the footage, we will have continued access to what is going on, what people think, catch up on some history, and can have her ask specific questions. Based on these recordings, we will be able to develop the first test runs for October. Since many of our process-based projects are documented (and fictionalized) in form of video, the collected footage could become part of this type of docu-fiction.

1 Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818
2 Caspar David Friedrich, Abbey in an Oak Forest, 1809 – eteam, behind the lot on Meadow street, August 2010
3 Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice/The Wreck of Hope, 1823-24 – eteam, Emma’s store on Meadow street, August 2010

4 Caspar David Friedrich, Woman before the rising sun, 1818-1820 – eteam, Mrs. Jones in front of the furniture Warehouse, 2010

5 Caspar David Friedrich, Evening Landscape with two Men, 1830-35, Larimer resident, eteam’s lemonade stand, August 2010

Maria – Ngani meeting

email from Maria

Ngani & I met this morning and we had a great discussion on the video project. She is excited and setting herself up to start working with Larimer community members on the footage.

We discussed a few strategy tasks:

1.      I will create a one-page info sheet on the project and a sign-in sheet and promote the documentary program to community members

2.      That list will get sent to Ngani who will contact interested individuals to set-up video time.

3.      She will have a video space at LA Grocery on Larimer Avenue which is a public and well-known space and a comfortable community setting

4.      She will also be available for residents to document in homes or other Larimer spaces when she feels it is safe and trusted.

5.      I am available to her as the Pgh/Larimer resource and Kingsley can purchase video tapes from our initial budget as part of the project as well as any other video expense Ngani might need to complete her task –including shipping of tapes, etc.

IN addition I wanted to discuss our collaborative long-term vision and the Kingsley’s desire to have these videos available to tell the story of our community members and hope we can discuss further the potential full-project funding that could cover the creation of a feature length documentary on Larimer, Kingsley and the lives of our residents, as well as snippet views of our residents that Kingsley can put on its website, in the media TV in our front lobby etc…. we want to play a role in supporting the telling our residents stories. In addition we were thinking about the potential full grant covering a large video unveiling event that helps build resident ownership of the final project outcomes and gives them a moment in the spotlight.  Just some thoughts here and long-views of the project to build upon.

some reference projects for discussion

email from eteam

For us the primary idea about the video, the camera and the camera operator is, to have a representation in the community, hopefully building, extending and capturing the relationships we had started while we were there. If the video helps in securing grant money, the better and we are excited if this would be an option.

Other than that, we hope that you are all well and here are some more links of projects we think are interesting and worth looking at in the context of what we are trying to do:

A project by the British artist Jeremy Deller called the Battle of Orgreave


A project by the American artist Paul Chan called Waiting for Godot

more reading

email from eteam

Hello All,

Here is another text we found very informative, useful and

thought-provoking. We have been reading it to see what is applicable for our

project and found that it adds some good thoughts to our conversation.

Talk soon,


Renee, eteam and Kingsley Phone Call November 17, 2010

incomplete transcript of one of the phone conferences scheduled to be held every two weeks 11/10 – 12-10

Eteam and Kingsley Phone Call

November 17, 2010

Maria and Ngani met two weeks ago.  Ngani is going to be setting up shop at LA Grocery to do videos from there.

Six people were at a Kingsley meeting and signed up.  Ngani is going to contact them individually.  Ngani is going to work on this on Wednesday mornings.

Maria said she would be happy to help Ngani meet with people if she did not have time.  Also, they are going to take a portion of the $1,000 Kingsley received to purchase video cards and mail them to eteam.

When Franzy met Ngani in NY, Ngani told her that one of the owners of the store was a bit skeptical. She will go back and talk to the owner about it.  She thought this part was easy, but it was a bit more difficult than she expected.  eteam encouraged her to try again.  The nature of the project is for her to weave her way through.

The store is really tight.  Very small.  They have been running it for 20 years, and that there is a way to do it.  Ngani does not want it to be in a structured space, but a very homey space.

Ngani went to Grace Memorial Baptist Church and liked that space.  She knew the receptionist there, Brenda, and scheduled an interview with her.  And the Pastor.  It was supposed to happen yesterday.  She went twice to a guy they met, Tony, and he lived across the street from the lemonade stand.  He is a community guy b/c he spends his day on the porch talking to people.  He is on disability, he says his job is to talk to young people and get them on the right track.  He has rescheduled the interview two times.

What are the interviews about?

Starts with basic stuff, who the interviewees are and how long they have been there.  Then we  might find out more about the vacant lots and opportunities they see in these.  E.g. If someone would give a vacant lot to you, would you take it as a present?  We try to guide them to go in a more open direction. We will adjust the interviews once we get the first takes.

Wants a description in three weeks.

Does not want to lead the discussion on what happens.  She does want to share in the process; Kingsley can show it on their TV in the lobby.  Wants to see what the artists come up with.  Have a link from eteam to Kingsley.  She likes the idea that there may be YouTube full length interviews in full.  But something that then pieces together what the thoughts are on vacant lots.

The interviews are a research tool.  The final project won’t be a documentary, or that is not what we are planning right now.  The interviews could lead to what the next step is.    The research can be presented in some form.  We are working towards something more abstract or visionary.  The camera is also a way to familiarize people with how we work.

In the past, we sent pictures to participants, not necessarily videos.  But who knows, maybe the interviews are outrageous and we want to show them.

Kingsley would like something tangible to show, to be able to show people that their lives and stories are valued.

A very valuable opportunity – to have their stories heard and valued.

A little bit of an education about what art and artists can do.  That video can be an art form.  Kind of a slow education of what art can be.  As they grow with this, people open up to more abstract ideas.

Liked the video that eteam sent about the artist working in housing high-rises in London in the 70’s.

NEXT CALL:  DECEMBER 2nd at 10:30 AM.

update from Kingsley

We had a great turnout last night for the UGGC Community Gathering. I had 6 more people sign-up to participate in the documentary – which brings us to 12 interested residents!


phone conference

abbreviated transcription of phone conference

Eteam Phone Call

December 2, 2010

On Call: Lea, Renee, Franzy

Franzy told us that Ngani has done five interviews so far, mostly with older people.  She will be working from Maria’s list to interview more people, including younger people in Larimer.  One interesting thing Ngani reported is that people sometimes saying different things when the camera is on than when it is off.

The interviews seem to be going well.

Eteam has not seen the footage yet.  Ngani is going to go by Kingsley on Wednesdays to drop off the disc and give Maria a report on what is happening.  Maria will mail the disc to eteam.

Eteam is going to be on a trip for three months (January – March).  They will continue to work remotely with Ngani.

We all discussed the video and how it might be presented.  It really will depend on what it looks like and what the interviews are like.  Eteam views this as research material, not as content for a final work.  However, they are open to possibly displaying it on a monitor, on the web, or in another format.  We all thought it would be best to make those types of decisions once eteam sees the footage.

Renee needs a description of what has happened since they were here in August to use as part of the fundraising for the next phase.  Renee asked for a new bio for eteam, as well as a bio from Ngani.

Next Call: December 17, 2010. 10:30 AM

SD cards

Finally the SD cards for the video camera have arrived at Ngani’s place. We had ordered them to speed things up, but the post office and maybe B&H messed all our plans up. It took over two weeks from NY to Pittsburgh for two SD cards.

skype with Ngani

today at 9:00 pm like every week

conference call

Call with Eteam

December 23, 2010

On Call: Lea, Lena, Renee, Hajoe, Franzy


Tech Issues:

Hajoe described some logistics issues.  Ngani has shipped the card to them, but it has not arrived yet.  They have Monday Skype calls with her, but this past Monday, there was no phone call.  They are having trouble getting in touch with her this week.  Maybe due to holiday or work issues.

Ngani has been scheduling interviews, but they have not seen the video yet.

They are working on how to solve the technology issues.  How to make it easy and smooth.

Eteam has gotten a hard drive for her, but it has not arrived in the mail yet.  They wonder if she can just upload the video instead of mailing it.

Renee asked if  Ngani can upload the video from GPAC or her house.  Renee will ask Maria if Ngani can do it at the Kingsley office?


Chris Koch:

Renee told eteam about a meeting she had with Chris Koch about G-Tech’s work in Larimer.  She offered to introduce them to Chris via email.  Lena thought this would be a good connection.



Franzy said they knew Renee wanted a proposal before the end of the year, but that is not possible if they have not seen the video yet.

Renee said to get it to her as soon as possible.


Next Call: January 13, 2010 at 10:30 AM

signs of Ngani

Today we received the videos in the mail and a letter explaining why we hadn’t heard from Ngani since December 15th. We had tried multiple times to call and email her, but she never responded. It wasn’t a good excuse and we decided to terminate our relationship since we needed someone reliable to represent us and the project.

video interviews

We just received the chip with the first 5  interviews Ngani has done with people who live/and or work in Larimer.

These were the questions that Ngani asked:

Could you please introduce yourself?
How long have you been living in Larimer?
Have you always been living in the same house? Do you own or rent your house?
Do you know your neighbors? Have any of them moved away recently? Do you miss them?
What do you like about Larimer, what do you hate about this place?
What was this neighborhood like 30 years ago?
People say this neighborhood is dangerous. Do you agree?
What are you interested in? (– if money,a job, a house or health is the answer, ask for additional interests)
If someone would offer you an empty lot in Larimer as a present, would you accept the present? Would you like to own an empty lot? What would you do with it?
What other places, besides your house do you frequent in Larimer? Do you go to the Grocery Store, to Mama Rose’s, the Kingsley Center, any of the churches, do you use the gypsy cab service, etc?
Have you witnessed the demolition of a building in Larimer? How does it feel, when a house gets torn down?
Who do you think is controlling what is going on in this neighborhood? Who are the stakeholders?
Do you feel like the neighborhood is changing? In which way?
If you could live some other place, where would you like to live?
Where does your grandson play (– if applicable)? Are there any outside places for kids?
What do the teenagers in Larimer do?
Do you know any artists in Larimer?
In case the neighborhood gets redeveloped at some point, what would you like to see included in this development?
What do you think about the idea of two German artists doing something in Larimer? What kind of project do you think they will do? Or what should they do?
What do you know about German people?
Do you listen to music? What kind of music?

Can you please refer me to the next person in Larimer you think I should do an interview with?

closing email from Ngani

Confirming receipt of this message.

I’ve sent camera, the portable HD, and 1 video card along to Renee today via US Post.

I had to move 2 weeks ago so I have the other card within my things I will send it along as soon as I recover it. If I haven’t opened a box with it by the end of the week I’ll simply send a replacement to Renee. The contacts are unfortunately in a sketchbook that is also in a box.

I can say for sure that the guys at the grocery store, Bim and Dred, are totally spooked they said they’re “foreigners” and they “don’t want to get into talking about Larimer”.

Mama Rose was hard to get in touch with.

Toni kept rescheduling but always seemed willing.

I think I may have some more contact information contained in emails. I will try to look those up in the meantime.


checking in …

Hello Franzy and Hajoe,

I hope you both and Louie are doing well and having a good summer. I am sorry you have not heard from me in a while.

My optimistic side is hoping that you both have been writing letters to people in Wilkinsburg, making interesting connections with people, still thinking of the project.  Or, has it fallen to the back burner, perhaps not something you can pursue at this time?  Just checking in…


10 years

Dear Renee,

thanks for checking in…. We were about to send you an email as well. The Larimer project is simmering – not on the back burner but in the front line with a couple of other projects we have been cooking for some time.
We have been discussing the Larimer project for the last months periodically and here is what we would like to do:

For the next nine years, for one week in August, we come to Larimer and run the lemonade stand. (We anticipate that Louis and his Larimer friends will take over the lemonade stand in 2020 – just kidding:)

We are committed, we believe in building long time relationships and we are excited about the potential that comes with the lemonade stand. This is possible.
We are ready to come to Larimer this year.

What do you think?

Hajoe and Franzy


Hello Hajoe and Franzy,

I am sorry it has taken me so long to write you back.  We have just finished the installation on a project and are preparing for the reception tomorrow.  It’s been busy, probably more so with the two of you. Please forgive me.

I also wanted to spend some time thinking about your idea of doing the lemonade stand each August for one week for nine years.  Trying to imagine the long term relationships, or other projects, that could grow out of it.  I was not feeling optimistic at first, but as I re-read your email again and again over the past three weeks, I have become more optimistic.

I have two considerations that I want to share with you / ask:

  1. My bit trouble is that I don’t know how I am going to fund this and what you expectations are.  As you can imagine, most foundations are not incredibly supportive of long term projects that are very organic and undefined.  I am certainly willing to try to go to Foundations to see if they would entertain a very small grant.  But, it is late in the season and I don’t know if we would have any luck before August. But, I am willing to try…
  2. When you say you are ready to come back to Larimer again this year, are you expecting a fee, stipend, etc?  Would you be satisfied with us trying to help you with some low-cost housing, perhaps donations of the lemonade stand supplies?
  3. Have you communicated this idea to Maria or the Kingsley Association at all?  How do you imagine them participating in this project?  I am curious about how you are feeling about that aspect of the collaboration for the URA.

I am copying Lena on this email, since URA is a partner and I want to keep her in the loop.

Also, I have the camera from Ngani and the video card.  Should I mail these to you?  Upload the video? Please advise.

I hope it does not take too long for you to reply…I am excited to think about what could happen this August.



What to expect

Hello Renee,

Great to hear back from you and to answer your last question first, we have received one video of Ngani, but there should have been others, too. Now it seems there isn’t any other, so at least we have what we got from her so far. We have watched it before and can send you a copy if you want to, so you can watch it and/or use it for funding opportunities.

Now to your previous email, we are glad you were able to let our idea sink in with you. We had to do the same, it sounds very simple yet is very complex and does require a lot of commitment on our side. – But that’s also what it makes so challenging and exciting for us, we are curious to see how the relationships will change and everyone’s perception with it and what that results in. Our work is all about trust and belief, so not owning a space, we need to find other ways to show our commitment. – and change will happen.
This might be tricky to understand for funding foundations, but we should try. If they are supportive of it, then that’s great and it shows us that someone else is willing to make a commitment, too. It is late already, but we would need funding to do this and to come out to provide continuity.

We haven’t spoken to anyone else besides you, since you are our main contact person for this project and we trust your instincts and opinions. So we are interested in hearing your thoughts first.
But we are curious to hear how the URA ( Hello Lena;) ) could see itself in this or in which way the URA could provide support for the project? There are many areas we could see, but without knowing what is possible, what each Institution (URA, Kingsley, OPA) sees as their strength we don’t want to propose anything but see what is available to us, to use it appropriately.

We are very much looking forward to hearing  what you both think,

Best wishes,

Franzy & Hajoe

Questions and funding

Hello Franzy and Hajoe,

I feel really sad that the rest of the videos did not live.  That is so disappointing.  I would love to see the original video if you have time to send it one day.  Do you want me to return the camera to you?

Lena and I had a chance to talk on Friday.  Beyond helping you place the stand on URA owned land, if that is what you wanted to do, the URA does not have a funding stream available for projects like this.  The exception would be if you wanted to go through one of their loan programs to buy land and operate a business there.  I think the URA is supportive, in that they are willing to see where this leads to, but they don’t have the ability to fund this type of a project.  We both wish there was more flexibility, but we always knew URA would not be a funding source.

I don’t know what resources Kingsley would have, but you never know.  The original spirit of our grant was to have artists and organizations collaborate, developing trust and belief…and potential for change.  I would love to see you communicate this idea back to Maria and Malik and see what they think.  For all I know, they might have resources to share or suggest.

Their willingness to participate in this project is going to be key for me to raise additional funds.  If they don’t want to do it, it will be hard to raise the money based on the original funding concept for this project.  And because I am not a commissioning organization, I can’t raise money for artist projects.  (hope that makes sense, it’s complicated).  However, if they are into it, I would be willing to go back to the Sprout Fund and Hillman Foundation to see if they would be at all interested. If Kingsley is not, I wonder if there are other paths you can take with funding streams here independently.  We can talk about that later.

Can I also ask a few questions?  When I think of a nine-year lemonade stand, I think of the ability to mark what changes in the community by contrasting it with a constant (the stand).  Is this a way (among others) that are you thinking about it too?  How would that be documented?  If that is not how you are thinking about it, help me understand the conceptual framework behind it.  The Hillman Foundation would be especially interested in the documentation.  One of the family members that is part of the foundation is a film maker and photographer.  He is currently living in New York, so I would like to try to get you together with him if this moves forward.

How much money would you need to come this August?  Would you be willing or able to wait to get paid until we raised the money after your trip?  I am sorry to ask you this, but I think we are very late to try to raise money for August from foundations. But, I don’t want to do nothing in August if we can avoid it.  I am afraid that doing nothing could put more distance between you and Kingsley, when I want to be building trust and belief.

I look forward to hearing from you.


A 10 year lemonade stand

Hello Renee,

Thank you for your thoughts. To answer your questions:
The conceptual keywords behind the lemonade stand are long term commitment, platform to interact, building trust, exposure and space for opportunity. We consider the lot at meadow street as our temporary studio. The lemonade stand is our first mark on that green and otherwise empty space. And it will stay like this, until someone from Larimer comes by and changes this situation – makes an improvement, propose a different route, adds to the setup, etc. Then we have a start – a dialog that evolves out of self-motivation.
Our way of reaching out to other people is not going from door to door talking to people, making phone calls, attending meetings or writing emails. We are terrible at this. We reach out by exposing ourselves in a foreign context physically. We sit there and wait until someone sees an opportunity to do something with this situation, take advantage of it (in a hopefully positive way). We might be seen as intruders and occupiers staking out a new frontier, but we might also be seen as people who are stranded in a foreign situation who need help.
We proposed a 10 year run of the lemonade stand based on our experience from last year. Even though the stand proved to be successful as a point of interaction with people from the neighborhood, “business” was very slow. And we deeply respect that slowness, believe that the project depends on that slowness, if we want to allow anything to grow in between that huge gap that culturally separates us from the majority of the people who live in Larimer. To be a stranger is one thing, to be a member of a race the majority of the locals have a conflicted history with exposes barriers that need even more time to be dealt with.
You are right when you think of a nine-year lemonade stand as an ability to mark what changes in the community by contrasting it with a constant (the stand).  And yes, as we did in other projects we’ll document the process of this experiment. Last year it wasn’t the time yet to shoot any video or take a lot of pictures yet – since that is a very aggressive way to approach a location. We rather took a lot of notes. And, when we told a woman who teaches at the community center at the end of our lemonade stand week that we didn’t take any video and only a few pictures she replied: “Thank you for respecting us in that way.”
We have no idea, into what the lemonade stand will turn into over the years. We just know that it won’t be the same 10 years from now. May be it will look the same, but we might have a long line of people waiting because it’s so popular. There might be rows of benches and chairs for people who like to hang out. May be the mayor of Pittsburgh comes by every afternoon to get his lemonade there. He might land with a helicopter – why would we otherwise occupy such a huge space for such a small stand? It’s a heliport in the back for the celebrities that like our lemonade.
The goal of the lemonade stand is to become a place where there wasn’t one before. A place one goes to have a different experience. A place people from Larimer will be able to experience “the difference” in the same way as people from the rest of Pittsburgh.
In our notes from last summer we described how “different” it felt to be there – at that place, in that neighborhood in a green meadow sipping iced coffee.
And here we hope we can make the connections… and for example use you and the public art fund as a great resource for networking. How about you organize a tour for people interested in public art to come out to the lemonade stand? A bus with tourists will probably draw even more local attention than the police car that stopped last year. A newspaper report about the lemonade stand, or something on the radio could probably be helpful to get local people interested. And once they feel there is an interest from the outside, we are sure –  the people from Larimer will unpack – start mixing their idea of culture with ours in the most unique ways.
As for the Kingsley Center – that’s a hard question. We understand their involvement for funding purposes and we like the people who work there. We are happy with the relationships we have build there last year. But based on our experiences from last year we realized that the mode in which the Kingsley works is institutionalized, which is its nature by default, because it is an institution.
The 10 year process we anticipate with this project is very fragile and depends on a lot of intuition, inexplicable actions, and on a huge amount of flexibility. An institution can’t work like this, an artist can – and in order to produce a successful project we need that kind of artistic freedom. So if we there are other ways of funding, we would like to go this way.
This is not to say, that we don’t want to work together with the Kingsley Center, we just don’t want to depend on them – on their approval or permission to do things. We experienced the Kingsley Center as a great resource for practical support and as such they are invaluable – for the community in Larimer (as they were for us as well). But making an art project is not a practical endeavor – it’s highly impractical – and it has to be carried out as such to be able to transcend beyond being some ice cubes and organic lemonade in a plastic cup for $1.

A 10 year commitment is a huge step for us in our artistic practice. We never proposed something like that and it’s somewhat scary, therefore we need a proper start to do it in a professional way.
Since this is not something we set out to do ourselves, and the proposal is shaped by the institutions and people who invited us, we think funding must be a given.
The Larimer project is not a hobby we have been pursuing on the side and we don’t want it to turn into one, because we don’t know where else to spend our summer vacationsJ. And we are not in a rush. We can start “counting” next August and do a 10 year run from then on.
Last year we did not have a concrete proposal. Things were still very vague. Now we have something we can put into writing – backed up by a test run we did last year. The foundation might be a good source, from what you describe and we would be very much interested in a meeting. We can also brainstorm about other grants and possibilities, invest into that side of the process from our side as well.
How does that all sound to you?

We hope all is good with you.
It has been a real pleasure to work with you on this and we hope, we can continue, even though the road is long and windy .

Hajoe and Franzy