May 9, 2022 | Rachel Windsor

A community that cares for one another, a neighborhood experiencing both economic revitalization and continuing blight, and a region that needs concentrated political and fiscal support; Mayor Ed Gainey was shown all of this during a walking tour of Manchester in March 2022. Mobilify was part of this event, which was led by Manchester Citizens Corporation, to show the mayor both Manchester’s strengths and needs. We visited community resource centers, new housing developments, and various neighborhood streets with the intention of highlighting Manchester’s past, present, and future.

During the tour it was impossible to ignore the giant wall that bisects Manchester—Route 65. Often, many of Manchester’s pervasive issues and areas for improvement point back to the existence of this highway. To understand just how impactful Route 65 has been on the neighborhood, and exactly why it must come down, the history of Manchester needs to be explored.

Manchester’s Complex History

Manchester is a beautiful and historic neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s Northside, with a complicated past relative to transportation and social equity. The area was once one of the country’s wealthiest neighborhoods, built with impressive Victorian-style architecture and elegant tree-lined brick sidewalks. During the mid to late 1800s, many factories and workplaces were developed in the district known as Manchester Docks section and thousands of families lived in the Manchester residential area in the following decades. Waves of immigrants and people with a diversity of identities populated the neighborhood, including African American, Jewish, English, Irish, German, and more. As more people settled in the region, small businesses expanded, and the community grew strong.

However, this changed drastically as construction of Route 65 began in the 1960s. A deep divide was created as the Docks and large portions of the residential section were severed from the rest of the neighborhood and renamed Chateau. During the early phases of the project, entire blocks of homes and businesses were demolished to make room for Rt. 65 and new, highway-focused industrial functions.

At the same time, the Civil Rights Movement was in full force in Pittsburgh. Community heroes like Reverend Jimmy Joe Robinson were at the frontlines of protests, fighting for desegregation and racial equality. The combination of highway construction and social justice protests led Manchester to experience a dramatic white flight (which refers to the large-scale movement of white people out of a community that is experiencing a change in demographics and diversity). These events occurred alongside the mass demolition and highway construction, which led to a period of population decline, social instability, and economic deterioration in Manchester. Highway construction dragged on for the next three decades until it was finished in 1993.

There is a long, documented history in the United States of highways being built directly through or next to communities of color, causing direct harm. Manchester presents a unique history, however, because the neighborhood was not majority-Black before highway construction (Holland 2019). Whereas many highway projects of this era were intentionally routed through redlined and predominantly Black neighborhoods, Route 65 tore through a neighborhood that became majority-Black as a result of its construction and the activism and instability it sparked. There was some successful resistance of urban highway construction during the 1950s and 1960s, but not in Manchester. Many community members fought against the highway but were dismissed and ignored, for the sake of a project that hoped to bridge the city with the surrounding predominantly white and wealthy suburbs. Manchester Citizens Corporation, Mobilify’s sponsor and partner, was founded not long after demolition that made way for the highway began, in large part as a response to the neighborhood erasure, blight and instability the highway was causing.

Project 19/65: a Boulevard of Better Dreams

Mobilify, MCC, and other regional partners and community organizers are reimagining Rt. 65’s Manchester/Chateau section, with the goal reuniting these vitally important neighborhoods. We call this Project 19/65, paying homage to MCC’s founding and initial charge and the highways Rts. 19 & 65 designations.

Project 19/65 has two phases:

  • In the near term, Juniata Street becomes a portal and a place that connects two neighborhoods, not just two sides of the highway. This will feature a community gathering space for commercial businesses, markets, and festivals. Additionally, the parallel, adjacent Beaver and Chateau become safer to walk along and cross via lane narrowing, curb extensions, and other traffic calming and control devices.
  • In the long-term vision, Ohio River Boulevard becomes a real boulevard. Through Manchester, the elevated freeway becomes an at-grade boulevard. The vision features street grid reconnections, streetlights to control traffic and speeds, dedicated rapid transit lanes, expanded and safe bike and pedestrian access, spaces for development and green areas, and easy access from Manchester to Chateau. This is part of the Manchester-Chateau Neighborhood Plan and has been evaluated carefully through the Transit Revitalization Investment District study, sponsored by the City of Pittsburgh and Manchester Citizens Corporation.

(More details about Project 19/65 and Ohio River Boulevarding can be found here).

It was important for Mayor Gainey to see the impact that community activists and leaders have had in Manchester. The work they’ve done to reduce blight, improve social service systems, and create opportunity in the neighborhood is immense. What would take the future of Manchester to the next level, is serious support and steps toward the removal of Route 65. At Mobilify, we are honored to work with community partners as we all push for action on this vital project.

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References:

https://mhspittsburgh.org/manchester-history/

https://engage.pittsburghpa.gov/manchester-reunited

http://www.manchestercitizens.org/WhoisMCC.html

https://collection.cmoa.org/objects/553136f7-4578-4fd0-89b8-cc159490fee6?page=1&perPage=10

https://scholarlypublishingcollective.org/psup/pa-history/article/86/2/254/198272/Forging-a-Consistent-Vision-The-People-Who-Shaped

https://pittsburgh.pahighways.com/expressways/orboulevard.html

https://www.npr.org/2021/04/07/984784455/a-brief-history-of-how-racism-shaped-interstate-highways

Mayor Ed Gainey looking over the Manchester

Mayor Ed Gainey looking over the Manchester neighborhood, with Rt. 65 looming in the background

Mayor Ed Gainey looking over the Manchester

Manchester Streets | Source: Dave DiCello

Structures that were cleared during construction of SR 65

This rendering shows the buildings and homes that were demolished during construction of SR 65

Byrd Brown, Reverend Jimmy Joe Robinson, and Mike Desmond leading protest march, September 1969. Source: Civil Rights Digital Library

Byrd Brown, Reverend Jimmy Joe Robinson, and Mike Desmond leading protest march, September 1969 | Source: Civil Rights Digital Library

This is the state of Route 65 today.

Current Condition of SR 65, dividing Chateau (right) from Manchester (left)

Photos of Manchester Source: Manchester [Re]united! TRID Study

Manchester Neighborhood | Source: Manchester [Re]united! TRID Study

Photos of Manchester Source: Manchester [Re]united! TRID Study

Juniata Street Portal Rendering | Source: Manchester [Re]united! TRID Study

The future vision for Ohio River Boulevard and the Manchester community.

The future vision for Ohio River Boulevard

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