Thursday, October 28, 2010

Public Record - peeling back the layers of Pittsburgh's history

The Post-Gazette had an article on Wednesday about a multi-media project called Public Record. It's a book, art exhibition, poetry reading, and iPhone application. It's meant to give us a glimpse back to a time when Pittsburgh was very rough around the edges. A time when it was, if not socially acceptable, at least well overlooked to kill an Irish immigrant that stepped out of line. A time when gambling halls were on every block. It was during this time that current-Point State Park was a massive tenement area.

Some point in the near future, DB~ and I will download the Public Record app and go around town listening to all the oral histories and poetic readings. But it got me thinking about Pittsburgh specifically and cities in general.

When we walk around town on the streets, we may as well be floating above the street. What history is buried 6 inches, 2 feet, 10 feet, or 20 feet below our feet? Who walked on the same street 5 days ago, 5 years, 50 years, 200 years ago? All of the buildings downtown, whether they are an abandoned warehouse in the Strip, a row house in the Hill District, or a non-descript building in the Golden Triangle have a story about previous tenants. Perhaps a misdeed like an unsolved murder of a prostitute or a robbery of a Mob boss.

I found myself walking around the edges of the Strip District tonight. Just feeling the city under my feet as the crisp October air propelled me forward. It was one of those nights that the neon from the Greyhound bus garage cut right through the air. There were pockets of activity, a packed house at Seviche, a handful of people in the dirty old man bars along Penn between the Convention Center and the Strip, a few tables occupied at Sushi Kim, a massive high-faluting event at the Heinz History Center. After I got back in my car, I drove over the recently re-opened Stanwix Street and was looking straight into PNC Park, with that clean pale blue neon staring right back at me.

Is our history recording better or worse nowadays than it was in the 19th century? We have video, Internet, digital camera, and the written word to document our history, but our society is a disposable one. When we're done with a building after only 30 years, we just smash it down and build over top of it. Are we tracking ourselves better or worse now? History is because people have poor memories that fade or misconstrue events over time.

Will someone be walking on top of our memories, misdeeds, and miscreants 100 years from now wondering about us?

1 comment:

  1. You need to read this book:
    Remind me and I'll find it...I have it somewhere...~