Livelihood of a place, identity and opportunity

The project began when we visited the Center of Life for the first time to meet community members living in Hazelwood. The evening consisted of icebreaker activities, CMU students sharing the stories of their significant objects, the residents discussing and sharing stories about the past and present concerns about Hazelwood. The discussion covered Hazelwood’s economic, social, and educational aspects as well as the family and neighborhood dynamics. Hazelwood residents described the community as a family, and the members showed strong attachments to their neighborhood. The older generation residents shared their experiences comparing the life in Hazelwood before and after the mill closed, describing the past as thriving with entertainment, dining, retail, etc. opportunities found within the neighborhood. Through the stories shared about a loss in the family and the nostalgia towards the past, we identified the weight of the loss in Hazelwood’s community culture and the depth in the community.

Part of our research was getting to know the space housing the Center of Life. The original house was known as the Oliver House & Estate. The house was purchased by Henry Oliver Sr. and later given to his son, the late senator George T. Oliver. The sanctuary part of the building was added in 1924, housing the First Hungarian Lutheran Church. On location, the three of us  collected measurements and identified the different areas in the building such as the offices, chapel, and the Crunk space. Collaborating with another group, the infrastructure team created a scale model of the first and second floor. This model has since been used throughout the semester to plan for the exhibit.

Our second visit to the Center of Life involved us conducting interviews with different community members. Utilizing make tools to encourage the residents involved and conducting interview in a small group discussion, we discussed the fact that Hazelwood residents get stuck in vicious cycles. For example, we learned from Saundra, a Hazelwood Community member and local activist, that there is a lack of support the kids living in Hazelwood, as well as for young parents. This causes people to fall out of what we consider social norms, creating a “pipeline from school to prison”. Lack of parenting guidance from the young parents in households came up as another difference the older generation recognizes in comparison to the past when, all the neighbors were involved in nurturing the neighborhood youth.

After our meeting at the Center of Life, we gathered as a group to synthesize our research and uncover possible themes. We discovered educational and economical opportunities and communal activities to empower the residents, and better connect Hazelwood to the greater Pittsburgh area.

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Our synthesis lead us to our February 8th presentation topics. The three presentation topics include:

  1. Livelihood
  2. Identity
  3. Opportunity

Each of these topics center around our original theme Lives Lost. To us, “Lives Lost” is more than just about death. We interpret it as subjects such “Lost Opportunities”, “Lost Livelihood”, and “Lost Identity”. We’re purposely giving the topic of “Lives Lost” a broader definition, including but not limited to death within the community. We feel this will bring about opportunities to intervene into the existing situation that is Hazelwood.

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