East Liberty has gone through dramatic transformations in the past 100 years, some leading to prosperity and others -- such as an urban renewal project in the 1960s -- spurring unintended decline. In the 1990s, East Liberty Development, Inc., led a community engagement process and developed A Vision for East Liberty, an initiative that has stimulated a new brand of smart growth that is inclusive of the nearby and surrounding neighborhoods and combines technology, sustainability and entrepreneurial spirit.
Hundreds of new homes are being built or renovated, some with geothermal heating and cooling. Commercial developments are attracting such high-profile anchors as Google and Whole Foods, and inspiring innovative new workspaces for entrepreneurs. Bakery Square 2.0, located on what was once the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) headquarters, combines leading-edge software developers, academics and inventors with high-end retailers and lifestyle boutiques. In keeping with the community connections, the development is the hub for such events as Bakery Scare for Halloween fun, a Ballers BBQ for budding entrepreneurs, and the BkSq Family Fun extravaganza featuring live music, balloon art, food trucks and a farmer's market.
New development includes a major transportation hub that will see 1,000 Port Authority buses arriving and departing daily, an improved connection for cyclists and other riders to the existing devoted busway and a pedestrian and bike link between East Liberty and Shadyside.
The East Liberty Presbyterian Church, which has been ministering for nearly 200 years, welcomes a range of community nonprofit groups for regular meetings and performances, including the Bach Choir, Black & White Reunion, East End Cooperative Ministries, the Persad Center and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. It also offers a bilingual service in English and Spanish every Sunday. With its historic, Gothic-style cathedral architecture covering a full city block, the church has taken steps toward lessening its environmental impact with a new drainage system that will direct storm water run-off to nearby moisture-seeking trees and plants.
Cultural arts and innovative dining are experiencing a resurgence here as well. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, named after Hollywood movie and dancing legend and East Liberty native Gene Kelly, and Homewood-bred jazz composer Billy Strayhorn, is a community performing arts center in a space that dates back to the 1950s. Kokolatte's serves Kiva Han coffee daily, Abay offers authentic Ethiopian dishes and Soba has been cooking and serving pan-Asian cuisine since before the resurgence began.
Other venues, such as the late, lamented AVA/ Shadow Lounge, could be seen as victims of the neighborhoods resurgence. After bringing people of all ages, races and backgrounds together for more than a dozen years, the venues shuttered in 2013.