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Some Older Lawrenceville Residents Not Happy With Re-Urbanization

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- If you go to Espresso A Mano in Lawrenceville you'll probably have to wait to plop down your laptop and get a cappuccino.

Matt Gebis took a risk four-and-a-half years ago when he opened the business, and now it seems to have paid off.

"When it first opened, I could sit here on the corner for three hours and not see a soul, but it's not like that anymore," said Gebis.

Welcome to the new Lawrenceville - home to coffeehouses, hip new restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and constant construction. There's a new vibrancy in the air, but not everyone's happy about it.

At the senior center, the ladies say the Lawrenceville they've known all of their lives is disappearing.

Some call it gentrification. But maybe it's more PC to say "re-urbanization," or people returning to city neighborhoods.

On the upside, stores that sat vacant for decades are being filled with new businesses. On the downside, older residents say they can't afford to shop or eat in these places.

"We used to have an In & Out down here with a 99 cent breakfast," said Mary Ellen Purnell, a Lawrenceville resident.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "Now, it's a gourmet bakery."

Purnell: "Yeah, one cupcake is how much? You know what I mean."

But the biggest change is the cost of housing.

Over the past decade, the average cost of a house in Lawrenceville has almost tripled from $46,267 in 2000 to $120,054 in 2013. And there are some homes that have sold for as high as $400,000.

On the South Side, the average home price has gone from $68,000 to $140,000; and in Greenfield, home prices have jumped from $58,000 to $106,000.

"People that have lived here all of their lives, they're being out-priced. They can't afford to stay here," said Maureen Crowley, of Lawrenceville.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo thinks those fears are overblown.

"I think there's room for everybody to have the urban experience in the City of Pittsburgh."

He says the challenge is to provide low and moderately priced housing for seniors and others who don't want to leave their old neighborhoods.

It doesn't need to be a battle between rich and poor or young and old.

"I think the older folks in Lawrenceville have actually welcomed the diversity. These are their grandkids," he says.

Crowley reluctantly agrees -- as long as there's a balance.

"Let all these high dollar people come in. I'll take them with their purple hair and ink all over their bodies," she says. "They're my neighbors, but the thing is I don't want it to escalate."

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