From 2008-2012 the Waffle Shop functioned as a restaurant, public art space, classroom, and business venture in the city of Pittsburgh. A community project sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art and various local Pittsburgh organizations, the Waffle Shop served breakfast food and featured a live talk show, broadcast on the Internet, for anyone in the community to participate. Diners at the Waffle Shop were also audience members.
My study used activity theory to examine the Waffle Shop as a local public, where the issues of a gentrifying community were made vivid through how people interacted in and around the public space. Focusing primarily on a Saturday morning talk show, hosted by local teen Lyrikal, I conducted interviews with the creators and participants in the Waffle Shop, as well as weekly observations of public engagement with the talk show. I argue that while the Waffle Shop helped to “widen discursive arenas” (Hauser), its challenges and unfortunate closure point to the need for re-thinking and re-experimenting our ideals of public engagement in urban spaces.