The Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group is holding its second annual summit today on the theme of “Making Complete Communities.”
As part of the day-long conference, PCRG is recognizing four initiatives with community development awards at a ceremony later today. (The winners are represented in the photos, courtesy of PCRG.)
The Gardens of Millvale have 300 volunteers working on individual and community gardens on multiple lots that include a passive park area, an orchard, a cobb oven and an herb spiral. It is a project of the Millvale Borough Development Corp. and the Millvale Community Library.
The Green + Screen project has involved local organizations and businesses who have raised money to pay for decorative screens to cover unused vacant lots and parking lots along the Penn Avenue Arts District in Garfield, Bloomfield and Friendship.
Many of Hamnett Place’s historic homes would have been razed but for the intervention of residents who sought help from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. PHLF led the was in the restoration of two apartment buildings, seven homes and a former auto repair shop that’s now home to the Landmarks Housing Rescue Center and an artist’s studio. The residents now also have a community garden.
Tree Pittsburgh established the Tree Tenders program in 2008 to give residents the training and the opportunity to take part in the care and feeding of street trees in their neighborhoods. More than 1,000 residents citywide have completed TT training and take part in Tree Pittsburgh’s tree care and planting events.
Conferences can be wearying affairs, but this one has been moving, thought-provoking and a testament to the exhausting work of consensus-building, collaboration and working the system to help neighborhoods thrive. It shouldn’t be hard because everyone wants healthy, happy neighborhoods but the work involves building partnerships, waiting on the decisions of others, clearing title to blighted land, working through neighborhood differences, finding resources, finding more resources and sometimes starting over.
In Pittsburgh, with our tens of thousands of vacant lots, many people want their neighborhoods to get back to where they were when we had 400,000 more people than we do today.
Josette FItzgibbons, the Mainstreets/Elm Street coordinator for the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the challenge is to make a liveable neighborhood that has 15% and more retail vacancy.
"Don't tell us you want to be Mayberry," she said. "You are what you are. If your retail corridor is 15 blocks long and 15% vacant, maybe your business district will be five blocks. Maybe it won't be a regional draw; maybe it will be a place for the neighborhood, where people can walk safely. And that's OK."
At a discussion about how to make a slumping business district "retail ready," the panel all agreed that first and foremost, the neighborhood needs to have a few people who are professionally capable to lead the economic development charge.
PCRG is in partnership with the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, G-TECH Strategies, the Community Technical Assistance Center, NeighborWorks, the mayor's office, city planning and the URA to, among other things, help neighborhoods build that capacity.
PCRG isn’t well known outside community-development circles, but it has been hugely influential, most notably in tackling its original mission, to make banks represent all potential borrowers fairly and responsibly.
Ernie Hogan, its executive director, told the crowd of 500 that Pittsburgh is just the third city to have passed responsible banking legislation that rewards banks that follow that course and shuns those that don’t.