Groups love to meet on the Central Northside. They meet in a church, a school, a senior center, the YMCA and, at the drop of a hat, on stoops and sidewalks for parties. But the round of meetings that just started will test this gather-some bunch.
It will take the neighborhood on a journey toward a masterplan it has never had.
After a tumultuous changing of the guard last year, the Central Northside Neighborhood Council's board continued the initiative of the director and community organizer it ousted last fall -- Michael Barber and Aaron Churchill. The board has not discussed their dismissals, citing confidentiality, but the work they did formed the foundation for a series of 21 meetings.
Last fall, the Central Northside Neighborhood Council hired a team of heavy hitters to grease and lead the process. In December, it introduced the team, headed by Robert Pfaffmann + Associates architects, to its general membership. The neighborhood meetings started last week.
One goal, said Randi Marshak, head of the masterplan steering committee, is for this process to unite a neighborhood that became fractious over issues of housing and the homeless in 2007 and 2008. "It's great that we have Pfaffmann group because they are neutral," she said. "Some people say we need more low-income housing, some say we need less. But what is the truth? Where is the data? Our team will present that data, and we will have some hard information to go on."
Funders like it when neighborhoods have masterplans. It makes it more comforting to lend or grant them money if they have a sense of direction. Masterplans also help developers because the city's permitting and zoning processes go more smoothly with a neighborhood sanctioning the development.
Whether the neighborhood is capable of consensus will be the challenge.
One criticism of the bulk of new board members is that they are not all- inclusive and favor gentrification at the expense of long-time low-income residents.
If that remains to be seen in general, the board has embarked on a masterplan calling for all voices.
Ms. Marshak said the council mailed out 2,000 fliers to residents, asking for their participation. Sheila Washington, a consultant to companies on social behaviors, such as racial and ethnic tolerance in the workplace, has spent many days in local coffeehouses introducing herself to patrons.
Rob Pfaffmann and Carl Bergamini of Pfaffmann + Associates have snagged residents to take them on tours of the neighborhood. Pat Clark, a demographics consultant who has helped several neighborhoods build master plans, has been working with Bob Gradeck at Carnegie-Mellon University on demographic mapping. The other members of the team, Christine Brill and Jonahtan Kline from the Studio for Spatial Practice, are working on issues as varied as traffic, youth needs and use of space.
Working groups will meet on four subsequent Wednesdays and then March 16, a Monday, to discuss public safety and transportation, architecture and urban design, residential development, the economy, jobs and retail and, finally, the Garden Theater block and its development. That will take care of the first of three rounds of seven meetings each at the Allegheny Universalist Unitarian Church on North Avenue and Resaca Place at 6:30 p.m.
This week, about 35 people turned out in the church basement for the initial "public safety and transportation" working group.The residens identified areas of bad lighting, difficult traffic patterns and dangerous intersections.
"Can't we get some speed bumps in the alleys?" one resident asked.
"Speed bumps are actually not permitted," Mr. Bergamini told him.
"But potholes are acceptable!" a woman piped up.
Next week's group will attract people interested in architecture and urban design. On March 4 is the "residential development" working group meeting, March 11 the "economy, jobs and retail" group. On Monday, March 16 is the "Garden Theater block" working group. Then the team will call everyone together to give a summary report and ask for feedback. The second and third rounds of meetings on Saturdays will begin solving problems the neighborhood has identified and run three to four hours.