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Young artist shows Beechview some love

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

mural
 
While the Urban Redevelopment Authority markets three properties it owns in Beechview, many residents continue to wait in frustration over so many empty storefronts along Broadway Avenue. The URA has delivered on a promise its acting director Rob Rubinstein made at a meeting last summer to demolish 1602. The promise drew a hearty round of cheers, but that was almost the extent of the good news.
 
But a sliver of good news at the end of the meeting was the hatching of a plan to install a work of art at one of the URA’s properties, 1600 Broadway.
 
Resident Kim Frie headed a committee sponsored by the Beechview Merchant’s Association that promoted a public art work as at least a sign that they could do a better job with windows than plywood boards. At best, it shows that the neighborhood hasn’t given up.
 
Kim knew 15-year-old Claire Pullen from church; Claire’s family lives in Mount Lebanon, where she is home-schooled. Claire is a budding artist. Kim asked Claire if she wanted to produce some mock-ups of images that would suitably cover all the windows in the former Mexican restaurant, which has been vacant for several years.
 
“I agreed,” said Claire, who was familiar with Beechview because she has friends who live there and she makes use of the Carnegie Library there. “I did three and Kim chose that one. Because of the name, I felt like I had to put a tree in it. I did the lights because I thought they were whimsical and welcoming.
 
“It was installed over the weekend,” she said. “We drove by the night we were put up, and it was kind of surreal to see my art in the windows and that big. It was cool though.” 
 
She drew on the impressionists as an inspiration, specifically Van Gogh, she said. 
 
“I’m afraid that when people pass through [on the T] think of Beechview as run-down buildings,” Claire said. “I hope this creates a more welcoming atmosphere. I hope people think ‘someone cares.’”
 
Rob from the URA said there’s no way to be sure what how much a mural or other public art might inspire an investor to take a serious look around “but it is an interim strategy,” he said. “That mural almost gives you the feel of a ‘coming soon’ event and says ‘This isn’t a forgotten building.’”
 
Photo by Kim Frie
 

 

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NYC's 'humane streets' sets example for us

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 

 

 
Atlantic Cities features Clarence Eckerson Jr.’s film on the transformation of numerous streets and squares in New York city since 2005.
 
A paean to Michael Bloomberg’s administration, notably his transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the film points out the great accomplishments in traffic redesign that gives over much more space to people on foot and on bicycle, with separate channels for cars. The film shows before and after scenes from places like Times Square, the Queensborough Bridge and Union Square.
 
With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term beginning, Sarah Goodyear, writing about the film and Bloomberg’s legacy of humane streets in “The Dramatic Makeover of New York’s Streets Under Bloomberg,” states that “now that New Yorkers have begun to get used to more humane streets in many parts of the city, it’s startling to see just how stark the contrast is. It makes you wonder, how did people accept the previous status quo?
 
“Bill de Blasio’s new transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, has a tough act to follow. Yesterday, before de Blasio’s inauguration, she was outside City Hall meeting with members of Make Queens Safer, Make Brooklyn Safer, and other street safety advocates, who were rallying in support of the new mayor’s ambitious “Vision Zero” plan to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city by 2024. It was an early indication that we won’t be going back to these “before” pictures of New York streets any time soon.”
 
New York City is flat and Pittsburgh is hilly but there are many places in our city where these kinds of transformations are not only feasible but advisable. Unlike New York, which is still car-congested, Pittsburgh has lots of underused boulevards, many of them multi-laned, that almost beg for a redesign for exclusive bike lanes.
 
Outgoing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has made modest progress in granting some space to cyclists. The painted images of bicycles on streets with no provisions for safety might be raising the consciousness of some car drivers but it’s time for Pittsburgh to get some protected bike lanes. More chairs on the streets — beyond the ones people post to save parking spots — would be nice, too.
 
Like New York, we have a new mayor, Bill Peduto, who responds to the description progressive. Maybe 2014 will be the year Pittsburgh breaks out the bold, dramatic changes that have transformed the experience of cycling in the Big Apple.
 

 

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The losses mounted in 2013

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

lamar
Jonathon Denson’s thoughtful year-end list of preservation losses is a worthy read on this last day of the year. It's sobering to see the folly of so many of these decisions. Makes me want to rethink my assertion that 2013 was a great year for Pittsburgh.
 
We lose opportunities we can never get back when 100-plus year old buildings are knocked down. We lose part of what makes Pittsburgh unique because historic resources are becoming less common across the national landscape. A great range of architecture, both of type and of age, makes a city interesting and tells its residents and visitors that it has strength, wisdom, character and staying power.
 
But unless people rescue these old buildings before building inspectors can make a case for condemnation -- public safety, usually, which is such a subjective call -- we will continue to lose them. The above photo shows the Lamar Building in Oakland, which was demolished this year. The one at right is an old worker house in East Deutschtown on the North Side. As a frame house, it likely predates larger brick Victorians.EastDeutschtown 056
 
Surely some of these large corporations who have the deep pockets to be able to build multiple enormous Downtown buildings — I’m thinking about one of the large banks in the region — could renovate some notable and fine old buildings to LEED standards and make them offices. (I’m thinking the ARC House on East Ohio and Madison on the North Side, for starters.)
 
That building’s for sale. It has city historic “protection.” Will we lose it too before someone steps up?
 
Let’s hope that 2014 proves to be a good year for preservation. Thanks to Jon’s heads-up post, we now know that its advocates and the gems they champion have had better years than 2013.
 
Photos by Jonathon Denson

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Think trees before tossing that salt

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 
holiday tree logoThis important message from Tree Pittsburgh is meant to build awareness about the impact that de-icing salt can have on trees.

Our city's street trees are particularly vulnerable.

There are environmentally safe de-icing solutions, which cost more than the standard, municipal inventories but the hope that individuals and public works departments will budget for those may be overly optimistic.

In the meantime, we can all be better tree and soil stewards when deicing sidewalks.

Tree Pittsburgh reports that de-icing salt "attacks healthy trees as well as sick trees, large trees as well as small ones."

 "Usually, trees can handle small amounts of salt and spring rains help to wash salt away from the soil and tree roots. But, when too much salt is applied, it can build up in the soil and start to desiccate (make extremely dry) and destroy tree roots. You can see this in the spring in a few ways: either when a tree leafs out and the edges of the leaves have brown margins, or when the tree fails to leaf out all the way.

"Not only will salt hurt the trees, but over time too much salt can begin to destroy soil structure. This will create soils where nothing will grow! There are a number of things that can be done to protect trees:
  1. Plant the right tree in the right place, since some species are more salt-tolerant than others. Just remember: no tree is salt-proof!
  2. Clear as much snow and ice as possible before salting, and use it conservatively.
  3. After thawing, sweep up any remaining salt and save it to re-use later.
  4. When spring arrives, water trees that have been exposed to a lot of salt. This will help to wash the salt from the soil.
  5. Consider an ice melt alternative.
Check out our website for more details on ice melt alternatives!

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Tiny house session draws crowd

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

brainstorming-photo-3
The “tiny house” phenomenon is still tiny and has the attention of a wee number of designers, but a gathering in Garfield recently gave CityLab some interesting information about the plausibility of this miniscule movement becoming a larger trend.
 
CityLab is an experiment that gauges so-called soft, or creative, factors that go into economic development.
 
Earlier this month, Citylab convened a tiny houses brainstorming session and reports that “almost sixty participants filled up Assemble in Garfield.”
 
The facilitator was architect Dutch MacDonald of MAYA Design.
 
CityLab explains why it was intrigued by this idea as a solution to housing needs in Garfield.
 
“Tiny Houses respond to several issues identified by cityLAB along with our partners at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation. First of all, Garfield is bracing itself for an increase in vacant land over the next five years with the pending demolition of several unsalvageable vacant houses, including many along Rosetta Street. cityLAB believes that Tiny Houses will help to fill the holes in the neighborhood’s fabric more quickly than conventional houses, since they will be more affordable to build, and that they will reach a new market more effectively, since they will be more affordable to purchase and maintain.
 
Another reason why cityLAB thinks that Tiny Houses may be a good idea for Garfield is that buying or building a new house is an increasingly expensive proposition in Pittsburgh. With Tiny Houses, cityLAB wants to create an entry market of inexpensive homes in Garfield so that Garfield becomes a destination for a type of housing that people can’t find anywhere else — in effect to make Garfield an alternative housing incubator. cityLAB thinks that Tiny Houses will draw people to Garfield because of the quirkiness, sustainability, and thrift embodied in living small.
 
“Research shows that many people are interested in living smaller. A 2013 study by the Urban Land Institute reported that more than half of the Americans surveyed prefer neighborhoods that are close to shops, have a mix of incomes, and have public transportation; 61% of respondents said they would prefer a shorter commute and a smaller home to a longer commute and a larger home. Garfield has many of the amenities that respondents prefer, with its accessibility to public transportation, central location, and community assets. With the funding received for this project, cityLAB will research and define the Tiny House market in Garfield (and Pittsburgh) and design, develop, and price three Tiny House designs.”
 
“The small house movement drew attention during the financial crisis of 2007 to 2010, as small houses offer affordable acquisition and maintenance costs and are ecologically friendly. The small house movement is an architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. Many small houses range in size from 350 to 900 square feet."
 
“Tiny Houses is the latest in a series of projects related to the 6% Place, including the Garfield Creative Census and the Garfield Night Market, that cityLAB has embarked on with the 6% Place advisory committee and our partners at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation. If you want to know more about the project, get involved by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling us at 412 434-7080 ext. 4.”  
 
Photo by Sara Blumenstein courtesy of cityLab

 

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