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Pittsburgh rates in clean commute

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
chart
Pittsburgh comes in 8th among major cities in the percentage of commutes people take to work by walking, bicycling or mass transit. A study at the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities is cited in a report by Emily Badger in Atlantic Cities today ranking cities by commuter choices.
 
New York, Chicago and Miami lead their respective regions. 
 
There is no category for western cities in this report, which is odd since San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and Honolulu are pretty high in the rankings. In fact, in a separate chart that shows the percentage of trips by bicycle, Portland has shot way past every other city since 2000.
 
The data come from the 2012 American Community Survey and deal only with commuting. It would be interesting for a study to delve deeper into how people get around otherwise, either for short trips to the store or by combining a long walk or bike outing with a chore or errand.
 
On a recent visit to New York, a friend remarked on the fact that, while we saw lots of overweight people, the percentages — based on sheer numbers of people on the streets  — were quite low compared to Pittsburgh, where the number of overweight and morbidly obese people is just as remarkable.
 
Considering the population of New York compared to Pittsburgh and the greater options for transit and safe bicycling, it's no wonder that New Yorkers represent a trimmer day in America.
 
On our visit, in one day, we walked about 12 miles, noodling around the Lower East Side, the East Village and then opting to walk to a gallery in Chelsea and to walk back to the Lower East Side. It was a slog at the end, but being on the streets is the whole point of a visit there.
 
Oklahoma City, by contrast, is a city built for cars and it comes in last. Unlike New York, Pittsburgh and other older cities, its urbanization was built on the use of petroleum. 
 
By their nature, cities whose design caters to cars more than to other modes seem less interesting. But they are shortchanged in that way because when we drive, we fail to see the details, the nooks and subtleties that make us interested in places.
 
 
Chart courtesy of the University of Oklahoma Institute for Quality Communities.
 

 

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Passive conference on aggressive savings

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

passivehouse
Pittsburgh is host to the eighth annual North American Passive House Conference next week and would be bringing in bringing in U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan for the opening keynote address if it weren't for the Grande Olde Government Shutdown.
 
The conference is October 15-19 at the Omni William Penn Hotel, 530 William Penn Place. Two days of pre-conference technical workshops begin Tuesday, Oct. 15. On Wednesday, from 5:30-7:30p, a reception will open the poster session and exhibit hall.
 
The conference opens on Thursday with keynote plenary sessions, lunch, and an afternoon of four breakouts.
 
An optional tour of passive house projects is on Saturday.
 
You can find out more about passive houses and the conference, plus register to attend here. The site will provide information if you want to exhibit and if you want to present the process of your own passive house project.
 
Passive houses are designed and employ systems to use 80 percent less energy than standard new constructions. They typically cost 10 percent more to build. 
 
They do not use solar or geothermal systems for heating and cooling or electrical recovery. They are built to be like a Thermos. Here's an article that helps explain how passive space works.
A few plans for passive houses have sprung up in Pittsburgh and one is complete. Lucy de Barbaro and Ayres Freitas are in the process of planning theirs in Squirrel Hill.
 
Laura Nettleton, a principal at the green architectural firm Thoughtful Balance, is retrofitting an old house in Shadyside to meet passive house standards. Her firm built the area’s first passive house for ACTION-Housing in Heidelberg last year.
 
The conference highlights include two speeches on Thursday by Sean Penrith, executive director of The Climate Trust and Sebastian Moreno-Vacca, a Belgian architect and educator who founded and presides over Plateforme Maison Passive.
 
 The conference is brought to you by the Passive House Alliance-US, the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture and Passive Buildings Canada with support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
 
Photo by Elliott Kaufman

 

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Struggling to be an equitable city (with update)

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 
One of the most frustrating realities of urban revitalization is the economic slope that’s created when a place gets hot. 
 
Some people call this gentrification. That’s a loaded word whose meaning isn’t accurate anyway. Where there is no nobility there is no gentry.
 
But there’s a word for what’s wrong with letting the market dictate who lives where — exclusion. Cities have done a pretty good job of figuring out, at least in recent years, how to ensure that people who have less money can remain in the mix.
 
The problem is, there are more people with less money and fewer properties in the mix.
 
An article by Sarah Goodyear in Atlantic Cities“What We Haven’t Figured Out Is the Question of Gentrification” addresses this issue.
 
Amanda Burden, director of planning for New York City, is quoted in the article: “I have never, since I had this job, come up with a satisfactory answer of how to make sure everyone benefits. It’s a question I would welcome more answers as to how to make this a more equitable city. Because that’s how we continue to attract people from all over the world, is people perceive the city as an equitable city, and a city with opportunity for all. It’s not just those poetic words. But I really wonder how we can do it.”
 
We can do it if we appreciate neighbors for what they contribute that's of real value instead of money. 
 
Here's a link to another story for thought food on where we are headed.
 
I ran into a low-income housing advocate in a neighborhood bar the other night and we talked about the discouraging circumstances that have created two sides of residents in the Central Northside neighborhood — those who want an expanded Mexican War Streets historic district and those who don't, fearing that historic standards will drive their future home repairs beyond their means to stay in the neighborhood.
 
Not that there’s a problem with two sides of a discussion. But this is a discussion begging for some kind of compromise. Compromise is why we have rent-control when the market would otherwise lick its chops and let the poor be damned. Compromise is why something gets done that might not get done without it.
 
What many people tend to forget as soon as they reach their comfort zone is that the poor are every kind of people in the world, not just a static “element” that could be better off if they would just try. Van Gogh, whose effort spoke for itself, died poor.
 
Most of our great-greats came here from other countries with $4 in their pockets. OK, mine had $5 but still.
 
Who isn’t struggling now might be struggling next year. It might be me or you and we sure would love to stay in the homes we love. I’d like to think the neighbors would want us to stay, too.
 

 

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Investing in people in the Hill

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

hill check
 
The Citizens Bank Foundation has chosen the Hill District as its first beneficiary in western Pennsylvania for a $75,000 "Growing Communities" grant.
 
Working with the Hill District Community Development Corp., the bank’s foundation will be supporting community efforts to promote home ownership, small business and financial literacy.
 
The bank’s “Growing Communities” campaign began in Cleveland in 2010, when a grant supported food businesses around the marketplace in Ohio City, said Beth Crow, vice president and senior manager for public affairs for Citizens Bank. “The money can be tailored to the needs of each community.”
 
Any number of neighborhoods could have met this grant at a good time in their redevelopment and revitalization, but one only need visit the Hill to see how ripe that neighborhood has become and how vital its well-being is amid the economic uptick that’s happening Downtown and creeping east toward it.
 
The Hill is in one of the most opportune locations in the city, between Downtown and Oakland, and is seeing a lot of investment right now. Its residents deserve the intervention that has been relatively lacking in proportion to the advantages developers have found in the Hill.
 
Redevelopment means jobs. Part of this grant is meant to be spent determining how the Hill District’s redevelopment can connect neighborhood residents to those jobs. It will be part of ongoing efforts to bring revitalization not just to the Hill District's landscape but to the people who live there. 
 
 
Photo: From left, City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Hill CDC executive director Mirimba Milliones, Hill CDC board chair Chloe Velasquez and Henri Moore, senior vice-president and director of public affairs for Citizens Bank take part in a check presentation on the rooftop deck at the Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill today. 
 

 

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Blown away at Carrie Furnaces

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

carrie
 
Pittsburgh’s future looks awfully bright even if you’re not an optimist. The stars are aligning. But what makes us love this place is everything it brings with it from the past to the present. 
 
A fascinating past that you still can see, even if some of it is in shreds, is one of our greatest assets going forward.
 
For this little spate of ‘burgh love, Walkabout takes you south and east to Munhall, where the Carrie Furnaces are out standing in their field, a post-industrial Oz that you reach not by yellow brick road but by jarring gravel and rubble that suggests there was once paved access.
 
Everything about the site suggests what once was, from the way there to the colossal destination.
 
Three friends and I took a tour of old Carrie on Saturday. The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area offers these tours in part as a way to fund Carrie’s continuing stabilization as an industrial museum within a national park of 38 acres of the original Homestead Works. Rivers of Steel describes its mission as “to preserve, interpret and promote the resources of the Age of Big Steel.”
 
It was my second visit to the site but the first one that afforded a full view of the scale of the hot and arduous 10-hour work day for thousands of men whose daily visits to the neighborhood tavern become all too understandable when you consider the trappings of their jobs.
 
One friend described the gorgeously rusted monstrosity as “ a crime scene” because of all the jobs that went away. A former mill worker whom we met agreed with him. I sympathize, and a lack of complete understanding of the vagaries of economics prevents me from taking a stronger position, but Carrie as she stands today is a gift to this region. 
 
For one thing, she’s still standing, if not entirely at least in large enough scale to make our jaws drop. From the ground, the cluster of missile-like stoves and the two furnaces on each end, their shapes jutting with fierce asymmetry into the sky, make you feel as insignificant as you are and yet strangely empowered as a member of the species who had the audacity to build something like this. 
 
What I have felt both times at the Carrier Furnaces is an emotional gut-wrench and a sense of pride. Even though I am grateful for environmental standards that have resulted in cleaner air, that sense of great loss is palpable on this site.
 
When you climb the metal steps up and up into the guts of the place, you start to feel the ghosts. Some people roll their eyes at that image, others exchange a knowing look. The butterscotch floor tiles that once lined the corridors are intact in places. The rest is rubble. Daylight streams into the gaps between one humongous rusting piece and another. Enormous bolts, enormous wheels, enormous values and the monstrous cluster of stoves are offset by delicate catwalks. 
 
It helps to have a clutch of elders on hand to tell us how the systems worked — from the rail cars hauling in ore and limestone  to the intricate monitoring of ore, coke and limestone cooking up in the furnaces. These volunteer docents spent their younger days working in mills, whether at Carrie or various others.
 
The two furnaces at the site, which are 92 feet tall, were built in 1906 and functioned until 1979. The original furnace began operating in 1884. The site turned out as much as 1,000 tons of iron a day.
 
Tours continue every Saturday through October.  They begin at 10a and run every half hour. The 11.30a tour, the last of the day, highlights works of art that have been commissioned throughout the site.
 
The tours cost $15 for students, $17.50 for elders and $25 for everyone else. You can take a guided or self-guided tour.
 
Next Saturday, the Pillow Project presents "The Jazz Furnace," a day of performance events from noon to 5p and from 7p to midnight. That costs $15 for general admission and $10 for students.
 
The event will infuse tours with live music, dance and chalk installations and exhibits. The night session will feature full-length dance performances, video illuminations and multimedia installations with live music.  
 
Reservations are recommended because people who walk up could be turned away and because the tour could be cancelled if not enough people reserve a spot. Cancelled tours are made up to you or you can get a refund. Private group tours are available Monday through Thursday by appointment only.
 
To reserve a space for any of these events and for more information, visit www.riversofsteel.com or call 412.464.4020 ext 32.
 
photo by Paul Nawrocki

 

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