Last week NEXTpittsburgh published the article 4 reasons why Pittsburgh is becoming a Buzz City. We reported that the term Buzz City was coined by former mayor Tom Murphy who says there are four types of cities: World Cities (international), Buzz Cities (thriving and attractive to young people), Resilient Cities (surviving but not growing significantly), and Legacy Cities (struggling and risk averse).
Here we present part two, with four more projects that are securing Pittsburgh’s reputation as a thriving city where change is possible, where networks are electric with connection, and where the buzz is palpable.
The redevelopment of Larimer
In June 2014, the neighborhood of Larimer received a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grant from HUD to build 350 units of mixed-income houses and mixed-use development. Pittsburgh was one of the four cities to receive this grant.
“I went to Washington to meet with the secretary of HUD, to really make the case of why this was the project that they wanted to get behind—because it wasn’t created by city government; it was literally created by the people who lived in the neighborhood and people who put in 15 years of work to be able to get to complete consensus around it,” says Mayor Bill Peduto.
Not only will the Larimer development be one of the greenest housing developments in the country—with watershed management and green space—it will also “show that sustainability will be something to enhance neighborhoods from low-to-moderate income,” says Peduto.
And Larimer will demonstrate that bottom-up works.
For years, citizen groups, like the East Liberty Concerned Citizens, worked toward a vision of a better Larimer. “There was no capacity, there was no investment—there was nothing but disinvestment and decay, but they continued to plug along and do whatever they could to move the community forward,” says Pat Clark, managing partner at Jackson/Clark Partners. At one point, Larimer had more than 750 vacant properties.
“It was a four-page document. We intended to be short and sweet so people could put it up on their fridge and keep track of it. I think this plan is probably as good as an example as any of people really having and maintaining ownership over things. People that work in the community—leaders in the community—still carry that document around to this day to make sure they are doing the stuff that is listed in there,” says Clark.
Lessons learned? “Ask first before we show up with solutions. Listen and learn before we plan,” says Clark. “A big part of that is getting neighbors connected to neighbors and getting information and opinions about what’s important to them, what are the issues in each household and in the neighborhood as a whole.
“This is often really surprising and kind of liberating for people,” says Clark. “They’ll say, ‘You’re asking me what I think?'”
The community’s voices were heard—and are evident in the early phases of physical construction.
A Blueprint for Urban Agriculture
The decline of Pittsburgh’s steel industry yielded one unexpected result: an opportunity for the growth of the urban agriculture movement.
“Disinvestment in this city led to a lot of vacancy,” says Julie Butcher Pezzino, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh. “For us in particular, vacant land creates a very real opportunity to do some interesting things involving food growing that a lot of other cities—like New York, Boston, or Washington, D.C.—simply don’t have the opportunity to do because there is not as much open land in those places.”
But in its first decade Grow Pittsburgh “discovered firsthand what many other would-be food growers are discovering—municipal policies are limiting the burgeoning urban farm movement.”
To tackle this issue, the Larimer-based nonprofit created an organizational strategic plan to remove the roadblocks and further the farming initiative in Pittsburgh.
They wrote and distributed a lengthy Urban Grower Survey questionnaire; they held focus groups with farmers and gardeners; and in December of last year, they hosted a Symposium on Urban Agriculture and Public Policy for 80 nonprofit leaders, government leaders, community-based leaders, and growers.
“It was the first time all those folks have gotten together in the same room for a conversation committed to talking about urban agriculture opportunities and potential policy changes in the city,” says Pezzino.
From that symposium, Grow Pittsburgh drafted a set of urban agriculture priorities that have acted as the blueprint for making changes. Their goal? To work together with the new city administration and urban growers to make it easier to grow food in Pittsburgh.