Aspinwall, a quaint sidewalk community tucked along the Allegheny River, was tightly knit before the coronavirus hit the Pittsburgh region. It’s the type of community where people gather at the coffee shop or local pub, organize block parties, hold street concerts and love a good parade. In other words, a very Pittsburgh kind of place. But with coronavirus keeping people at home, Aspinwall neighbors were missing each other.
“I feel it’s really important to see your neighbors after such a tough week,” says resident Carrie Benson. Through an Aspinwall Facebook group, she invited every resident to step outside onto their porches, stoops or balconies on Saturday to share a happy hour toast.
“It’s the easiest party I’ve ever planned,” she laughs.
With wide sidewalks and ample porches, residents here are naturally social. “Aspinwall is built for this type of community response to social distancing,” Benson points out. All her posts, texts and word of mouth invitations worked — at exactly 5 p.m., despite the chill in the air, hundreds of residents emerged from their homes, drink in hand, eager to see their neighbors.
“We couldn’t wait to get out here,” admits resident Kristin Dowd from her apartment’s porch, where she and her husband, Jimmy, were greeting passers-by. “People are waving, horns beeping and we’re all having a nice conversation. Even the fire trucks are out,” Dowd says of a custom typically reserved for Aspinwall’s famous Memorial Day Parade. “But the best part was being able to toast to our friend across the street who, as a pharmacist, has been working tirelessly since the pandemic hit,” she added.
A few blocks away, 6-year-old Niko Barišić provided the highlight, treating neighbors to a live concert from his front stoop. Billed (using sidewalk chalk, of course) as “Lil Elvis,” his show included an original tune about the coronavirus (check out his performance in the video below).
“I suggested he sing,” says his mom, Megan. “But I didn’t expect him to prepare with a microphone and a program. A few neighbors put their chairs on their lawns and Nico said, ‘my audience is coming.’”
Just a week into the national emergency, Aspinwall residents have come up with other ways to encourage human connection that can be enjoyed from a distance.
On Saint Patrick’s Day, people were asked to hang pictures of shamrocks in their windows so neighborhood kids could hunt for them during their daily walk. Kids of any age were also inspired to “chalk the walk,” filling stoops and driveways with colorful pictures and poignant words of encouragement.
Benson and her husband Jonathan Weingarden are grateful for the community in which they plan to raise their first baby, due next month. “My ultimate hope is that we keep looking for opportunities to help each other. We are all anxious for our loved ones, our families, the elderly people in our lives,” she says. “I take some solace in looking over at my neighbors, knowing that we are all in this together.” Cheers to that.
Know of an inspiring and creative idea for get-togethers or things to do while we’re under quarantine? Email NEXTpittsburgh. We would love to hear from you.