One of candidate Ed Gainey’s campaign promises was that as mayor, he would make it out into the neighborhoods instead of spending all of his time Downtown. On Friday, Sept. 9, Mayor Gainey made good on the promise for Shadyside when he took a walking tour of the Ellsworth Avenue business district accompanied by residents, business owners and city staff to get a feel for the problems the area is facing.
Immediately, he experienced one of them: the tension between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. After standing at Ellsworth and Spahr Street, talking about the problems faced by bicyclists and cars both trying to use Ellsworth, Gainey and the group set out to cross the street when an impatient motorist honked at them.
The stroll through Shadyside is Gainey’s 11th neighborhood tour in which he and members of his staff show up to talk to people about what they need from the city government. The administration doesn’t publicize the visits ahead of time to keep media attention from overwhelming neighborhood input.
When the mayor and his staff walked through Homewood, they talked with residents about crime and later held a community forum on violence. Gainey tried to avoid the television cameras when he went to the South Side late on a Friday night to talk to bar owners and patrons about shootings there.
He has also walked high and low from Perry Hilltop and the Hill District to the Strip District, California-Kirkbride, Chartiers-Windgap, Beltzhoover and Fineview.
Gainey says that while city government headquarters is Downtown, the work he needs to do is in the neighborhoods.
“Down there they are smart enough, but not wise enough to know what you need,” he says, adding that only by walking through a neighborhood can he really get the feel of what the people there need.
The mayor started the Shadyside tour by talking to the people who had gathered, including Pittsburgh City Councilmember Erika Strassburger, who represents the area, and Richard Parsakian, owner of Eons Fashion Antique on Ellsworth, who is also a member of the city’s art commission and became Gainey’s de facto tour guide.
At the corner of Ellsworth and Maryland avenues, Parsakian pointed to the mural painted on the street to commemorate the LGBTQ community. The mural has been worn by time and tires, and Parsakian says the community is looking to install a more permanent piece of art at the corner.
That corner, Parsakian said, is where Pittsburgh’s giant rainbow flag was first debuted. Members of the community flocked there on May 20, 2014, for an impromptu celebration when federal Judge John E. Jones III overturned the state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriage.
“We need to bring foot traffic to the neighborhood,” Kim Lopez, owner of Arriviste Coffee Bar, told the mayor.
Lopez said that while Walnut Street is the main thoroughfare in Shadyside where people from other neighborhoods come to shop, Ellsworth is the place where residents go.