Kyra Straussman describes her role managing real estate transactions for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) as “a lot of problem solving and pathfinding. It’s an intensely collaborative place to work. It’s a balancing act everyday; community concerns, ensuring social equity, legal issues, dollars, design issues politics, the timing of getting everything lined up, but I love it and love the people I work with.”

Born near Oxford, England—and raised in Colorado, Washington, D.C. and beyond—Kyra eventually found her way to Pittsburgh and we are glad she did: “Getting lost in Pittsburgh turned me on to what eventually became my profession.  I’d drive around the neighborhoods and be fascinated by what I saw around every corner. At some point it became clear that I would never get to the bottom of Pittsburgh and its many mysteries. It’s like falling in love. I was home.”

Monday, August 22

I get up before 6. It’s my quiet time before the berserkness of my work day begins. I read til 7 then try to hit the road for some exercise. I live in Lawrenceville, so it’s usually a run/walk combo across the 31st Street Bridge and up the Fineview steps where I’m lucky to catch sunrise at the top of Rialto, and then Espresso a Mano on Butler for iced coffee. I’m a music fanatic so I’ve got my headphones on. Right now I’m obsessed with the new Radiohead record, A Moon Shaped Pool.

9 a.m. meeting with developers working on the Garden Theater block. City of Asylum’s Alphabet City in the old Masonic Lodge is going to be open in a few weeks, and we’re focused with TREK Development and the community on keeping the momentum going here. So exciting to see this happen.

Kyra at Smallman Galley. Photo: Megan Harris.

More meetings, this time on recycling vacant land. With support from Kevin Acklin, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, and a team of some of the best professionals I’ve ever worked with, we are working to free up more than 27,000 vacant properties and return them to productive use. It’s hard to believe people walk away from property but it happens. With the land bank and community support, we’re focused in a new direction.

Tuesday, August 23

Generally, my day is booked from 9 to 5 with wall-to-wall meetings. So when BikePGH sponsored a “Lunch Loop” for downtown, I jumped at the idea of getting out of the office. I’ll be headed out on a Healthy Ride cycle at noon for one hour.

In the evening I’ll join the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s happy hour tailgate to check out Bakersfield, the new taco place on Penn. Then a dinner meeting with a consultant I’m working with who is doing analytics on Pittsburgh’s housing market to help us better understand the dynamics of neighborhood change. Right now Poros is my favorite spot but there are lots of great options in Market Square.

Wednesday, August 24

I have back-to-back meetings with community leadership from the Hill and Larimer—where we are planning a park to complement much of the housing that’s going up right now—and with Carrick, where Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and Economic Development South—our community partners—are super focused on turning a problem property around to make it a good place to live.

In the evening I’m headed to Mixtape in Garfield’s Penn Avenue Arts District to hang out with friends Courtney and Adam, who are just returning from their honeymoon in Alaska. Mixtape is an awesome place to hang out and play games and chill, whether you drink or not. Elaina Holko and Katie Molchan who run it are amazing. They are helping us put together our next Next 3 Days event in September which features Garfield as a great place to live.

Thursday, August 26

Kyra Straussman and Leah Lizarondo. Photo courtesy NEXTpittsburgh.

Thursday is the red letter day on my calendar this week. After a regular day of meetings I’m headed out to the airport with my partner in crime and food justice, Leah Lizarondo, to pick up cookbook author and food activist Bryant Terry for his two-day adventure in Pittsburgh as part of the Three Day Blow Festival that the URA is co-sponsoring.

Leah and I were introduced by her 412 Food Rescue partner Giselle Fetterman a few years back and we’ve been thick as thieves ever since. The first time she came to my house she saw my Bryant Terry cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen, on my bookshelf we both said at the same time “I want to bring him here!” Now we’re making it happen. We’re swinging by the Black Urban Gardener’s garden in Homewood with Bryant to pick up ingredients for his cook and talk at the Homewood Library Friday, and then dinner at Apteka with him and Majestic Lane to get him a bit oriented to the food justice scene in Pittsburgh.

Friday, August 27

It’s a busy day with Bryant Terry’s free event at noon at the Homewood Library and then a host of evening events. As part of the Three Day Blow conference, David Bernabo is premiering Dinner Systems, the fourth installment of his amazing documentary film series on Pittsburgh’s food culture at the Ace Hotel. I have a small role in the film where I talk about a traumatic childhood experience I had involving farm animals.

Then on to Shabbat dinner with conference keynote Michael Solomonov at Repair the World in East Liberty. I hope Leah and I can convince Bryant Terry to keep going with us as we head to Riverlife’s annual Party at the Pier celebrating Pittsburgh’s amazing waterfronts.

Saturday, August 28

9 a.m. is Bryant’s Keynote at the August Wilson Center and we’re expecting 300 people to hear him speak (and COOK, cuz that’s what it’s about!). Then I’m doing a panel with Councilman Daniel Gilman, Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Matt Smith, and the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Special Initiatives, Betty Cruz, on how immigration is impacting our local food economy.

Kyra with her kids, Minrose and Eli Straussman.

That evening I’m co-hosting Feast On at the Strip’s Produce Terminal with Pam Austin of McCaffery Interests who is the developer we’re working with on the redevelopment of this historic building. The history of Pittsburgh and food; my two favorite subjects.

Leah and I will be coordinating donations of all of the leftover food from all of the events this week, to go to folks in need through 412 Food Rescue‘s network.

Sunday, August 29

Okay, I’m not going to lie, after all that conferencing I am going to be so ready for doing nothing. I’ll head to my regular weekend haunt, Biddle’s Escape, in Wilkinsburg. I usually catch up on work (loser) but will have time for a throw down with best pal Mindy McHale, a local improv comedian, to talk about how our adult children are driving us bananas and generally catch up.

Sunday evening: yes another event and another neighborhood. This time 10 female chefs in Luxe Creative‘s new space in Homewood. I really can’t wait for this one.

I love having a role in building Pittsburgh and keeping it true to itself. I do wish we had a beach. And that the month of February did not exist. But other than that, I love this crazy place and the people in it and of it.

Jennifer Baron

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator...