Greenfield's secret is out as first-time buyers snap up affordable homes

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Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Alison Oehler, left, and Sean Roberts are two of the people who started Connect Greenfield. A Google Earth map of Greenfield is on the computer screen.
Click photo for larger image.

Greenfield's days of flying under the radar may be coming to an end. It has been discovered by flocks of first-time home buyers in their 20s and 30s, many of whom advocate for their new neighborhood.

Nancy Wright, a Realtor for RE/MAX Realty Brokers, said that "an incredible amount" of young people have moved to Greenfield in the last four years.

"I don't think I've sold to anyone over 35 in the last five years," said Ms. Wright.

"It's Pittsburgh's last best-kept secret," she said of the neighborhood she has lived in for 26 years, "but I know it won't stay that way."

Greenfield's initial appeal is its proximity to less affordable city neighborhoods that would be many a young person's first choice -- Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and South Side. But its appeal deepens, said Alison Oehler.

Four years ago, she and her husband, Paul, both natives of Ann Arbor, Mich., came to Pittsburgh for graduate school and answered an ad for a rental property in Squirrel Hill.

"We were kind of tricked," she said, grinning delightedly. "It was really in Greenfield."

When it was time to buy, they were sold on Greenfield, and they've been selling people on the neighborhood ever since.

In a fit of brainstorming earlier this year, the Oehlers and two other 20-somethings, Sean Roberts and Jennifer Offenbeck, started a club, Connect Greenfield, that they intend to build into an instrument for advocacy and neighborhood improvement.

"We're easing into it," said Mr. Roberts. "You don't want people to feel like it's a job."

Since establishing the club two months ago, the organizers have built an e-mail list of 70 names. Forty people attended the group's second Meet Your Neighbors Night last week at Rialto's Pizza.

Most people on their list are in their 20s and 30s, said Ms. Oehler, "and of ones I know, most are pretty new to Greenfield. But I haven't met them all yet."

She said the purpose is "to connect residents to each other and to connect Greenfield with the rest of the city."

They plan to pitch Greenfield as a location for a Sprout Fund mural next year and to start a neighborhood block-watch network. The group's first cleanup day will be Sept. 23 on Greenfield Avenue.

Increasingly, older, more rooted residents are connecting, she said, but most adherents so far are younger than 40, many of them first-time home buyers "who are sick of renting and commuting," said Mr. Roberts.

A development specialist for the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Mr. Roberts, 29, went to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management with Ms. Oehler, 26. She's the assistant director at Concept Gallery in Edgewood. With their respective spouses, each had moved to Greenfield not knowing the other had.

Joe and Sara DeLucia, both 30, moved back to Pittsburgh from Houston, and settled in Greenfield in March 2005. They had met at the University of Pittsburgh and took jobs in Houston as chemical engineers.

"I hadn't heard much about Greenfield when I lived here before," said Mr. DeLucia, who grew up in the area. "I ran in the Greenfield Glide," a 5K run sponsored by the Greenfield Organization, a nonprofit group that sponsors youth sports teams and events. "When we started looking for a house, we spent a week canvassing the city."

They wanted to be near a walkable business district, a major park for running and her workplace, since she got a job first.

"We're pretty pleased with our choice," he said. "Our neighbors on both sides are fantastic. One couple has been here 30 years, the other couple both grew up in Greenfield. The first time we introduced ourselves was to ask them to move their cars because our moving van was coming."

They responded with a strawberry shortcake as a welcome gift, he said.

One of the city's stablest and safest neighborhoods, Greenfield has no brand or destination status. It has spectacular views of Downtown, the South Side and Oakland, but they're barely known outside the neighborhood.

It has Irish-Catholic roots that are less strong today than they were 40 years ago, but it has kept what many neighborhoods have lost -- solid, middle-class quiet, with yards, flags and children passing footballs in the streets. The 2000 census counted 7,832 residents.

"It has a strong community fabric," said city Councilman Doug Shields, who represents Greenfield.

He wasn't surprised to hear he has a lot of younger constituents.

"I realized it when I was door-knocking [campaigning]," he said. "I met a lot of new families, some who had moved from Shadyside and other neighborhoods."

The quality of homes and home prices are Greenfield's main selling points, said Ms. Wright. Although the average home price has more than doubled since the late 1990s, when Carnegie Mellon researchers said it was $54,000, many young buyers consider a big, solid home for $130,000 a bargain, she said. Some are coming from pricier cities and have professional salaries.

"I have moved a lot of young professionals recently who want to have their first home close to universities and hospitals and museums, and a very short commute," Ms. Wright said. "We now have all these wonderful young people out walking their dogs.

"When I moved here in 1980, I think I was the only person under 50 on my street."

Situated between Squirrel Hill and Hazelwood, Greenfield has a northern hump that curves into Schenley Park and a little beak that taps the southern tip of Oakland. Its three small commercial areas -- one on Beechwood Boulevard, one on Murray Avenue and one on Greenfield Avenue -- provide residents with groceries, prescription drugs, manicures, tans, hair cuts, soccer equipment, food and drink, and funerals.

There are no cool shops, nothing hip or arty, nothing that turns your head.

"Nothing to make you want to just go out walking," said Ms. Wright, "which is desperately needed."

That's likely to change if Connect Greenfield has the impact its organizers want it to.

Mr. Roberts said the business climate is one area he would like to see Connect Greenfield focus on in the coming years.

Two years ago, when he moved back to Pittsburgh after being away -- this time with a wife he met overseas -- he said they looked at houses "in all the trendy places" and felt discouraged by how pricey they were.

"I was working with someone who lived in Greenfield, and she said, 'Why not Greenfield?' " he said. "It turned out to be a no-brainer."

For more information about the group, visit www.connectgreenfield.org.




Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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