Most of East Liberty has been studied, planned, remarketed, redeveloped and rebranded in the last decade. Larimer Avenue has been a loose thread in that scenario -- until now.
A recent Community Design Center grant of $40,000 matched by the city Urban Redevelopment Authority will pay for a market study to guide the avenue's future.
The timing couldn't be better for the Larimer neighborhood, which shares the corridor with East Liberty. Last year, it acquired the help of East Liberty Development Inc., a clean-up hitter among neighborhood advocacy nonprofits, and built its first-ever master plan. The process brought out the broadest range of stakeholder participation Larimer had seen in decades.
Some people had never waded into neighborhood activism before.
Craig Marcus, a Larimer businessman, and Fred DeNorscia, a resident of 30 years, are among them.
For many years, Mr. DeNorscia said, "I had sort of kept to myself most of the time. Back in May I got a letter from [state Sen.] Jim Ferlo," about how residents' input was needed for the best master plan.
"I thought I'd go and see what it was about and was impressed by the turnout," he said. "I'm there listening to people and realizing, y'know, this neighborhood isn't so bad -- people with the same concerns and interests I have. It was the first time in 30 years I felt good about living here."
Mr. Marcus, a furniture maker who owns the Marcus Studio on Hamilton Avenue, said, "I got started by making a garden." Then he found himself at a neighborhood meeting, then part of a green-action team.
The neighborhood created a thick document to direct incoming developers, whose interest in East Liberty now could be nudged more credibly toward Larimer.
"It was terribly necessary" that Larimer had a neighborhood plan ahead of the grant, said Andrea Lavin, the design center's fund program manager.
East Liberty Development got the grant, she said, because "there was a certainty they could pull this off," but it's a Larimer-driven project, said Nathan Wildfire, the sustainable policy director for East Liberty Development.
The study area will start where Larimer Avenue begins at Broad Street and end just before it crosses Washington Boulevard.
"Because we share that corridor it made sense to collaborate," he said. Larimer Avenue is "one of the most vacant parts" of both neighborhoods and "one of our neighborhood's last unplanned zones."
Mr. Marcus, a stakeholder for five years on Hamilton, said the neighborhood "has so many overgrown lots kids have to walk by. An empty lot not far from my business had weeds up to my shoulder. I cut it all down, built five or six raised beds, put good soil in them and planted vegetables and flowers. The people next door thanked me. The pool hall next door donated the water."
Children from the Kingsley Association's summer program helped, other residents stopped by to comment and "everybody took food home -- tomatoes, broccoli, pumpkins," he said. "It was a lot of fun."
Members of the green-action team have joined with members of other teams who stuck with the meeting routine, about a dozen in all, he said.
"There's a tremendous amount of excitement. This is my first involvement in something like this, and our group is thrilling to me. We have lots of stuff we want to do this year and I think a lot of it will get done."
Mr. DeNorscia said he just got a letter from the city acknowledging his desire to get hold of three vacant lots beside his home. He can only get the lot beside his home, a condition of the city's side-lot program, but he said he would continue to maintain it all and plant flowers and shrubs. At this point, he said, "I get a lot of compliments just keeping it mowed."
"My whole world has changed. I've been exposed to so many things going on, and it's reinvigorated me."
Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.