Grants mark first step in Pittsburgh neighborhood beautification process

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will visit Lawrenceville this morning to say that community gardens, graffiti removal and trash pickup in city neighborhoods are as integral to the city's so-called "third renaissance" as PNC's $400 million office building Downtown.

Mr. Ravenstahl will stand on a vacant lot on a troubled block near McCandless Park to award $5,000 in grants for 10 neighborhood beautification projects.

In recent weeks, Mr. Ravenstahl has stressed the importance of ensuring that the spate of development some are calling the third renaissance is felt not only in the city's core but in the 90 neighborhoods. New housing in Homewood and Larimer is part of that plan, he said, and the Love Your Block grants -- $500 for each of the 10 projects -- are, too.

"In some people's minds, it might be a small piece. In our minds, it's a big piece," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

The Home Depot Foundation awarded Pittsburgh and four other cities $10,000 each for beautification projects. Pittsburgh invited community groups to apply for the $500 mini-grants, and officials selected 10 winners from 32 applicants. A second round of grants will be announced later.

Lawrenceville United will use the $500 to build a community garden on vacant lots in the 5200 block of Natrona Way, an area near a park that's struggled with blight and crime, the group's executive director, Lauren Byrne, said.

Oakcliffe Housing Club in South Oakland will use its grant to build an entrance -- complete with community bulletin board, arbor and pillars -- to the new community greenway at Lawn and Hamlet streets. In building the pillars, president David Panasiuk said, the club will scavenge bricks from the remains of 100-year-old tenement buildings that once stood on the site.

Morningside Area Community Council will use the money to create a "mock cafe" at a storefront at Chislett and Greenwood streets, with the goal of attracting an investor who's willing to open a real pastry and coffee shop.

"There's been a void in the neighborhood for a cafe, a place for folks to congregate," said Grant Ervin, community council president, adding that the wide sidewalk there adds potential to the project.

In April, Mr. Ravenstahl announced the Love Your Block program as part of his ServePgh package of initiatives, designed to get residents more involved with their neighbors and in their communities. Mr. Ravenstahl said it's particularly important to include neighborhoods in the third renaissance because the first two, from the 1940s to the 1980s, focused on the Downtown area.

Other recipients of the Love Your Block grants are ninth-grade civic students at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, for improvements to Squirrel Hill athletic fields; Brighton Heights volunteers, for Antrim Street cleanup; Pittsburgh Project, for cleaning up the site of a recently demolished house in Perry South; Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., for improvements to sidewalks and lots near Pittsburgh Fort Pitt PreK-5; Elliott Community Group and West Pittsburgh Partnership, for beautification of lots and a veterans memorial; My Brother's Keeper, for lot cleanup in Beltzhoover; and Oakland Planning and Development Corp., for improvements to Frazier Field House.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.


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