Duquesne U. students map Hill District assets

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The Hill District can add to its many assets a map of its assets, thanks to 11 students in the community and university honors seminar at Duquesne University.

The first community-asset map of the neighborhood results from a three-month endeavor of tramping up and down the sloping sidewalks, knocking on doors and interviewing residents, ministers, merchants and social service staffs. The students' goal was to create a practical, Web-based resource and to improve perceptions about the neighborhood.

They will present their map and Web site to the public at noon on Wednesday at the Carnegie Library at 2177 Centre Ave. The Web site includes conversations with neighborhood people, photos, research descriptions and the map.

"This project focused on a neighborhood near the university that is in the midst of new developments," said Evan Stoddard, acting dean of the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts, who directed the class. "Because of its cultural history and varied resources, the Hill District has much to offer the wider community."

In its project report, the class stated as its goal "to bring all the great things about the Hill District -- historical landmarks, businesses, schools, churches and organizations that enhance community life -- to the attention of the people of the Pittsburgh area."

The students divided into teams to chart Hill District sites. They identified 66 and used Google to map the sites. Each site includes a thumbnail description and most include photos. They include NAACP headquarters, the YMCA, the under-construction Consol Energy Center, the Black Political Empowerment Project, historical landmarks, green spaces and parks, housing, schools, businesses, stores, the new Carnegie Library branch, the Hill House Association, the Association for the Deaf, the Landslide Community Farm and many churches.

The class is hoping to hand the map project off to a caretaker who will update and maintain it, either a future class or a community group, said Mike Cichowicz, a senior from Carrick.

Dr. Stoddard said the premise of the class is for students to learn about the neighborhood where they are living while at Duquesne "and to get to know its needs as perceived by the people in the community."

Early in the course, he handed out a study done by Bank of New York Mellon. The study focused on the neighborhood's needs and poverty and crime rates. The students invited the authors of the study to class.

"One of them mentioned it would be beneficial to focus on the positives. We brainstormed on that and locked in on" the idea of developing an asset map, said Mr. Cichowicz.

The students bit off the entire Hill, he said, because "we wanted to take the Hill as it is defined by the community."

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


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