North Side collaboration transforms a neglected spot
December 2, 2013 11:14 PM
Volunteers from two North Side neighborhoods turned a weedy lot into a welcoming landscaped gateway.
Volunteers work to create " Lafayette Hilltop," a landscaped gateway to Fineview and Perry Hilltop.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Fineview and Perry Hilltop meet at the intersection of Lafayette Avenue and Federal Street, a shared gateway of two North Side neighborhoods that was for years a tangle of weeds, scraggly trees and litter.
An unsightly gateway isn't just about aesthetics. It's about perception of personal safety. It's about real estate. It's about pride.
Led by resident Candace Cain, nearby residents called a meeting earlier this year to bring the neighborhoods together to beautify it. Today, the lot is a landscaped phenomenon of people power, and on it, a sign attests to inter-neighborhood cooperation: "Welcome to Lafayette Hilltop." When the sign is completed, the additional message will read "Where Fineview and Perry Hilltop meet."
Perry Hilltop is part of Perry South and begins west of the intersection. Fineview begins on the east corner. A city emergency medical services center sits beside the lot.
With a $1,000 gift card from Home Depot through the city's Love Your Block program and help from city crews, who unearthed and hauled away debris and delivered mulch, more than 40 volunteers turned out to put the site to rights earlier this fall.
Melissa Gallagher, a member of the Fineview Citizens Council, wrote for the grant. Lafayette Street residents Jim and Mary Ann Miller coordinated work with the city, brought in support from Diamond Landscaping and organized food and beverage donations from six North Side restaurants.
"The turnout for the big workday was really nice, young people and older people from Perry Hilltop and Fineview," said June Lloyd, president of the Fineview Citizens Council. Speaking of the lot before the project began, she said, "It was unsightly, unattractive, and there are some homes for sale there. The EMS building is also a voting place."
"I specifically was concerned about that lot because I work the polls," said Janet Gunter, secretary of the Perry Hilltop Citizens Council. "Twice a year I'm sitting up there being embarrassed because people have to come to this ugly, trashy, abandoned lot to cast their vote. I was happy to participate on behalf of Perry Hilltop.
"We had a wonderful turnout, and public works did a wonderful job."
The project includes a low wall of paving stones and new plants on a strip of land at the head of a parking lot besides the EMS station.
"Fortunately, there were enough people with good backs to create a wonderful transformation," Ms. Gunter said. "So many people drive that road. The more improvements we can make to give people a good impression of our neighborhoods, the better."
The unkempt "before" picture might not have scared home buyers away and the pretty "after" picture might not have encouraged the sale of homes, but Ms. Lloyd said one house has sold since the beautification efforts.
Throughout the city, shared neighborhood borders cry out for the kind of collaboration these North Side neighbors orchestrated. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl established the Love Your Block program in 2011 with the Home Depot Foundation. Forty-seven projects were completed in the first year.
The Love Your Block program should be lauded as the helping hand for incremental successes that larger investment often depends on. A thousand dollars can be a boost most community groups need for nagging, small projects that otherwise would keep nagging-- and grow more troublesome. These are the kinds of projects that have a nudging effect on their surroundings in the same way that a new flower box and sidewalk bench can nudge other small efforts that cumulatively make a street more welcoming.
Like most neighborhoods with views, these two can't sell themselves on geography alone, but it's a big advantage.
Ms. Lloyd moved to Fineview from Washington's Landing, the Allegheny River island that is, officially, part of Troy Hill. She bought a property on Marsonia Street in 2003, having met an acquaintance who lived there "and talked about the view," she said. "Now I can lie in my bed and watch fireworks when I'm 90."
Both neighborhoods have struggled somewhat successfully over the years for public safety measures and to eradicate blight, but Ms. Lloyd qualified that: "Public safety is a concern in every neighborhood of the city. It it's stable and quiet, you want to keep it that way, and if it's not, you want to attain it."
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