City neighborhoods took nice step ahead with 2013 projects

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We begin this year-end wrap up with the always true, all-purpose caveat to make the bad news bears happy: Many awful things happened in Pittsburgh in 2013, and although we're doing better we still have a looong looong way to go.

OK. That's out of the way. Let's move on.

The Pirates' winning season and playoff bid trumped all good news from this fan's point of view, but 2013 saw big wins for neighborhoods, some that felt neglected for decades.

My top stories happened in the big three H's: Hazelwood, the Hill and Homewood.

The presence of earth-movers on the Almono site -- the former LTV coke plant along the Monongahela River -- means the city's last brownfield is starting to become something else, something that will pump up Hazelwood's tax base and jump-start more investment.

Also in Hazelwood, ACTION-Housing and Telesis Corp. are bringing new life to the Spahr Building on Second Avenue as a cultural center and food establishment.

With these investments, people who never thought of Hazelwood before should take note of its great location near Oakland and the South Side.

The Hill has had great location written all over it while being treated like the invisible man for decades. In 2013, a Shop 'n Save supermarket rose from a long-standing field of mud, the Hill's first supermarket in, well, decades.

Behind it, between Kirkpatrick and Miller streets, TREK Development and its partners have been building quality affordable housing, while in nearby Uptown, ACTION-Housing completed renovations for affordable apartments in the Shanahan Building.

A Homewood couple, the Rev. Eugene and Dina Blackwell, have extended the ministry of their House of Manna to young men hanging out on the streets. This year, the Blackwells established the Homewood Renaissance Association as a response to the need for hope, rescue and job training.

They have built an impressive board, a broad network of support and job opportunities for young men. Next year, the association expects to establish its headquarters on Frankstown Avenue in a building that Family Dollar pulled out of.

The projects of the Homewood Renaissance Association are among the stories I most look forward to following in 2014.

Pittsburgh will be able to pat itself on the back for all the accolades it's getting when the big H's begin to feel the love.

In no particular order, a bunch of smaller steps made 2013 a year of import in the 'burgh.

For the first time in maybe ever, national opinion shapers are talking about Pittsburgh and cuisine in the same sentence. But there's great little quirky stuff that speaks to people who might not be able to afford a $40 entree.

The most whimsical and fun news I reported this year was from the Strip District, where the Bayardstown Social Club formed in an empty lot in the 3000 block of Penn Avenue. For $5 a month, members get to use the space for backyard cookouts. It's a project of Deeplocal, a product engineering and design studio.

In decent weather months, Deeplocal rents the property and oversees weekend and evening cookouts. The only agenda is to bring your own and do it yourself. A grill, horseshoe pit, picnic tables, security cameras, portable toilets and sometimes live music are provided. The club used social media to attract 300 people the first weekend. Callers from Portland and Brooklyn have called Deeplocal to find out more about it.

Two other great stories -- less about neighborhoods than the city and the region -- were the return of the Point State Park fountain and completion of the last mile of the Great Allegheny Passage. That was a June double play. The bike path enables an uninterrupted ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

Finally, in a project that seemed like it would never get started in my own North Side neighborhood, a former porn theater eyesore finally has workers inside starting its deconstruction for a new restaurant. Yes, 2013 was the year the Garden Theater began coming back to life. If it comes fully to life in 2014, it will be the story of the year.

That is, unless the Pirates win the World Series.

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at

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