Walkabout: Upper Lawrenceville looks to revitalize without losing grit
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While so many neighborhoods are casting about to reinvent themselves as vibrant post-industrial places, denizens of Upper Lawrenceville want to tie a vibrant future to the industry that remains.
They began developing a new vision for the neighborhood, referred to by some residents as the 10th Ward, in a series of three meetings that Lawrenceville United and the Lawrenceville Corp. initiated last fall. With $15,000 from the Design Center, they hired Christine Mondor of evolve EA, a design firm in Friendship, to lead the sessions, with help from Chelsea Burket, a community strategist with Fourth Economy, a consulting firm on the North Shore.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians' hall on Carnegie Street was standing room only for each meeting. The process linked natives of the neighborhood, old and young, to relative newcomers, many of whom have found the last affordable part of Lawrenceville.
After a final meeting last week, they embarked with a new plan and strategies to enliven the neighborhood without sacrificing its authenticity.
"There are different market forces at work here," Ms. Mondor said. "People know they're not going to have a SouthSide Works, but they do want access to the river."
Upper Lawrenceville departs from Central Lawrenceville at 51st Street, where Stanton Avenue begins its steep upward crawl along the unbroken wall of the Allegheny Cemetery. It hands off to Morningside at 62nd Street. The north-to-south borders are from the Allegheny River to a zigzag of street pieces that include Celadine, Wickliff, Christopher and 57th.
Although industries operate in the neighborhood's lower and central parts, those areas have largely lost the gritty images and sensibilities that residents of Upper Lawrenceville like about their section. But those in the 10th Ward have more blight and crime to address and more spaces to plug with businesses.
New retail and several appealing restaurants have become established there in recent years, but as part of the conversation, old-timers told newer residents about neighborhood gems such as Foster's Meats, a longtime butcher shop, and learned about new places such as Wild Purveyors, a store that sells seasonal, organic and local food directly from farms.
Participants emphasized their desire for more businesses that make things.
One of the largest stakeholders, the Barber Spring Co., has for more than 100 years made steel springs in the neighborhood on 4.25 acres along the Allegheny River.
"They're a good neighbor," Ms. Mondor said. "They're quiet, they're not dirty and they employ people."
Among the ideas that took hold were freeing up some riverfront for a green plaza and kayak put-in at the end of McCandless Street. A renovated McCandless Street would become a boulevard of tree rows and tee clusters for stormwater detention.
The plan also calls for reuse of vacant neighborhood landmarks such as McCleary School and St. Kieran Church.
Several 20-foot-wide alleys are stitched together with little houses, many in rough condition. Parking in these alleys is a problem that the participants aim to solve with a strategy to market the houses as fixer-uppers to people whose means of getting around is a bicycle.
The participants also want more fresh-food options and imagined the use of vacant lots for farmers and flea markets. Now-vacant storefronts could incorporate pop-up enterprises and possible incubator sites to encourage and support their efforts to establish.
Dora Walmsley moved to Lawrenceville six years ago and rented in the lower portion. As property costs increased, she said, she and her boyfriend decided to buy in Upper Lawrenceville.
"Lots of houses were out of our price range if they needed to be gutted," she said, "but we found a really affordable house that had a lot of work done and was within our price range."
She wants the neighborhood to maintain its relative affordability, Ms. Walmsley said. "That's the benefit of these meetings, for people who feel strongly about things to have a seat at the table.
"We talked about avoiding gentrification and about places like Tex's Auto Sales" at 52nd and Butler streets. To some people, it is not an attractive business, she said, "but everyone understands the importance of having a diverse set of businesses instead of a coffee shop on every corner."
First Published January 29, 2013 12:00 am