Upper Lawrenceville works hard to fashion a new image
Deirdre Kane, a native of Upper Lawrenceville, is part of a new plan to transform McCandless Avenue into a green boulevard.
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McCandless Avenue is a steep shot down from Stanton Avenue to the Allegheny River, and it lies at the heart of a new neighborhood plan for Upper Lawrenceville.
Where it meets Butler Street, it could be the hub the neighborhood lacks. Where it meets the Allegheny, it could provide river access the neighborhood craves. And with strategically planted trees, curb cuts and landscaping, it could detour much of the stormwater that rushes down it.
The plan designates these roles for McCandless. It had the support of standing-room-only crowds at meetings in October, November and January at the Ancient Order of Hibernians hall on Carnegie Street, where residents poured out ideas to improve housing, greening and retail opportunities.
The western border on Butler intersects with 51st Street/Stanton, where the stone wall of the Allegheny Cemetery reinforces the division between Upper and Central Lawrenceville. Several blocks in, the intersection with McCandless could be activated for a warmer neighborhood welcome. The eastern border taps Morningside at 62nd Street; the southern border with Stanton Heights stutters along a wooded hillside full of dead ends and public steps.
Market forces that have transformed Lower and Central Lawrenceville are already marching in, with new home buyers and storefronts on Butler. The planning process gives Upper Lawrenceville a way to direct the market to respond to its self-image -- distinct from its trendier, less industrial and increasingly expensive sisters.
"We are scared to death of gentrification in the 10th Ward," said Deirdre Kane, a 39-year-old native who, like many old-timers, still refers to the neighborhood that way. "We heard it from people from their 20s to their 70s: 'I don't want to be priced out of my house.' "
Most homes are modest and working class. Many offer sweat-equity opportunities appealing to young people.
"It's the only affordable place to move if you absolutely want to be in Lawrenceville," said Ms. Kane, a steward of community gardens. "And hipsters are not afraid of a little grit or a place that's still a little sketchy."
The neighborhood sees the opportunity for grit, industry and affordability co-existing with more investment, amenities and environmental improvements.
"I feel like it's finally our turn," lifelong resident Nancy Bittner said. "Our problem was we had more public safety issues and a larger senior population. We had our share of landlords who weren't as diligent as they should have been."
A 21-year board member of Lawrenceville United, she said she has seen crime drop dramatically. "We have worked very hard with the Zone Two police" and with landlords to be more compliant with the city code and in tenant control.
"The neighborhood is back to where people feel safe," she said. "Now we can concentrate on our vision."
Except for a barren stretch of riverfront owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Allegheny is lined with manufacturers that inhibit public access to the water. The plan has adopted a "we make it" slogan to attract small businesses, playing off the industrial identity, but residents also want to use the riverfront.
The plan devises a possibility at the end of McCandless. If it were enacted today, a stormwater retention plaza with a bicycle repair station near a trail would cozy up to the west side of the Barber Spring Co.
The metal guard rail at the street's dead end would be replaced by a landscaped walk to "McCandless Beach," which would include a put-in for kayaks and two stationary barges, one with a swimming pool, the other for movie showings.
Lawrenceville United and the Lawrenceville Corp., two complementary nonprofits, will fit elements of the plan into work they are already doing on greening projects and economic development, said James Eash, a community outreach specialist for the Lawrenceville Corp.
Evolve, an environmental design consulting firm, was hired to lead the planning process. Under the guidance of Christine Mondor, a principal at evolveEA, the plan calls for McCandless to become a demonstration model of stormwater solutions.
If the plan were enacted today, street trees with elongated and deep root wells would march the length of the corridor, turning it into a green boulevard. Intersections would be bumped out to slow traffic and accommodate tree circles.
"With a chain of continuous tree wells to slow, clean and infiltrate [water]," Ms. Mondor said, "by the time you get to the flat area, you can divert water into McCandless Park, which has a proposed redesign. At the [riverfront] plaza, you'd have significant infiltration."
Mr. Eash said revamping McCandless would address several complaints residents have about the avenue.
"They say, 'People drive too fast.' They say, 'We want more street trees.' And then there was the larger, critical issue of stormwater mitigation."
The Lawrenceville Corp. is writing grant applications seeking funds to begin implementing changes on McCandless, he said.
Reuse of the former McCleary School and a marketing strategy for selling alley houses are other priorities of the plan.
"The alley housing was such a major issue" several years ago, Mr. Eash said. Many were derelict and used for drug dealing. With the worst of them demolished, he said, "now we can see them as assets."
The alleys are too narrow for cars to park and the houses are tiny, but he said several people at the meetings said, " 'Hey, I ride a bike. I'd love to have a place like that.' "
Ms. Kane said the planning process was uplifting "because of the range of people old and young coming together who all want the same things."
"I've lived here all my life, and I couldn't believe how many people I didn't know," Ms. Bittner said. "It seemed like this happened quietly, people coming over time, but with everyone in one room, you feel the impact. And they were concerned about things the older people wanted.
"The older residents deserve this. They stuck it out, came to block watches, picked up trash. They worked and worked. You work and work for change and wonder if you'll see it in your lifetime, then all of a sudden you see that it has already come."
First Published February 4, 2013 12:00 am