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Green Toolbox takes next steps to ‘green’ Hilltop neighborhoods

 

Sarah Beth Martin

The largest of three discussion groups, this collection of neighborhood liaisons and partner agencies discusses ways to repurpose vacant city land within hilltop neighborhoods.

For approximately nine months, representatives from ten different hilltop neighborhood organizations have been working together with partner agencies to come up with a plan for “greening” their communities.

Last Tuesday night, they met to move on to the next step—preparing for action.

Over the nine months leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, information and opinions were rigorously collected, said Judy Wagner, of the Western PA Conservancy.

“We collected factual information from resources such as census data and City Planning reports,” she stated. “We got involved and listened to what neighbors said—the types of things they wanted, missed or needed in their communities.”

Ms. Wagner explained the information and opinions were then analyzed and assessed by partner organizations including the Western PA Conservancy, GTECH Strategies, City of Pittsburgh Department of City Panning and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Looking at feasibility, financial cost and time commitment, projects were mapped, relationships were observed, and a comprehensive report was rendered.

Summaries of the information and visual aids provided in the report were presented in a brief slideshow, which culminated in audience members flipping to the report’s last pages to find action suggestions.

The purpose of the meeting as a whole, Ms. Wagner commented, was to have community members confer over these suggestions and determine how, when and where they would like to initiate action on the greening of their localities.

Following the slideshow, those in attendance broke up into three smaller groups to address these matters with each other and with council from the partner organizations.

One group was assigned to discuss “green ribbon” projects, like tree pits and hanging baskets, which are very low-cost and could be accomplished as soon as summer 2013.

The team brainstormed on how pre-existing pits could be cleaned, maintained and improved, suggesting a volunteer-base from area schools and block watches. Applying for city grants and Home Depot grants were mentioned as possible funding options for the addition of hanging baskets in several prime neighborhood locations.

A second group was assigned to discuss tree-planting projects, in both residential areas and cemeteries. Calling on the knowledge-base and experience of a GTECH employee, citizens learned much of the process and procedure involved with requesting and planting new trees.

To generate interest in planting new trees in cemeteries, which are privately-owned properties, the group considered funding from private donors who would like memorial trees planted, as well as from recreational groups who could benefit from creating a gentle outdoor walking space in the otherwise uninviting landscape of the cemeteries.

The group which attracted the most audience members was the third discussion group, assigned to tackle the issue of repurposing vacant land in the area. Community gardens were the hot topic at this table, with suggestions for expanded urban farming in areas like Carrick.

Chelsea Pelusa, Neigborhood Initiative Specialist from the Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, advised participants on the particulars of the Mayor’s Edible Garden program, which involves bringing edible gardens to places where fresh produce is not otherwise readily, easily or affordably accessible.

Ms. Peluso also presented information on the Mayor’s Green Up program for neighborhood beautification, where eligible land is prepared for planting and flowerbeds and signage are installed by the city.

As neighbors in each group analyzed ways to take action, they compiled information on “Green Toolbox Action Planning” sheets, to summarize the highlights of their conversations and give the partner agencies a point of reference for further recommendations.

Though no determinative plan for immediate action resulted from the meeting, the ball was set in motion.

“Take these ideas back to your home communities,” Ms. Wagner closed, “and bring their ideas back with you, so that we can let the greening begin.”

 

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