Hilltop Alliance brings neighborhood groups together for summit
“Our mission,” began Hilltop Alliance (HA) Executive Director Aaron Sukenik. “Is to bring together and serve as a resource and to promote a common vision to the Hilltop neighborhoods.”
Mr. Sukenik welcomed representatives of neighborhood organizations, government representatives and special guests to the second annual Hilltop Summit held this year at the St. Paul AME Church on Orchard Place in Knoxville. The summit allows member organizations of the Hilltop Alliance and the Alliance itself to boast a little about what they are accomplishing in their respective communities.
The Alliance is a voluntary organization which meets regularly to discuss and plan for overcoming common challenges Mr. Sukenik explained. Member organizations use the HA’s capacity as a project manager, as a fiscal conduit and also to fundraise, coordinate, and administer projects and programs which benefit the Hilltop neighborhoods.
Member organization include: Allentown Community Development Corp ., Beltzhoover Civic Association, Carrick Community Council, Hilltop Economic Development Corp ., Mount Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch, Mount Washington Community Development Corp. and South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association.
“Our neighborhoods are stronger together than they are separately and that’s why we exist,” Mr. Sukenik said.
The Hilltop Alliance experienced a year of transformation, he continued. Citing the leadership of the board of director, the organization has built on previous efforts with the renewed focus on special projects, measurable outcomes and meaningful collaborations.
Some of the programs and projects they are involved with include the Repurposing Vacant Lots Action Team, the Code Enforcement Task Force and a Property Stabilization Program. Under the Property Stabilization Program, area residents attend a monthly meeting and report problematic properties with code violations to project manager Tim Dolan.
Mr. Dolan documents and photographs all the properties and makes contact with the property owners to notify them there is a problem before city inspectors get involved. Since beginning the program five months ago, almost 80 properties have been reported and there is an almost 30 percent resolution rate.
Going back to 2012, Mr. Sukenik said the HA completed the Green Toolbox Assessment, an inventory of green assets and community driven needs of repurposing vacant lots. It also identified the Hilltop as a “food desert” and identified the vacant property which once housed the St. Clair Village and much of the Arlington Heights housing projects as potential redevelopment sites.
In late 2012 to help address the food desert issue, the Alliance launched Fresh Fridays in cooperation with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, St. John Vianney Parish Food Pantry and Brashear Association. Fresh Fridays is a free produce distribution once a month for low income residents.
To date, Fresh Fridays has distributed 80,000 pounds of produce to more than 5,000 Hilltop residents.
Next month, a steering committee will begin work on an implementation plan for placing an urban farm on the Housing Authority’s former St. Clair Village site. They believe the site can be a regional destination for urban agriculture.
“Being 115 acres, the possibilities are exciting,” Mr. Sukenik said.
The steering committee will develop a concise plan over the next six months working with Grow Pittsburgh, the Penn State Cooperative Extension and a landscape architecture class from Chatham University.
Also, in early fall of 2013 G-Tech Strategies launched ReClaim South working with the Alliance as a community partner. Over the next six months, G-Tech will work with 14 Hilltop program ambassadors to give them the skills to reclaim vacant lots dotting their neighborhoods.
Another major undertaking of the Alliance this year was a Comprehensive Housing Strategy for Allentown and Beltzhoover. The study identified five micro-neighborhoods within the neighborhoods as emerging markets.
Over the next several years, the Alliance expects to work with government officials, concerned residents and private investors to turn around the disinvestment of those neighborhoods. In early 2014, those efforts with center around a portion of Allentown between Grandview Park and Warrington Avenue.
Mr. Sukenik noted the “strong bookends” of Mount Washington and the South Side Slopes in relation to the target area. He said it was just Phase One of the overall development strategy.
He added the Allentown Community Development Corp. has contracted beginning in early 2014 with the Alliance to work with the ACDC and the community on developing a Neighborhood Plan. The process will incorporate the 2010 Warrington Avenue Public Safety Assessment, the 2011 TRID Study concerning transit based development around South Hills Junction and the 2013 housing strategy.
Working with the Mount Washington Community Development Corp ., the HA will also be convening a Warrington Avenue Growth Forum to address a number of identified priorities along the Warrington Avenue corridor. These include working with the Port Authority to restore trolley service through Warrington Avenue and looking at transit oriented development opportunities around South Hills Junction and redevelopment at the Junction itself including a parking lot and pedestrian and bike friendly access platform.