By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Greening projects proposed for Hilltop


October 9, 2012

A draft of Green Toolbox recommendations for the Hilltop was unveiled at a community meeting at the Knoxville Elder-ado on Oct. 4.

Priorities and strategies for greening for10 Hilltop communities -- Arlington, Arlington Heights, Allentown, Bon Air, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Knoxville, Mt. Oliver Borough, Mt. Oliver City, and St. Clair -- were compiled by the Hilltop Alliance's Toolbox Advisory Group (TAG) and consultants: the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) and GTECH.

TAG, comprised of 14 Hilltop residents, has been working with the consultants for six months to gather and analyze information on Hilltop greening opportunities.

The presenters were: Judy Wagner and Gavin Deming of the Community Gardens and Greenspace Program, WPC; and Chris Koch, director of programs for the Design Center. Funding is by the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development.

The slide presentation began with recommendations presented in four configurations: linking the communities; the Hilltop as a whole; specific needs for individual communities; and big ideas for large and unique sites.

Beside costs, each strategy included "good partners," such as local garden clubs and school groups, and "possible funding sources," like regional businesses and community foundations.

Actions linking the Hilltop communities include: tree pit plantings; welcoming plantings and signs at community boundaries; and city steps.

"It does a lot for pedestrians and travelers in bus or car," Mr. Deming said of tree pit plantings. The action adds color, visual interest, and distinctive accents to the streetscape at about $150 per tree pit for perennials, annuals, and soil amendments.

The Hilltop-wide actions are a five-year strategy, and include: vacant land clean and green strategy; street trees; and green parking improvements.

In the vacant land strategy, lots are cleared, fenced with very simple wooden fencing, planted with grass, and kept mowed.

"It can completely change the look of a vacant lot at modest cost," Ms. Wagner said.

The "green parking" plan employs short- and long-term strategies in parking lots using green planting borders, shading trees, and permeable surfaces.

While the latter is costly, there are numerous potential funding sources, such as federal storm water/green infrastructure programs, and foundations interested in investing in improvements of the streetscape to support business startups and reinvigoration.

The community-by-community recommendations include: food gardens; localized parklets; and hanging baskets along key streets.

Mr. Deming said there is a lot of publicly-owned land in the Hilltop, calling the area an "oasis" for fresh food.

Ms. Wagner said Larimer has a community vegetable garden that neighbors work in as volunteers. At some sites, food is grown to donate to an area food bank.

The food garden effort involves attaining formal access to the land, organizing a group to coordinate the project, and raising the funds for installing the growing beds.

"The biggest thing is getting that community commitment," Mr. Deming said.

For localized parklets, the strategy is to establish new community passive parks of relatively small scale utilizing vacant land. It is a place for neighbors to congregate that is currently a vacant space.

For the hanging baskets, WPC already has nine community basket projects in place, and can provide consulting and actual implementation.

Finally, the "big ideas for special locations" recommendations include: cemeteries; housing authority/HUD land; and green pathways to connect important local green places.

Ms. Wagner said cemeteries offer "a phenomenal opportunity to plant trees.

"There's lots of space for them to reach their full beauty," she said.

A final report of all the recommendations and costs will next be presented to the Hilltop Alliance.

Following the presentation, feedback was sought from attendees. A couple of attendees said they were concerned about community involvement, as they have difficulty getting volunteers in, respectively, Carrick and Knoxville.

Pat Murphy, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, said shared pools of volunteers could be utilized in different communities, as opposed to just where one resides. She added volunteers are available from AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity. A process is needed for alerting communities about this resource, she said.

Ms. Koch said different opportunities need to be created for volunteers so they can do something they like but others may not.

Next, at the request of Ms. Murphy, Barney Oursler spoke briefly on the Clean Rivers Campaign. He is executive director of Pittsburgh UNITED, which promotes strategies to transform how economic development impacts communities so everyone may benefit from growth in Pittsburgh's new economy.

He said ALCOSAN is proposing billions of dollars to build large pipes and storage tunnels under rivers to help solve area sewer overflow problems.

In contrast, the Clean Rivers Campaign advocates using plants and soil to manage rain and snow where it falls rather than funneling into the sewer system.

Mr. Oursler said we need a green infrastructure on a large scale, along with upgrades and improvements to the sewer pipes. Maintaining the green infrastructure will also result in numerous new jobs, he said.

"I think it's a lot cheaper than building these tunnels," he said.

ALCOSAN will be holding a town hall meeting on the matter at its North Side headquarters, 3300 Preble Ave., at 11 a.m. on Oct. 19. All are encouraged to attend.


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