South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

City working to empower neighborhoods and business


Making his way to the Carrick Business Association’s September meeting as its guest speaker, Henry Pyatt, small business and redevelopment manager in the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment (BNE) in the City of Pittsburgh, was there to listen to them as much as they were him.

Part of his job in the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment is to take neighborhoods that have not been able to take advantage of the recent growth in other neighborhoods over the past 10 or 15 years and provide them with the tools that have made the other neighborhoods successful.

He noted he has been working Aaron Sukinek, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, in the neighborhoods of Allentown and Beltzhoover, neighborhoods that had seen a more rapid decline than Carrick.

“My focus is prioritized by economic activity and property,” he said. “I think it’s a very reasonable way to choose where to spend your time, where the greatest need is.”

Mayor William Peduto set up the BNE based loosely on the Community Empowerment Office in Philadelphia. There are four parts to the bureau, each with a manager. In addition to working with small businesses, they work with faith based and non-profits, housing and education.

Mr. Pyatt’s background has him as “kind of a community organizer, but specific to redevelopment” in Philadelphia for the last five years. Prior to that, he was in East Stroudsburg, PA and before that in Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Part of his job is to work with the housing manager and talk with people and figure out what kind of housing will be accepted in their neighborhood whether it is housing for seniors or straight up low-income housing in a modern format or something else.

“And have those conversations in a proactive way so that communities are making decisions and informing us. And then we go and put the whole playbook together,” he said.

The strategies he is pursuing include looking for the people who want to move back into the city and live in a nice house on a row house size lot with a yard and be able to walk to businesses they want to patronize in the evening whether its restaurants, dry cleaner or grocery stores.

“A lot of Pittsburgh is very well situated to cater to those people, those young adults that are settling down and ready to start their adult lives,” Mr. Pyatt said.

One of his goals is to create that business mix to attract new residents to neighborhoods like Carrick.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s simply looking back at the most successful points in our neighborhoods’ histories and mimicking those successful points that we can,” he said.

Mr. Pyatt said he is working with several people in the Hilltop neighborhoods, neighborhoods that now have a third or a quarter of the population they once did to build up the residential base that is needed to support neighborhood businesses and to add businesses the businesses the neighborhood will support.

“As far as Carrick goes, that’s definitely where our heads are at, is to make sure we have safe sidewalks, to make sure our parks are up to snuff, to keep us as attractive as possible to the younger generation of people who are buying houses now and starting families and using that to springboard to allow for business growth and walkable communities which we believe is going to be most attractive to this next generation of people,” Mr. Pyatt said.

He explained he is working with Economic Development South on analyzing data to determine what businesses are located in the communities and encourage businesses to come in that will complement what is already there, not compete with them.

Mr. Pyatt is also working on a number of business related initiatives including getting resources into the hands of entrepreneurs and helping existing businesses with exit strategies to help make sure those businesses remain in the community after the owners retire.

Shifting gears a little, Mr. Pyatt mentioned he’s been approached by a number of people interested in having a bike trail through the South Hills. He asked what members of the CBA thought about the idea.

He stressed it didn’t mean “taking a lane from Route 51” for bikes, but more of figuring out a route on neighborhood streets and marking them appropriately.

Explaining he has seen neighborhoods that have catered to bike riders in an attempt to draw people from several miles to the area businesses rather than the half –mile or so for people walking. He stressed he had no plans or preconceived notions about the subject.

One CBA member suggested before the city considers a bike path on Brownsville Road, they have to clean up the residential neighborhood. She gave Berg Place, recently in the news for building code violations, as an example.

“I’m very, very clear on the fact that you can’t sell stuff to people that aren’t there,” Mr. Pyatt said. “And so developing the residential base in the neighborhood is absolutely key to improving the business community.”

Another CBA businessman said the neighborhood had a large senior population and felt city money would be best used for parklets or park and rides for the neighborhood rather than the bike lanes. He also mentioned the need for parking for area businesses.

Mr. Pyatt said sometimes the best alternative is to find a path through the neighborhood and leading back up to the businesses district.

He was asked where Carrick was in the priority of neighborhoods he is working in.

He said South Carrick is now on the priority list and is getting close to Allentown on the poverty list.

Mr. Pyatt said there is legislation coming in the city called Priority Communities Legislation which will set up a scoring of neighborhoods through a variety of questions such as: How many people are in poverty? How many children are in poverty? What kind of resources are available? What’s the unemployment rate and more.

All the information from all the neighborhoods will be put into the system and when it comes out the other end, the Southern part of Carrick will score high. The result is that there won’t be a lot of money involved, but there will be planning money for those communities, he said.

They will then be able to go back to the neighborhood and prioritize three areas: the quickest, cheapest things to do to improve the neighborhood; the next level of things that would improve the neighborhood; and finally the most expensive things to do to address the problems.

Once the information is gathered, it will be taken back to the community for residents input on how they would prioritize the solutions and ask their feedback.

“I’m a big believer in not doing anything until you know the people that live around there, or at least the people who are willing to show up and engage that live around there are behind it,” Mr. Pyatt said.


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