[I’m posting this on behalf of one of our Pittsburgh-based curators, Gavin White, who wrote it after volunteering with the Greenprint in the Hill last week.]
The Hill District’s new redevelopment plan is called the Greenprint. It is a pun with a purpose. Supporters of the plan, produced by Find The Rivers! in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and architect Walter Hood, hope to turn the Hill into a “Village in the Woods.” Spurning top-down agendas long associated with the blueprint, and “encouraged by Pittsburgh’s renewed interest in her rivers as forces of nature rather than solely of commerce” the Greenprint focuses on “creating new connections and relationships between people, landscape and ecology.” (See Hill District Greenprint, page 2)
On a Saturday morning this May, these relationships surfaced and grew in a community effort to clean up and green up Cliffside Park, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Employees of the Conservancy worked and mingled with the neighbors from across the street or across the hill, as well as new residents of the city looking to meet new people and to lend a helping hand, and other interested participants. After a friendly meet and greet, we set off to remove trash that had accumulated in the park over the winter. My head shifted back and forth from trash on the ground to marvelous vistas of Downtown, the Strip District, the Allegheny River and the Northside beyond. Meanwhile I spoke with one Upper Hill resident about her efforts to coordinate similar cleanings on Centre Avenue and elsewhere in the neighborhood; with the education coordinator of the Conservancy on their other efforts around town and future plans for the park (to be renovated in September), and the newcomers about their experience in the city thus far. Each participant exuded a genuine desire to improve the neighborhood, even if it wasn’t his or hers, and we all shared a love of the city (even, I think, the newcomers).
After our pick-up, we crossed the street to work on an adjoining set of lots that the neighbors and the Conservancy had been planting a garden in. We need to move a massive amount of mulch that had slid down the hill in the early spring rains, as well as pluck the weeds that had already begun to thrive and choke out the other plants. A few kids from across the street and their friends joined us and added to our efforts an extra vivacity, turning the atmosphere from friendly to outright fun. They wielded shovels like pros, and one particularly jovial youngster, after discovering that “sorry, we wouldn’t be back tomorrow,” insisted that he would continue the work with or without us. (I’m not sure he did, but I thoroughly enjoyed his spunk either way). When the allotted time came to an end, a few of the neighbors stuck around to finish things up, and one generously offered me a ride to another job, because she wouldn’t allow me to walk downtown for a bus to Bloomfield (I admit it was a bit out of the way, thanks Phyllis!). We exchanged numbers to plan cleanups in the future, discussed solar power for her home and her friend’s community efforts, and I left her car with thanks and the hope that we might work together again soon.
When picking up trash and pushing mulch around on a Saturday morning feels less like work and more like a party, something has certainly gone right. I certainly felt better connected to the people, landscape, and ecology of the Hill District, and I plan to develop these relationships further. I look forward to the continued improvements at Cliffside Park, and can’t wait to see (and help make) the Greenprint become a Village in the Woods!