From its earliest history as a multicultural neighborhood, to its national prominence as a hub for African American culture, the story of Pittsburgh’s Hill District has always been remarkable. Despite the difficulties of population loss, economic disinvestment, and the destabilization of the social fabric, the community has proved resilient and tireless in its desire for an empowered future. This project showcases this spirit by reimagining the Hill District Centre Avenue Corridor as a meeting place for residents, a welcoming place for visitors, a sharing place for institutions, and a place of exchange for businesses.
Integration in Planning
The establishment of a rich and welcoming identity for the Centre Avenue Corridor in the Hill is guided by previous efforts, including the Greater Hill District Masterplan (2011). The redevelopment plan engages each of the five Masterplan goals:
- Build upon the African American cultural legacy
- Family friendly housing development without displacement
- Economic empowerment and commercial development
- Make the Hill District a green and well designed community
- Address mobility, transportation, and parking
The Community Engagement and Design Process
Through evolveEA’s strategies for Placemaking, Identity, and Activation, our approach creates an attractive Hill District Centre Avenue Corridor by understanding the community’s aspirations and values and catalyzing them to take action.
The Hill District is one of the more studied communities with regards to African American culture. This project needs to be more than another study and its long term success relies on the authentic adoption and community leadership development around placemaking, economic, and ecological issues. Our process was crafted with attention to enabling community members to take ownership of their strategies and plan so that the cultural extension is organic.
A Critical Issue Assessment process followed by the first community meeting, in which over a hundred residents participated, set the stage for the creation of a visioning and identity toolkit. This toolkit included identity strategies and scenarios that helped members of the community imagine a variety of potential futures for Centre Avenue. Further community engagement defined a Centre Avenue Action Plan, implemented beginning with a public launch, media campaign and activation of local partnerships.
Designed to address economic development, residential development and a sense of community, the plan identifies three areas with distinct uses and energies. The plan also covers phased activation and interim strategies to ensure smooth and balanced development. The Centre of Culture, near Centre Avenue and Dinwiddie Street, the Centre of Opportunity, near Centre Avenue and Kirkpatrick Street, and the Centre of Cultivation, near Centre Avenue and Reed Street now have an exciting future planned. The development is different at each Centre, yet they all tie in together to serve the community, attract visitors and foster economic growth.
The Centre of Culture
The Centre of Culture is the front door to the Hill District, highly visible with unique attractions that bring visitors from throughout the region to participate in the unique culture of the Hill. This Centre is anchored by the restoration and redevelopment of the historic New Granada Theatre into a mixed-use residential, commercial and cultural block with a public plaza across the street.
The Centre of Opportunity
The Centre of Opportunity is the heart of the entrepreneurial community in the Hill. Its strong character is built on the historic buildings that invite small businesses, shops, cafes, galleries, and others to own or rent space. The Hill CDC is working to implement this vision with programs that deploy tactical urbanism and placemaking strategies combined with workforce development programing and support for local entrepreneurs. This comprehensive approach to developing a neighborhood economy has broad implications for urban commercial corridors that seek to foster a healthy retail environment rooted in the unique identity of the local community.
The Centre of Cultivation
The Centre of Cultivation is the place where things are grown, restored, and made, and where the DIY (do it yourself) spirit reigns. The redesign for this crossroads is advancing with plans by multiple agencies focusing on the integration of green stormwater infrastructure with existing and future urban agriculture sites, hillside nature trails and mixed-use development. The corridor plan has informed this activity by presenting a community vision with multiple opportunites for networked connections to nearby development intiatives.
Lessons in Practice
The planning methods used, particularly the process undertaken to help the community craft a distinct identity for the Hill District Centre Avenue Corridor, are relevant for other communities seeking to understand how their past and their present energies contribute to a shared vision for the future. Furthermore, communities interested in generating regional draw to their local retail corridors would benefit from the assessment and identity processes. These processes identified activities and uses that would provide community benefit for the Hill District Centre Avenue Corridor and contribute to its identity while also attracting visitors from throughout the region to the Avenue.