Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood: May 2020

Hazelwood is a neighborhood divided in two by railroad tracks. On one side of the tracks are Hazelwood Green, a residential enclave, and some industrial and commercial uses. Here is a snapshot of the residential enclave and surrounding uses:

Hazelwood in the News:

Post-Gazette Article on proposed new road between Hazelwood and Oakland April 10, 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood (across the tracks): Apr. 2020

Hazelwood is a neighborhood divided in two by railroad tracks. On one side of the tracks are Hazelwood Green, a residential enclave, and some industrial and commercial uses. This is what is across the tracks:

Second Ave

Hazelwood Ave

Other Sites:

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Mar. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood: Introduction

After introducing my series of Keeping an Eye on Uptown, the CAP, and the Lower Hill, I remembered that Hazelwood is another neighborhood expected to experience changes over the next several years. Between Hazelwood’s main street (2nd Avenue) and the Monongahela River is a 178-acre site of the former Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Most of the structures from the mill have been demolished, leaving a large brownfield. In 2002, the site was purchased for redevelopment by Almono LP (at the time, an entity made up of four Pittsburgh foundations). After years of planning and a rebranding of the site as Hazelwood Green, a series of public streets and the first building opened for use in 2019. Construction is underway for more buildings and a public plaza.

During the planning and preparation stages, a question arose as to the effects of this redevelopment on the surrounding neighborhood. Hazelwood is one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods that has experienced high vacancy rates and subsequent demolition in its residential and business districts. While the building stock of the neighborhood has experienced a long downward trend, the community of people is strong. Only time will tell if the redevelopment of Hazelwood Green will connect with this community or if Hazelwood Green will become and isolated spot of prosperity for others.

Through two more photographic series, Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green and Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood, I will periodically document the physical changes to the former steel mill site and to the surrounding neighborhood.

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Nov. 2019


Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Inspired by my post from this summer, I decided to start a photographic series of Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. This neighborhood is a hodgepodge of abandoned and renovated townhomes, parking lots, car-oriented businesses, corner stores, industrial uses, and new construction residential buildings. It is predicted to be on a tipping point from being mostly ignored to experiencing intense growth fueled by activities in and around the neighborhood. These activities include:

  • UPMC Mercy hospital is currently building a 410,000 sq ft vision and rehabilitation center in the middle of Uptown.
  • The Penguins hockey team is supposed to be finally getting off the ground with their redevelopment of the Lower Hill neighborhood, which is adjacent to Uptown.
  • June 2019 saw the groundbreaking for the CAP project to reconnect the Lower Hill to Downtown over the freeway that bisected the two in the 1960s.
  • The Bus Rapid Transit system currently in the planning stage will one day connect Downtown and Oakland through Uptown.

As these projects move forward, there will likely be more investment and changes to Uptown. This photographic series is intended to capture these changes by revisiting the same sites at regular intervals over the next several years.

In the coming months, I intend to release two related series to record the progress of the CAP and the Lower Hill redevelopment.

Moral Economics

The strongest impression from my last trip to Cardiff was the feeling that it is morally wrong to invest heavily in touristy neighborhoods while skipping the neighborhoods of the residents. Tourists may provide a bigger return per touch point, but residents have many more touch points (including voting). Perhaps I have become jaded since that trip, but I now accept that economics and morals rarely work together.

Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood is trying a different approach to see if economic investment can be leveraged for the greater good. Uptown experienced disinvestment and decay for decades, despite being located between and within walking distance of Oakland and downtown, two of the largest economic engines in the state. Not to mention the main roads connecting these prosperous and growing areas run directly through Uptown. Zipping down Fifth Avenue from Oakland to downtown, it is easy to overlook or ignore the ruined home foundations turning back to forest, the wide-spread vacant lots and parking lots, and the intricate architectural details on the remaining old structures.

Former Rialto Theatre

The bland brick and glass facade on Fifth Avenue identifies this building as another mid-century warehouse. Turning the corner, the decorative parapet wall and bricked over arched opening tell the story of an older, more interesting building.

One such structure was one of the many movie theaters dotting the city in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the adjacent buildings were demolished, and an addition was added to the theater to turn it into a storeroom. After a time as a plasma center in the 1980s and 1990s, the building sat vacant and dusty for many years. Now, it is undergoing renovations for its next life. This is just one of the many signs that investment is coming to Uptown.

The community of Uptown that held on through the economically rough times prepared for this moment. In collaboration with many partners, including local institutions such as Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy as well as the City of Pittsburgh, the community created a new neighborhood plan. This designated Uptown and West Oakland as an EcoInnovation District. One of the first actions from this plan developed a new zoning district, the first progressive zoning district in Pittsburgh. The goal of the plan and the zoning district is to leverage the coming economic investment to create an inclusive and environmentally sustainable neighborhood.

It will be interesting to watch this neighborhood over the next few years to see if the plans are successful at introducing some moral components to the economic investment.

OH, Cleveland!

I spent my freshman year of college in Cleveland, OH.  University Circle, the neighborhood my campus was in, was beautiful and pleasant, but the rest of the city stuck in my mind as rather ugly and dull.  In fact, my friends and I referred to it as “the city that always sleeps.”  Outside of campus there didn’t seem to be anything to do, particularly after 7 p.m.

I often compare Cleveland and Pittsburgh in my mind and for years, Cleveland came up the less favorable of the two.  This is in part due to the unfavorable impression I developed of downtown Cleveland while in school there and in part due to the vast fields of vacant lots that separate downtown from University Circle.  In the last couple years, I made several quick trips to Cleveland.  Every time I come home more amazed by the city.

First, I started noticing the street art and fancy trash cans.  The next trip, I was awed by Cleveland’s BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system.  Pittsburgh’s bus system is loosing routes and cutting back on service hours and here Cleveland was able to institute a BRT with fancy new buses, new bus shelters at every stop along the BRT route that include fare boxes and electric signs that tell you how many minutes until the next bus arrives, and dedicated lanes and traffic lights for the BRT.  Last weekend when I visited was the first time I’ve spent any significant amount of time walking downtown and I was impressed with what I saw.

There is vacant property all over the city.  Cleveland’s population decline over the last 60 years was much more severe than Pittsburgh’s.  It went from a peak of around 900,000 to just under 400,000 in 2010, whereas Pittsburgh only got up to 600,000 and fell to 300,000.  Yet, downtown, the city’s managed to still look beautiful despite the vacant buildings with greenery such as the garden in the road divider above.

I saw another method for reducing the blightedness of vacant properties in another part of the city 8 miles from downtown.  Here they placed art installations in vacant lots that were for sale.

Things definitely seem to be looking up for Cleveland.  I read recently that the County Executive for Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) met with the one for Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) to pick up some tips on how to help turn a struggling rust belt region around.  However, I think that Pittsburgh/Allegheny County could pick up some tips from Cleveland/Cuyahoga County.