Above: The lot where City of Asylum hopes to place Alphabet City is in a residential neighborhood.

A new City of Asylum project may give readers and writers a new place to convene, share work and take classes in the Central Northside.

City of Asylum plans to build a community-based literary center on Monterey Street between Jacksonia Street and Sampsonia Way called Alphabet City, on a vacant lot where a bar and an abandoned home once stood.

Alphabet City will include spaces for readings, writing classes and community meetings. It will also feature a bookstore, a bar-café-restaurant as well as two apartments for writers. The space will act as a platform for literary readings as well as small-scale music performances.

Our goal is that Alphabet City help unify the community, bridging differences among people,” said Henry Reese, director of City of Asylum.

The literary hub will also offer programs for the community and for younger readers and writers. Alphabet City will implement a free book program, readings for children, teen programs and free compost distribution for neighborhood gardeners. The project hopes to include programming that accommodates all of the economic, cultural and racial diversity of the Northside.

In 2011, the Alphabet City project received the LINC-Ford Foundation’s Space for Change award for its projected “catalytic impact in the community.” Reese hopes that this space will function as “an anchor to the economic and cultural development of the interior of the Central Northside.” 

The project is currently held up with zoning issues stemming from a complaint filed by neighbors to the site.

Several neighbors expressed concerns about parking in the dense residential area with limited off-street and the privacy issues that having a public building near private residences could create.

City of Asylum will meet with a judge in mid-March to try to resolve the issue. If the issue is cleared, Reese hopes construction will begin this summer.

City of Asylum hopes to have Alphabet City open to the public in early 2013. However, Reese notes that there will be events held before the official opening. They will hold periodic events connected with the development of Alphabet City as well as literary readings so people can see the work in progress.

According to Reese, with Alphabet City and other public art projects on Sampsonia Way, City of Asylum hopes, “to create a platform to transform the Central Northside into a space where we can imagine what is possible rather than dwelling on what holds us back.”

Many individuals and foundations including the Hillman Foundation, the Richard King Mellon foundation and the Heinz Endowments have donated money to support to the Alphabet City project, but City of Asylum are the sole developers.

City of Asylum has previously rehabbed five other properties on Sampsonia Way that now function as writer residences. City of Asylum offers residency and sanctuary to writers in exile from their native countries. They also publish Sampsonia Way, an online publication that celebrates literary free expression. 

City of Asylum/Pittsburgh hopes to have Alphabet City open to the public in early 2013. However, Reese notes that there will be events held before the official opening. They will hold periodic events connected with the development of Alphabet City as well as literary readings so people can see the work in progress.

 

Sarah Reagle is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, an editor at Collision Literary Magazine and a Pitt News columnist and copy editor.