A neighborhood consulting firm at an initial meeting on the future of California-Kirkbride Wednesday stressed that in order for neighborhood revitalization, the community needed to focus on image and attitude, not buildings.

California-Kirkbride Neighbors, along with the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, have hired Virginia-based neighborhood planning firm CZB, LLC to come up with a revitalization plan for the troubled area.

CZB went through a rigorous process that involved the URA and the City Planning Commission before being hired.

CZB Principal Charles Buki and associates David Boehlke and Karen Beck Pooley presented their initial thoughts and findings on the neighborhood’s strengths and weaknesses to more than 50 Cal-Bride and Central Northside residents.

Although Buki and his associates took questions periodically throughout the meeting, most attendees listened intently. Murmurs of “that’s right” ran through the room at frequent intervals, and most seemed to accept the road ahead of them.

Because the two areas have a history of strife and tension, Buki demanded that everyone in the room respect and listen to the opinions of others, and stressed that his firm would not tell the neighborhood what to do, but rather how to do what it wants to do.

“We don’t have a 20 year history, we don’t know who hates one another, but we do know the market,” Buki said. “The planning process is collaborative. Nothing goes in one ear and out the other. Nothing.”

Ronell Guy of the NCFH said that while the planning process was open to anyone with an interest in the neighborhood, only Cal-Bride residents will make a final vote on the plan. She also precluded those who own property in the neighborhood but don’t live there.

California-Kirkbride Neighbors President Debbie Reed echoed Guy’s sentiments.

“We need to get together, and we need to show power, and we need to do what’s best for us,” Reed said to loud cheers.

Buki explained that Pittsburgh’s housing market is already fragile, and very little unsubsidized housing is being built. Cal-Bride is an extremely weak market, so rather than trying to build its way toward a better neighborhood, it needs to clean up what it already has.

The ultimate goal is that Cal-Bride will become a neighborhood in which people choose to live, and in which developers and businesses appropriate for the area choose to take risks and establish businesses, Buki said.

The key in accomplishing this, Boehlke said, is getting residents — whether renters or home owners — to invest in the neighborhood, and controlling how the neighborhood is perceived.

“The first thing every neighborhood needs to decide is what its story is,” Boehlke said. “If you don’t control the identity of your neighborhood, others will.”

He stressed that “investment” isn’t just about home ownership, but about picking up trash, planting flowers and turning on porch lights at night to make a street look welcoming. All, or at least most, neighborhood residents have to invest for a community to be successful, he said.

Beck Pooley identified several gateway areas that would be good for the community to focus on “cleaning and greening” and adding signage. She also pointed out sections of the neighborhood that need lots stabilized and areas that need façade improvements.

Buki and his associates will come back for another meeting in May to discuss several strategies. They will spend the next few months developing those strategies and allow the residents to give input and feedback.