By Cristina Holtzer
Pittsburgh’s Northside may have better schools and landlords in its future if all goes to plan.
Over the next 10 to 20 years Pittsburgh’s Buhl Foundation plans to spend $40 to $60 million dollars revitalizing the Northside, hoping to make it a place where residents feel proud.
The Buhl Foundation, started in 1927 according to foundation president Frederick Thieman, is the oldest foundation in Pittsburgh and plans to spend $3 to $5 million each year in the Northside during the 20-year time frame.
Thieman said the foundation has been searching for ways to be “more impactful with its spending” and after considering many areas, the Northside appeared to be the most pressing.
“A lot of people would say that Pittsburgh was at a tipping point five or 10 years ago, and that we tipped in the right direction,” Thieman said. “But that’s not necessarily true for the Northside.”
The Northside if full of valuable assets, Thieman said, but will also present the foundation with challenges such as finding more desirable landlords and dealing with declining vacant properties.
Diana Bucco, Buhl Foundation vice president, said the goals of funding are to improve “quality of education, quality of place and quality of employment” in the Northside.
In the closing months of 2013 Bucco and the Buhl Foundation interviewed 400 people including Northside community leaders and more than 200 people who live and work in the area.
“We began to hear consistent themes around dealing with the abandoned structures and the vacant lots, developing more affordable home ownership and the quality of education,” Thieman said.
Scott Brooks, 33, works in marketing and said he visits the Northside at least once per week. He is not affiliated with the Buhl Foundation, but said he thinks Buhl should focus on bringing middle class families there by improving the public schools.
“The proximity to Downtown is better than any neighborhood in the city and plenty of young professionals would flock there if their kids could get good public schooling,” Brooks said.
The number of people living in poverty in the Northside is close to 20 percent, Thieman said, but nearly 40 percent of Northside children live in poverty, a rate much higher than the city average.
Thieman said the foundation hopes to direct funding to elementary schools to get younger children reading and ready for later schooling. Northside residents recently worked with the Foundation to create strategies.
During March, April, May and for the rest of June, teams of 20 to 35 Northside residents are working together to “build consensus for a unified plan to move the Northside forward,” Thieman said.
Bucco said the strategy teams will then meet in July to reveal all their findings and build a cohesive plan to tackle all their issues raised.
“Each day we learn a little bit more and are trying to get a little bit smarter about it,” Bucco said of the plan.
The foundation asked residents what they’d like to see for their communities and families, and Bucco said many responded with concrete goals such as a trail that connects all 18 neighborhoods of the Northside.
Other goals listed by community members included cleaning up the entranceway to Manchester, beautifying the exit ramp from Route 28 to Spring Garden and Deutschtown and a rest stop for bicycles near Woods Run.
Though the efforts will take many years to make lasting changes, Thieman said, Buhl plans to make some “early wins” such as granting funding to smaller neighborhoods to build momentum. He said the foundation anticipates spending about 80 percent of its resources on the Northside project.
“The choice to improve the Northside was an easy one,” Brooks said. “The location is fantastic, they already have great old houses that are ready to be improved, and they even have a grocery store so you wouldn’t have to go far for anything.”
At the end of this project, Northsider’s interviewed by the Buhl Foundation want the Northside to be a garbage free community, an area with better childcare and a place with “zero tolerance for bad landlords,” Bucco said.
“I have always said the greatest assets in the Northside are the people,” Bucco added.