Perry Hilltop citizens escort mayor on neighborhood walkthrough


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had Public Works begin immediately clearing overgrown, empty lots after a neighborhood sweep of Perry Hilltop organized by the Perry Hilltop Citizens’ Council on July 20.

Sherman Culver, president of the council, said that community members have been trying to bring the neighborhood’s problems to the mayor’s attention for some time.

“The goal is to point out needs that have been neglected for a long time,” Culver said as he pointed to a deteriorating underpass and several abandoned buildings on the corner of Perrysville Avenue and Charles Street.

Ravenstahl didn’t say much during the walkthrough. As the group walked down Perrysville Avenue and a few smaller side streets, the mayor listened to various community members speak about the neighborhood’s problems.

Ravenstahl nodded, said “okay” and occasionally consulted with a member of Pittsburgh Public Works or Lauren Burn, the neighborhood initiative coordinator, both of whom followed him on the tour.

Burn mentioned that there were already plans in the works for new trash cans along Perrysville Avenue, and Ravenstahl agreed to have Public Works remove several empty parking meter poles, in addition to cleaning up all the overgrown lots.

As the group walked by several empty lots on Ellzey Street, Ravenstahl suggested a community garden.

“Rather than cutting the weeds every summer, do something positive with it,” he said.

Shirley Jordan, who has lived on Perry Hilltop for 38 years and is a member of the citizens’ council, said the neighborhood used to be nice, but now has issues with trash, rodents, dilapidated buildings and drugs.

“We do everything to try to make the neighborhood better, more livable,” Jordan said. “We’re always overlooked. Something needs to be done. There were all kinds of businesses, now look at it.”

Currently the only operating business at the intersection of Perrysville Avenue and Charles Street is Swinkos, a convenience store.

Jordan’s house is surrounded on one side by an empty lot and on the other by an abandoned house that is falling apart. Although she doesn’t own the lot, her son-in-law cuts the grass to keep it looking nice.

“That window’s going to fall out and hit me when I come out of my house one day,” she said, pointing to a second floor window on the abandoned house that looked as if it could tumble down at any moment.

On Legion Way, Perry Hilltop Citizens Council Secretary Janet Gunter pointed to piles of trash bags filled with branches and leaves. She told Ravenstahl that Redd Up Pittsburgh had been around to clear some overgrowth, but then never picked up the trash.

A little further down the street, an empty lot filled with an enormous growth of leafy weeds threatened to overtake an abandoned, rotting building. The weeds reached the top of the two or three-story house and spilled out into the alley.

Peter Drummond, a resident of Perry Hilltop for 25 years, said that he’s had to take an active part to prevent drug trafficking in Legion Way, which runs behind his house.

He said when he saw a car idling out back, he took pictures and made sure he was seen. Since he started doing that, he said the trafficking has gone down drastically. He also has a motion-activated light behind his house that illuminates most of that part of the alley, he said.

“I see a lot of good things coming,” he said. “I’m hoping this walkthrough will help.”

Deanna Robinson, wife of Odell Robinson of Robinson Funeral Home, Inc. on Perrysville Avenue, also spoke with Ravenstahl and offered her family’s help.

She said that Robinson Funeral Home often deals with victims of violent crimes, and that she sees many community members suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome from the violence in the area.

“Some people don’t have the luxury to say ‘I’m moving out of this cemetery,’” she said, referring to people who have had loved ones die in their homes or in their neighborhoods because of violence.

At the end of the tour, which cycled back around to the corner of Perrysville Avenue and Charles Street, Mark Smith, a Perry Hilltop Citizens’ Council member, spoke with the mayor about installing cameras at the intersection.

Ravenstahl agreed the cameras would go a long way to cleaning up the community. The video would feed directly to the Zone 1 Police Station.

“When those cameras get installed, people know that,” he said. “They’re going to say ‘Wow, something’s going on.’”

Culver and the council put together a DVD with videos and still pictures of eyesores and blight throughout the entire community and presented it to Ravenstahl at the beginning of the tour so that he could see the rest of the neighborhood.

Lisa Miles, Perry Hilltop resident and author of the book Resurrecting Allegheny City, asked the mayor not to forget about lower Perry Hilltop and the many deteriorating historic sites there.

Jordan initiated the walkthrough after she caught up with Ravenstahl at an awards dinner in May and brought the neighborhood’s problems to his attention.

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