Neighborhood planning firm CZB gave California-Kirkbride two options to improve their community: Aggressively take over properties and demolish most of them to create open spaces and urban forests, or wait until properties are vacated to take them over and allow areas to “return to nature.”

CZB Principal Charles Buki presented his recommendations to a “pretty relaxed” small group of Cal-Bride and Central Northside residents last night.

The biggest challenges Cal-Bride faces are a general weak housing market, in the region, city and that particular neighborhood, as well as community capacity, Buki said.

“There’s just so many really good houses at really reasonable prices anywhere else in the city,” Buki said in a phone interview.

And even if CZB or another company invested millions in the community tomorrow, there aren’t enough engaged residents to maintain the improvements.

One of his recommendations is to create 4,000 square feet gardens on 70 parcels throughout the neighborhood, but again, capacity is a major concern, he said.

“The community garden fairy doesn’t come dead head your tomato plants. You guys have to do it.”

But even something as simple and easy as filling those lots with sunflowers would make a dramatic improvement.

Buki suggested creating a six acre park in the center of the neighborhood that would close off a few streets and expose the underlying cobblestone on others.

He would also like to see a section by Kunkle Way that borders Manchester become an urban forest. Right now, it looks like a “dark, dismal hollow” with overgrown lots and abandoned houses.

If the community chooses the slower approach, it would wait until a house became vacant, gain site control, demolish it and then plant native species on the lot in order to turn the area into a welcoming green space.

Another area that needs to be addressed is the city steps throughout the neighborhood. Currently, they are overgrown, littered with trash and debris and falling apart.

“We think the steps … look pretty scary,” Buki said.

His plan calls for replacing them with a new, more welcoming design that would fit into the neighborhood’s new, open aesthetic.

Despite the challenges, CZB’s in-depth study of the neighborhood turned up some positives.

So far, Buki said he’s been impressed with many of the residents from both sides of Brighton Road.

Another positive is that the neighborhood groups would not have to spend years acquiring properties, because the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, City of Pittsburgh and URA already own more than 350 between them, which is more than a third of the 857 lots in the neighborhood.

Now, the residents have to think about which aspects of the plan they like, and which they don’t. Ronell Guy, executive director of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, said the community will come together on June 8 to discuss the plan and come up with their own recommendations.

“I think the community needs to come up with some basic principles,” Guy said, like preservation and affordability.

While she thinks the plan is innovative and has merit, her concern is that many Cal-Bride residents have invested a lot of time and money into their homes, and that’s important to them.

On June 9 CZB will meet with residents again and then incorporate the community’s ideas into the final plan.

Ideally, Buki said the community group would then hire someone to work directly with residents to build to the neighborhood’s capacity.

“We don’t think that capacity is just going to happen,” he said.