by Sherri Knight

Sit down with anyone from the Northside for a cold drink on a hot summer day and you will hear, see, and feel the passion for their respective neighborhoods in this historic area of Pittsburgh. The phrase “neighbor to neighbor” denotes different things to different people. For most, the phrase conjures images of cookouts and potlucks, gardening together, watching kids ride bikes and jump through sprinklers, raking leaves in the fall, or keeping an eye out when someone is away on vacation. For the Northside residents, it means all this and more. It means fellowship, preservation, hard work, tenacity, positive promotion of the area, and memories. This summer, hundreds of Northside community members are putting these values into practice with help of $1,000 grants from The Sprout Fund’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor program.

Over the past two months, neighbors have gathered to work together toward shared goals to improve their community. Despite a rainy start to the summer, Northsiders have been digging in, greening up, and heading outdoors.

The Gaudi of Spring Hill

Striving to be the “Gaudi of Spring Hill”, artist Linda Wallen has been involved in the creation of a number of mosaic murals and other arts initiatives in the area. She is currently the project lead on the Deutschtown City Steps Mural and has been busy coordinating efforts to get people involved in painting and preparing the tiles for eventual installation in September 2015.

Photo: Jacqueline YeungIn June, a group gathered to paint, converse, and interact at the Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center at the corner of Tripoli and Madison, with plans to meet continually over the summer until the tiles for all the proposed images and emerging themes are ready to install. Wallen, whose work was recently profiled on the quirky but overtly pro-Pittsburgh blog, Orbit, tells us that the images will reflect the area and represent landmarks like Teutonia Mannerchor, the private German social club that has been in the area since the mid 1800s, along with other local favorite haunts like Penn Brewery and the 16th Street Bridge. Her goals are to “make our Northside more beautiful” by celebrating the colorful past and bright future of the neighborhood.

Activating Outdoor Recreation

Sean Brady talks earnestly about the many biking and hiking trails in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, yet wonders why there is no “greenway” from Riverview Park and Benton Field out to Bellvue Park, Avonworth Park, and Tom’s Run Nature Reserve in Emsworth. Making people aware that this is an interest in the community and an initiative worth a second look, he has started the Northside Greenways Map initiative, also funded by a Neighbor to Neighbor grant so that “Pittsburgh’s Northside (can become) a model for greenspace and greenway connectivity”.

Growing greener

Ambitious Northsiders are leading several “greening” projects to reconnect the built and natural environments like the tree planting initaitive Green Up Troy Hill initiative and vacant land remediation efforts of the Henderson Gateway Green and Screen.

A fixture in the neighborhood for this and other unification initiatives and project lead on the Manchester Growing Together Garden, Lisa Freeman is encouraged by the diversity of community members who have come together to produce a collaborative art installation and dedicate a community garden. Hoping to gain even engage neighbors who are often left out of community initiatives, Freeman talks optimistically about future potluck dinners planned, additional evening parties, and more time in the play space there for the children.

Photo: Ben Filio

“All in all,” says Freeman, “I feel that everyone was engaged and the whole experience was truly heart-warming. I watched young, old, black, white, and others of all backgrounds interact and enjoy. My goal, when I go door to door in the rain to gauge interest in these events, is to break down these invisible barriers and to make sure that our space becomes a center of good will. This takes funding and energy, and we are grateful to have these opportunities this summer.”

With “a lot more to accomplish”, the Manchester Growing Together Garden will have ongoing events scheduled through August 7, 2015, and plans are in place for a ladies’ night out, a men’s night out, cooking contests, a painting night and more, all in the space that strives to be “a center of good will” at the corner of Juniata and Fulton.

Growing Together

All of these projects and initiatives show a shared vision for Pittsburgh’s Northside as a place emerging from years of difficult transition to become one of the city’s most vibrant, diverse, and dynamic communities. It’s a place where puppets dance through the neighborhoods, music plays in the streets, families share simple joys in gardens and parks, and dedicated citizens are leading their communities to a bright future.

For more information on the upcoming Neighbor-to-Neighbor events you can get involved with, check out the community calendar at sproutfund.org/northside.