In the Hilltop neighborhoods — known for their steep, winding roads; their trolley tracks and overhead wires; and their unbeatable views of the city below — you can sometimes feel a little removed from Pittsburgh. (And if you’re in Mt. Oliver Borough, you really are removed from Pittsburgh.) The streets are a little emptier, the businesses a little older, the communities a little quieter. To many, that’s a draw: The past few years have seen increased investment in the 11 Pittsburgh neighborhoods* and one borough that comprise the community, with an uptick in the number of residents, startups, and shops that call the area home. Outfits such as Meta Mesh Wireless Communities, Academy Pittsburgh, Black Forge Coffee House, and PublicSource have all made (or published) headlines here; and organizations like the Hilltop Alliance continue to advocate for a safe, prosperous community on the hill.
Now, say community leaders and longtime residents, it’s time to invest in the Hilltop’s children. A relative lack of youth-oriented spaces and programs has long loomed over area, though the recently renovated Carnegie Library Knoxville is an encouraging sign of change. Despite a scarcity of funding and space, volunteer-led organizations work year-round to engage the Hilltop’s kids, says Jamil Bey, director of the UrbanKind Institute on Brownsville Road. We caught up with Bey there to learn more about these organizations and about the Hilltop’s needs, desires, and ongoing efforts to remake learning.
*Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Bon Air, Carrick, Knoxville, Mount Washington, Mt. Oliver, the South Side Slopes, and St. Clair.
Can you tell us a bit about the UrbanKind Institute and its work?
We describe ourselves as a think-and-do tank — we do both policy research and actual projects that apply that research. We study anything related to urban life and what’s happening in cities, from food policy to transportation to playspaces and workforce development. We’re based in the Hilltop, but our work spans the county. Right now, we’re pitching a comprehensive community plan for the Homewood neighborhood; working with PolicyLink, Neighborhood Allies, and Urban Innovation21; and always working to keep the community engaged in the conversation about policies that affect them.
Which Remake Learning Days events in the Hilltop that you’re most excited for?
I like what we’re doing at Grandview Elementary School — it’s a service provider fair and fun day. They’ve invited all these folks who don’t have their own space to come into the school and showcase their work so that parents and young kids can go around and see what’s available. They’ll have games, prizes, food, music — things like that. It should be a great event for families.
What do you hope attendees get from Remake Learning Days?
My hope is that Remake Learning Days helps build capacity in the organizations that serve youth here. We’re doing a lot of work with Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time, and Remake Learning Days is a chance for us to connect folks to a larger network of service providers. Though the need is as great here as anywhere, outside of the library, there aren’t many youth-services organizations with paid staff — it’s all volunteer operations. They’re doing hard work and they’re very engaged with the kids they serve, but it’s not the same as a place like Homewood, where you have the YMCA and the Homewood Children’s Village and young people know they have a safe place to go.
What do Hilltop residents want for their community?
The general sense in the community is that there’s nothing for young people to do. There’s a rec center on Warrington Avenue in an old building from the 1930s, but unfortunately it’s poorly designed for modern use and can’t accommodate all the young people who want to use it. Between the building’s design, staffing, and program limitations, they have to stagger kids in by age group. And so the up-to-12-year-olds are there, and then they have to leave. Then the next group comes in, and the young kids go play in the laundromat. There’s nothing else to do. The laundromat is open, and there’s no one there to chase them away.
What makes the Hilltop special?
There are so many people who want to help. The fact that there are this many volunteer organizations in the Hilltop is impressive. They’re doing things year-round, and they don’t get the recognition they deserve. We’ve got the Hilltop Huskies — they’re talking about the benefits of health and getting kids not just out and playing, but deliberately thinking about how doing so contributes to a healthier you. They do great work. Voices Against Violence, too, serves a lot of kids with very little staff and very few people. Their summer camp enrolls more 200 kids every year, and they do year-round work with kids of all ages. There are a lot of good, hardworking people up here, and folks should come on up and support them.
To learn more about Remake Learning Days events happening in the Hilltop, please visit http://remakelearningdays.org/hilltop
This blog is part of “Neighborhood Navigators: Remaking Learning in Your Neighborhood,” a special initiative to connect children and youth in six Pittsburgh neighborhoods and parts of West Virginia to Remake Learning Days (May 15-26). Each week, we’ll spotlight a new community. In Pittsburgh, we’ll visit neighborhoods in the Northside, the Hilltop, the Hill District, the Mon Valley, the East End, and Hazelwood; in West Virginia, we’ll visit Morgantown, Charleston, and Wheeling.
Follow writer Ryan Rydzewski on Twitter @RyanRydzewski.
Remake Learning thanks the UrbanKind Institute for coordinating the Hilltop’s events and outreach.