Nearly 200 residents filled the auditorium of Propel Hazelwood last week for the first community meeting of the Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan.
The crowd broke into applause when Pastor Tim Smith of Keystone Church thanked everyone for coming out.
“This is what community action looks like,” said Smith, who in addition to his work as a pastor is the executive director of community engagement nonprofit Center of Life. “This is just indicative of how we do things in Hazelwood.”
Hazelwood is home to 5,000 people, down from nearly 30,000 in the neighborhood’s heyday when the mills were booming and the wider economy was, too. While the community has struggled with decline, there’s a sense of momentum now, says Smith, citing the opening of Propel Hazelwood, as well as the community’s successful bid to purchase the Gladstone Middle School building.
“They are shaping with their own minds and their own hands what this community’s going to look like in the future, and how this community is going to operate in the future, as well," he said.
Over the next nine months, three firms will work with the residents of Greater Hazelwood—which includes Glen Hazel—to build the master plan: Gensler, a planning and architecture firm, will be responsible for overall design; The UrbanKind Institute will steer community engagement; and Mosaic Urban Partners will study the plan’s economic development aspects. Alexander Phillips is the project’s planner from Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning.
Big printouts hung in the school’s hallway, a series of assessments Gensler has begun on existing conditions such as population, green space and roadways. Andre Brumfield, Gensler’s urban design leader, asked residents to take a look as they moved to the gym for the evening’s activities.
“This is our first take on this,” said Brumfield. “We’re relying on you ... to identify what we’ve got right, and what we got wrong. And just as important, what’s missing.”
Over the next two hours, residents used maps to show where they live, work, shop, worship, heal and play; identified priorities ranging from affordable housing to transportation; and imagined headlines 10 years from now reporting on exciting news in the community.
The planning process is tracking alongside development at Almono, the 178-acre former steel making site that stretches along the neighborhood’s riverfront. Communication between community groups and Almono’s management has been and will continue to be key to forming one cohesive plan that reintegrates the site into Hazelwood, said Sonya Tilghman, executive director of The Hazelwood Initiative.
“It’s all one community. It’s not a separate thing. We know that, the Almono team knows that,” she said. “Hazelwood is a great place, it’s one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city ... people are interested, they’re engaged and they want to see something great happen.”
The following day, the Almono development was rechristened Hazelwood Green. When project director Rebecca Flora announced the name change, she affirmed the development’s intent.
“We’re here today to celebrate a new beginning. For this site, and its neighborhood,” she said. “Together we are creating a new model for sustainable development that will advance our region’s place in a global innovation economy.”
In the earliest stages of site preparation, some Hazelwood residents were concerned the development would be separate from the neighborhood, and hurt its main street.
Flora said Hazelwood Green will adopt the highest environmental standards and performance metrics which will attract companies committed to creating opportunities for all; the site is shovel-ready. The Regional Industrial Development Corporation, or RIDC, owns the old mill building, Mill 19. Crews are stripping the building’s roof and shell to prepare for construction of three new buildings underneath its superstructure.
A community event was held on the site Saturday to solicit ideas for the first public plaza there. Roughly 20 percent of the site has been designated as public space.