Wilkinsburg, like other Pittsburgh neighborhoods, has had its share of troubles including crime, blight, loss of population and struggling schools.
And also like other neighborhoods, Wilkinsburg is trying to turn all of that around and revitalize. The fruits of some of those efforts will be on display for the inaugural Wilkinsburg House and Garden Tour.
Lush gardens and architectural treasures may not be the first thing that comes to peoples’ minds when thinking about Wilkinsburg, and that’s something community leaders are trying to change.
“We’ve worked quite a bit with the police department; we’ve had a really great police chief for the past seven years,” said Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation. “There’s still crime perception, and there are certainly issues, but it’s improved a lot. We have a lot of block clubs, and so changing that attitude is something we’ve been challenged with.”
There are other problems that go beyond perception, including the state of the Wilkinsburg school district. The district was ranked 103rd out of 105 western Pennsylvania school districts in 2013. The Pittsburgh Business Times rankings were based on the past three years of PSSA scored. Statewide the district ranked 494th out of 498 school districts. Plus, taxes there remain high.
“We’ve been working with the school district to address some of those issues and see if we can come up with solutions to make it more equitable,” said Evans.
Wilkinsburg leaders are hopeful all of the efforts to revitalize are paying off.
“We’ve definitely experienced an increase in people interested in coming into Wilkinsburg: homeowners, renters, businesses, investors,” Evans said. “Here at the WCDC, we’ve had over a 250 percent increase in people interested calling in this year.”
The House and Garden Tour is poised to help spur interest in the community. The tour will showcase churches and homes.
“Some that are historical, houses that have been maintained that way for a long time, and a few that are recently renovated properties that have been vacant,” Evans said. “It’s a really great example of how investment is coming back into the community.”
The garden portion will showcase a local stormwater garden at a home and a permaculture garden, which is a self-maintained garden based on the natural ecosystem. The Sept. 28 tour will end at Biddle’s Escape Coffee Shop and will include food trucks and other vendors.