Wilkinsburg

Flickr user Phil Dragash

In the last 4 ½ years, 35 commercial properties in Wilkinsburg’s central business district have been sold, 22 new businesses have moved in, and 12 formerly vacant storefronts have been filled.

That’s according to Tracey Evans, Executive Director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.

Like many towns in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Wilkinsburg is slowly emerging from the combined effects of the 2008 economic recession and the steel industry’s demise in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Wilkinsburg is a community in transition, and now it’s getting help to implement change.

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC) has announced that the borough has been accepted into the Main Street program.

The state operated Main Street program helps communities revitalize their central business districts and residential neighborhoods.

“It will give us more access to funding from the state for projects, such as façade grants or other planning grants that we need to continue working on,” said Tracey Evans, WCDC executive director.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

To drive through Wilkinsburg is to tour the ravages of a post-industrial Pittsburgh, a suburb of the comeback city that just hasn’t come back, yet. Houses stand empty, there are open lots, drug deals go down in broad daylight. And then, glimmering on a corner lot: a house painted gold.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Before German immigrant Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the linotype machine in the late 19th century, type was assembled one letter at a time. But the linotype (dubbed the "eighth wonder of the world" by Thomas Edison) allowed printers to compose entire lines of text — hence the name "line-o-type."

Flash forward some 130 years, and we meet Brandon Boan, one of a growing number of artists and designers living and working in Wilkinsburg.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala says a Pittsburgh police officer who shot and killed a man in Wilkinsburg in April was justified in opening fire.

Officials say Adrian Williams, 29, who was killed in the shooting, had led police on an early-morning high-speed chase that started in Homewood and ended in Wilkinsburg, when he crashed the car he was driving and then ran through yards with a handgun.

Zappala said at least 12 other officers were at the scene and had been involved in the chase. Officer Christopher Kertis shot Williams six times.

Wilkinsburg could turn into the new South Side, according to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC), after they re-apply for the Main Street Program.

WCDC Executive Director Tracey Evans said Wilkinsburg has been compared to South Side back in 1975 before they partnered with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, and now that Wilkinsburg has partnered with the same foundation, the community is hoping for the same success, especially by being recognized for the Main Street Program.

“Muslims for Life” is holding a blood drive in Wilkinsburg Monday as part of a national campaign to collect 12,000 pints of blood and save an estimated 36,000 lives.

Adnan Ahmed, an organizer for the event, said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community launched the campaign in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

“On that particular day, not only those planes, but also the religion of Islam we believe was hijacked by painting a wrong and militant picture of the religion,” said Ahmed. “And the terrorist extremists have created suspicion of all Muslims.”

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.

Eighteen people alleged to have ties to a violent drug gang based in Wilkinsburg have been arrested in what is being called a major bust. The suspected drug dealers were taken into custody as part of a joint effort involving the PA Attorney General's Organized Crime Section and the Allegheny County Police.

The "Operation Wilkinsburg Crew" was launched, according to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, in reaction to a series of homicides and shootings in Wilkinsburg believed to be related to heroin trafficking.

Wilkinsburg once had a popular business district with a large, upwardly mobile population, according to the Borough of Wilkinsburg website.

But the borough has struggled ever since the steel mill closures in the 1970s and '80s resulted in layoffs and a depleted tax base.

But Wilkinsburg students are looking towards the future.

The students, as part of an after-school program called FUSE, produced a short documentary called "Wilkinsburg: The Way We See It," which highlights efforts made by the community to redevelop.