Building Innovation

Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

For decades, contractors demolishing old buildings in Pittsburgh knocked them through the sub-flooring and filled in the holes with whatever was left behind. Debris, support walls, bricks and even appliances -- all topped off with dirt.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh has seen an economic turnaround in recent years, but not every neighborhood has been part of the renaissance. 

Homewood has seen more population loss than any neighborhood and economic development for decades has been nearly nonexistent. Its reputation has become one of crime and poverty, which plays out regularly on the nightly news, with reports of murders in the 1-square-mile neighborhood on the northeastern corner of the city.

But when you ask William Baker, he sees a community on the rise.

Google Maps

 

Some of the remaining residents of the Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty have formed a crisis committee, and are asking for more time, as the deadline for relocation nears.

About 30 units in the apartment complex remain occupied, and residents have until Feb. 28 to vacate. 

Plan Would Take Politicians Out Of Redistricting

Jan 25, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania’s next redistricting effort is five years away, but one state lawmaker is already thinking about changing how it’s done.

Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria) plans to propose an overhaul that would take politicians out of the process of redrawing district lines to accommodate population changes.

Wozniak echoes the observations of pollsters and political science professors when he talks about partisan redistricting, and how Republican control of the process for the past two cycles has yielded GOP pickups and, Wozniak believes, more ideologically extreme candidates.

Update:  8:30 a.m.  The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania canceled its media briefing Monday on its legislative priorities due to the weekend's snowstorm. The organization instead issued a press release. 90.5 WESA News spoke with the group's executive director in advance of Monday's planned event.

In two weeks, Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to unveil his 2016-17 budget. But county leaders from across the state want to make sure the governor and lawmakers hear their legislative agendas first.

Njaimeh Njie / Cafe Con Leche

A new residency program is aiming to bring more Latino artists to Pittsburgh and diversify the city's art scene. 

Latinos make up about 17 percent of the country’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but in 2010, only accounted for 2 percent of Pittsburgh’s population.

Tara Sherry-Torres, founder of Cafe Con Leche, which works to bring together the city's Latino community, said Pittsburgh's not on par with the growing Latino populations seen in other major metropolitan cities.

Connecting Pittsburgh's Urban Landscape

Jan 5, 2016
David Brossard / flickr

More bike lanes, benches and signs guiding residents and visitors to the next Downtown location are just some of the changes that could be in store for Pittsburgh. But if space annexed by one mode of transportation will be missed by the others, what tensions could be created? PublicSource reporter Eric Holmberg has explored this question and joins us to look at how people's use of public spaces and major streets is evolving in the Steel City.                   

Tony Alter / Flickr

Nine University of Notre Dame students will spend two days sleeping and volunteering in homeless shelters throughout their native city for school.

The one-credit, winter course aims to teach students about the complexities of urban poverty through an overnight “urban plunge” this week.

Organizers said 150 students will participate in 25 cities around the country. In Pittsburgh, students plan to visit organizations like the North Side's Pleasant Valley Men’s Shelter (male students only) and the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center located Downtown, among others.

Daniel Oines / Flickr

 

The 90-year old structurally deficient Liberty Bridge will undergo its first major renovation in 30 years starting in April.

“It’s due,” said state Department of Transportation District Executive Dan Cessna.

Rhys A. / Flickr

Turnpike motorists, get ready to dig a little deeper.  Effective Jan. 3, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is hiking tolls for an eighth straight year.

Cash and E-ZPass customers will pay an additional 6 percent in 2016. E-ZPass remains the least expensive option at its discounted rate. 

“E-ZPass customers can save as much as 35 percent,” spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

Paul Chamberlain / Flickr

Pittsburgh's Department of City Planning has proposed the use of a zoning tool called an Interim Planning Overlay District, or IPOD, to harness greater public participation in determining the future use of its riverfronts.

Shores wrapping from Hazelwood to the Strip District, across the North Shore and along the South Side have transformed in recent years from industrial hubs to places to live, work, shop and play.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County is looking for development options for more than 150 acres of brownfield space surrounding a former steel yard in Rankin.

The Feasibility Of Adding Another Amtrak Line

Dec 14, 2015
David Goldman / AP Images

In an effort to increase passenger rail use and decrease congestion on Pennsylvania’s roads, PennDOT announced last week that it would be discounting tickets for Amtrak rides across the commonwealth.  Pittsburgh was added to the network between Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia and New York in what’s being called “PA Trips By Train.” Will this encourage Pittsburgh travelers to jump on board? We’ll ask Lucinda Beattie, Vice President of Transportation, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and Mark Spada of the Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail.

Mark Moz / Flickr

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to the rental property registration program, which was first introduced more than a year ago.

Larkin Page-Jacobs / WESA

Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood is changing. Once considered by many to be a dangerous and undesirable place to live, the community has seen its popularity grow, and at least one new business is hoping to be inclusive of Pittsburgh residents, both new and long established.

erjk.amerjka / Flickr

 

An Allentown-based neighborhood advocacy group announced a program Thursday offering grants and legal advice to Beltzhoover residents willing to help clean up blighted properties and prevent more from falling into disrepair.

Funded through a $15,000 grant from the PNC Foundation, the Hilltop Alliance is offering homeowners up to $250 to purchase a side yard and free legal services to create a will for their existing property.

Repairing Pennsylvania's Aging Bridges

Dec 7, 2015
Luke H. Gordon / flickr

Hundreds of bridges across the commonwealth are in desperate need of repair or replacement. Many of them are in Allegheny County. Since Pennsylvania is home to some of the oldest infrastructure in the country, a public-private partnership is working to replace a number of these bridges.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

The Alfred E. Hunt Armory takes up an entire city block of Shadyside. Its original purpose was to house military weapons. It was later a training facility and a community center. It was the venue for Led Zeppelin’s first Pittsburgh show and touted presidential candidates and evangelist Billy Graham.

The more than a century old historic landmark was last used by the 28th infantry of the National Guard until 2013.  

The Office of Public Art

The Office of Public Art is aiming to make Pittsburgh more welcoming to newcomers in immigrant neighborhoods with public art installations. 

The Peduto Administration, OPA and the Department of Public Planning are teaming up to seek grant money from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for public art projects that will improve the quality of life in immigrant communities.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

City Councilman Ricky Burgess is pushing a pair of bills that he said would empower people in some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods to guide economic and community development.

PWSA Meter Reading Challenges Continue To Impact Customer Bills

Dec 2, 2015
Emilian Robert Vicol / flickr

Throughout the last year, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been implementing a new system for transmitting meter reading data.  Many customers immediately saw changes to their bills, with some complaining of excessive charges, and even one filing a class-action lawsuit over the problems.  Recently Pittsburgh City Council has pressured the organization to change the appeal process for the new bills and the overall culture of customer service at PWSA. Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross who serves on the PWSA board as well as PWSA Executive Director Jim Good answer questions about the new meters and clarify what the authority is doing to improve their service.

Paris Climate Talks From A Pennsylvania Perspective

Dec 2, 2015

A number of world leaders are in Paris this week to address the issue of climate change. Some are calling this the planet’s last best hope to reduce the impact climate change is having on the environment. We’ll get reaction to the climate talks from a commonwealth perspective with Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of Penn Future.  We’ll also hear from Mark Dixon, filmmaker and environmental activist currently in Paris at COP21.

Why Some Big Businesses Are Backing The Clean Power Plan

Dec 1, 2015
Mike Mozart / Flickr

Big businesses often oppose increased government regulations. But the Clean Power Plan—the Obama administration's attempt to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants—is drawing backers in the big box business world.

“This is really not a political issue; it’s a strategic issue, it’s a business issue,” says Mark Buckley, Vice President of Environmental Affairs for Staples. “It’s really rooted in practical economics for us.”

Jason Roth / Save Enright Parklet community group

East Liberty residents are calling for a public hearing on the future of Enright Parklet after the Pittsburgh Planning Commission voted last month to rezone the park and the adjacent property on which currently sits the Penn Plaza apartment complex.

Phil Pavely / Trib Total Media

More than a century ago, the fight between George Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, and Thomas Edison in West Orange New Jersey, over whose power system was better, ended with Westinghouse and alternating current as a clear winner. But research at the University of Pittsburgh has rekindled that fight.

Technology And The Millennial Brain

Nov 30, 2015
Allan Ajifo / flickr

Recent studies show the average millennial (those born between 1980 and 2000) spends 18 hours a day consuming media, with the majority online or on their mobile device.  According to the PEW Research Center, 90% of millennials use social media.  As technology continues to become more prevalent in the lives of young people, just how much is brain development influenced?

Elaina Zachos, Public Source reporter and author of “Technology is Changing the Millennial Brain,” says that the areas of the brain most affected by technology are the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum.  These areas control personality, cognitive function and communication skills. 

Bryan Orr / For 90.5 WESA

The Office of Public Art, is looking for community organizations to help develop new public art installations in six city neighborhoods through the “placemaking” process.

The office, a partnership between the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the Pittsburgh Department of Public Planning, is collaborating with Neighborhood Allies, a community development organization that matches growing neighborhoods with resources.

'Mighty' Etna: The Greening of a Blue-Collar River Town

Nov 27, 2015
Lou Blouin / The Allegheny Front

Some days, it might be easier if Mary Ellen Ramage simply left her right arm constantly in the air in a waving position. As the perpetually cheery borough manager of the small river town of Etna, Pennsylvania, the stream of greetings and hugs simply comes too quickly to allow time for a break. Often, the shouts of “Hey, Mary Ellen!” fly past from passing pickup trucks before she can identify the voices. But being able to patch together who they are from the back of a vehicle is one of the perks of “literally knowing everyone in town.”

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh found that a text message program that aimed to help young adults cut down on binge drinking worked six months after the program ended.

The study is in the journal PLOS ONE.

Iain Watson / Flickr

A candlelight peace vigil is planned in East Liberty next month. As East End Cooperative Ministry Executive Director Michael Mingrone imagines it, thousands of people from across faiths and walks of life will line the streets, candles in hand, conveying a message of solidarity for as far as the eye can see.

“We really wanted to focus on the act of peace and how it’s created,” said Mingrone. “The concept is we create peace within ourselves and our homes and then it gets shared throughout our community, to our country, to the world.”

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