An historic map dating back to the late nineteenth shows St. Franciscus Hospital comfortably nestled between St. Mary’s Cemetery and the emerging neighborhood of Lawrenceville. The scale of the structure becomes more apparent when we zoom in on the adjacent residential parcels, so newly created that they don’t yet have houses on them.  I haven’t a clue as to what kind of dialogue existed between institutions and the public a century ago, but I like to imagine what a nineteenth-century block watch meeting would have been like.  Prospective home builders and a smattering of residents crowd around a table in St. Mary’s Lyceum analyzing that turn-of-the-century map.  A portly bearded man in a snug three-piece suit jabs his meaty finger at large square labeled The Insane Department and bellows, “Pardon me, Sirs, are you suggesting that we build houses a stone’s throw from the nuthouse? If so, perhaps they have a padded room for you!”  The meeting then deteriorates into a hysterical free-for-all about a lack of parking for horses and buggies.

That disbeliever was proved wrong; by the early 1900s, countless row houses were constructed one hundred feet from the sanitarium (and in full disclosure, this author and his family have lived in one of them since 2004 (the houses…not a sanitarium)). Parcel by parcel and block by block, the densely packed residential neighborhood blossomed adjacent to the hospital whose name was later shortened to St. Francis, then lengthened to St. Francis Asylum for the Insane, then shortened back to St. Francis.  Or so say the maps.

Source: Historic Pittsburgh

In the century that followed, St. Francis held a place in the hearts of the community as an employer of so many of its residents, but its impact was felt much further.  Beyond providing comprehensive medical care, as a treatment center for those with mental illness or addiction, the hospital provided effective and compassionate care for families throughout Western Pennsylvania.

One hundred thirty-seven years after its inception, St. Francis announced in 2002 that it would close its doors permanently,  with the silver lining being that the St. Francis complex would be the new site for the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (CHP).  CHP was internationally renowned as a place that could perform extraordinary feats, and locally trusted as the go-to place for families throughout the region.  Most everyone who grows up in Western Pennsylvania is treated at Children’s sooner or later, for broken bones, ear infections or more complicated illnesses of all kinds.  In this way, Children’s was St. Francis’s next of kin and its rightful successor.

One doesn’t need an degree in urban design to know that the best reuse of a vacated hospital is another hospital, so CHP’s relocation was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that provided the community with much relief and hope following the St. Francis announcement.  There were concerns, of course, about how an aged-but-familiar hospital replaced with a new modern one would impact the community.

There was one salient and notable difference: whereas a new community grew around an existing hospital, its replacement would have to be designed and built to fit within an established community.  In other words, the initial development of the primarily residential neighborhood responded to the scale and use of St. Francis and, in doing so, achieved a long-lasting harmony.  Now, the burden of maintaining that balance had shifted to the forthcoming hospital.

CHP’s tradition of providing the very best care for children can’t be overstated, and it’s not the place of this author to discuss that issue.  What I am qualified to explore is the role of this institution as a neighbor, and how it has been woven into the fabric of Lawrenceville – one of Pittsburgh’s most sought-after neighborhoods.  After all, CHP relocated from the institution-driven neighborhood of Oakland to a primarily residential one, and like any valued institution – schools, places of worship, government buildings, etc. – it’s not only fair but necessary to evaluate how they alter, for better or worse, the community that predated it.

Lawrenceville’s relationship with CHP is now more than five years old, and with that milestone I set out to collect stories, observations and bits of data – a palette from which I’d try my hand at painting a picture of how this development, unprecedented in its scale, has affected the trajectory of one of Pittsburgh’s most dynamic neighborhoods.

The business owners, residents, CHP employees and other professionals who contributed to this story (most of whose names are changed or omitted) centered my attention on the following questions:  What impact has CHP had on real estate values of nearby residential properties?  Or on the business development in the Penn Main commercial district in which it resides? And has the quality of life changed for nearby residents since CHP’s arrival?

My conclusions, which were observational and not analytical, surprised me.

Awaiting the New Neighbor

As the opening of new CHP campus drew near in 2009, attempts to foretell its economic impacts began to show.  A sudden spike in home values revealed that houses were being priced and bought at a speculative future worth, and not at their present-day value.  Simultaneously, a few new businesses opened along Penn Avenue, indicating that a more robust business district was imminent.  This phenomenon, in hindsight, raised some obvious questions, including: How do urban hospitals impact their host communities – economically, socially and physically?

Though the community had opportunities to see the virtual hospital in 3D computer renderings before the design was approved, many were shocked by the imposing steel skeleton that now towered over everything as far the eye could see.  A collective sigh of relief, with hints of anxiousness, followed the completed construction of this more than $600 million LEED certified project which, beleaguered by delays had fallen two years behind schedule.  During this time, some local businesses closed and vacancies remained as such, and there was an overall sensation of time standing still.

Eventually the day arrived in May 2009 when patients were transferred by helicopter from the soon-to-be former Children’s Hospital in Oakland.  It was surreal and exciting, like M*A*S*H.  Throughout the day, dozens of thundering choppers floated down onto the helipads, before levitating and darting away like dragonflies.  The transformation was finally complete.

The Avenue

CHP sits within the small business district known as Penn Main, which began to stagnate before St. Francis announced its closure; and in the minds of many, Children’s would be the cure for its malaise.  On some level, most were aware that revitalizing a tired business district is not the job of a hospital.  But whether it was blind faith or common sense, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect that changes were forthcoming along Penn Avenue and nearby Main Street.  After all, with hundreds of employees (including, yes, wealthy doctors) and thousands of visitors, how could all those vacant storefronts not fill up?  In fact, full occupancy (or close to it) was discussed as a given, and the primary question was with what?  The mindset was that the community needed to be vigilant to ensure that these modest storefronts would attract neighborhood-serving businesses and not hospital-serving ones such as medical offices and suppliers that sold gauze pads.

“But until these long-vacant properties are leased, there is no room for the district to grow.”

There were 32 existing businesses in the Penn Main district before CHP broke ground, including gas stations, restaurants, professional offices and a strange company that sold brushes of every imaginable sort.  Since then, several have closed, several have opened, and several have opened and closed.

One business that exemplified the vacillation within Penn Main was the Lunchbox, a small deli opened by Brian Peltz while hospital construction was underway.  Directly across from the hospital, the Lunchbox thrived on 44th Street early on, relying heavily upon the dozens of construction workers on site each day.  Once the hospital opened, the Lunchbox’s business dropped off dramatically, and Peltz scaled back his menu, and to make up for lost revenue he began selling snacks, lottery tickets, and cigarettes.  “Lawrenceville Eateries on Life Support” paints a vivid picture of how the Lunchbox and other establishments along Penn Avenue were impacted.  Soon after, the Lunchbox had closed, but within another year the Green Bamboo Chinese restaurant took its place and remains open today.

Penn Main business district

Penn Main business district

There are currently 31 businesses in the district, one less than when construction of CHP began. Not the juggernaut many hoped for; nor the Medical Row others feared. To their credit, at the community’s behest CHP agreed not to include street-level retail in their design that would compete with existing and future storefront businesses along Penn Avenue.

On the spectrum between the sky is falling and the sky is the limit, it didn’t seem to occur to most everyone that a world-renowned hospital would have no measurable impact whatsoever on its adjoining business district as a whole.  In short, a non-factor.  With thousands of people there every day, how can this be?

The reasons aren’t all that mystifying.  According to a local data analyst, hospitals have regional economic impacts related to employment, vendors and other services, but generally are not economic engines at the neighborhood retail level.  A decade ago, a student project at Carnegie Mellon University conducted in partnership with the Lawrenceville Corporation concluded that the local business community should not expect hospital employees and guests to leave the hospital all that much.  Beyond that, there was little empirical evidence to go on, besides a Montreal-based case study which was difficult to read because it was written in French, and may have had gravy on it.

Within CHP is a cafeteria-style restaurant that not only offers extensive, high-quality food options such as sushi, but sells it at almost absurdly low prices.  A 24-hours kiosk (which is actually only open 23 hours a day; I found that out the hard way at 4:05 a.m.) sells Starbucks coffee, soft drinks and snacks, and nearby is a gift shop and a Rita’s Italian Ice cart.  Human nature may necessitate variety or the need to just get out from under the same roof from time to time.  But where there are people who are overwhelmingly busy, or under stress, or in a constant hurry (read: most everyone in a hospital), it becomes readily apparent why patronizing outside businesses is the exception and not the rule for most.

Though the district as a whole has remained status quo, it would be misleading to say that CHP has not had any impact on individual businesses; after all, people associated with it do patronize local businesses, just not all that much.

Several business owners shared their thoughts about the hospital as it pertained to their establishments, and as for the bottom line – how much revenue is a direct result of the hospital – responses varied from ‘negligible’ to ‘very important.’  One owner attributed sixty percent of receipts to the hospital.  “I wouldn’t be here without their business,” he said.  When I asked about what changes might facilitate additional business and occupancy, nearly all said –  before I could get the whole question out of my mouth – parking.

Others pointed to a more specific problem: long-vacant storefronts.  Within one critically important block of Penn Avenue adjacent to the hospital, there are eight storefronts that have been continuously vacant.  Seven of them are owned by the same family. (I was unable to obtain comments from the family who controls these properties.)


Long-vacant storefronts

Permanently dark windows deter prospective investors, which is a drag on existing businesses that covet more businesses and the additional foot traffic that would come along with it.  The result has been business development gridlock.  Yet, new businesses do continue to invest in the district, but they rotate in and out of the same storefronts.  This represents change, but not growth.

One native resident suggested that Children’s “take Penn Main under its wing and revitalize it,” noting that the district was much healthier during the St. Francis days; but another lifelong resident’s perspective was different: Penn Main was always “a bit sad”.  In either case, St. Francis didn’t actively tend to the commercial district’s needs then, just as CHP doesn’t now, and most agree that that isn’t the hospital’s responsibility to do so.  In nearby Bloomfield, West Penn Hospital employees receive discounts at local businesses through the West Penn 10% Club, a program run by the Bloomfield Development Corporation.  Christina Howell, the organization’s Executive Director, told me that the new program has been successful, and new businesses continue to join.  Such a program seems adaptable to Penn Main, but should be noted that it requires a community organization to coordinate it, not a hospital.

As with business owners, many residents stressed that CHP does not provide adequate parking for its users, which negatively impacts the business district (an issue discussed later in this story).  If CHP collaborated with local organizations and the City to support a long-term parking solution, the district could grow, they believe.

“Lawrenceville is emerging as a growth center…that sends economic ripples into adjoining neighborhoods.”

Though Bloomfield and Lawrenceville have little in common with the neighborhood of East Liberty, there is something that the former could learn from the latter regarding Penn Main.  After years of fruitless struggles to rebuild the core commercial district of East Liberty along Penn Avenue, the community adopted a strategy to redevelop from the outside in by starting anew and building upon the edges it shared with stronger markets, namely Shadyside.  As part of the first phase of the Eastside development, it was no coincidence that Whole Foods opened its first regional store in East Liberty along the Shadyside border.  What mystified a great many people made complete sense – Whole Foods was now located at the geographical center of the greatest concentration of wealth in Western Pennsylvania.

Penn Main is not at all suitable for large-footprint retailers, yet the strategy is germane: it shares an edge with the rapidly increasing wealth in Lawrenceville.  In East Liberty, this strategy forced major infrastructure investments, such as converting one-way streets into two-ways, and thus lends support to the argument for public investment in, say, a much-needed parking structure.

Let’s stroll away from the avenue and have a look the residential fabric that surrounds it.

The Residential-Institutional Edge

As a whole, the Lawrenceville housing market is as varied as much of the city.  During the Great Recession, the neighborhood seemed to launch itself from a slightly depressed regional housing market like a torpedo from a submarine.  In contrast to other places that were stagnate, in decline, or in outright free fall, Lawrenceville was gossipy with what the house down the street just sold for.

A common perception was (and still is) that this was directly attributable to the hospital.  Is that perception or reality?  What does a hospital have to do with nearby property values?  Very little, it turns out.

Real estate data is like a Ritter’s Diner western omelet – you never know what you’ll find inside.  Popular sites such as Trulia and Zillow use algorithms to slice open those westerns to make estimates about property values (and because I use the word ‘algorithm’ to describe anything mathematical that I don’t understand, I’m at their mercy).

Like many “weak-market” cities, Pittsburgh’s average property values have risen approximately 3% a year, or close to 20% over the past five.  (Brian O’Neill takes takes a longer view here.)  Residential property values within a half-mile of CHP have increased between 30% (hardly insignificant) to more than 300% (whopping) in that same five years, which led me to buy into the ‘hospital effect’, a phenomenon I presented to James, a real estate expert familiar with Lawrenceville.  James sees the hospital as mostly positive, but is unconvinced about its impact on real estate, and pointed out that I had only been looking at Lawrenceville, where CHP sits along a shared boundary with the neighborhood of Bloomfield, and encouraged me to look at the latter.

Within the same half-mile radius, but on the Bloomfield side of Penn Avenue, I found a different scenario.  Values were increasing, yes, but not on the same dramatic upward trajectory as on the Lawrenceville side of the line.  Zillow showed a great many properties in Bloomfield that increased in value dramatically, only to return to something much more modest.  James argued that the changing market has more to do with Lawrenceville itself – being on the right side of the line – and less with proximity to the hospital.  “I honestly believe that [the Lawrenceville restaurants such as] Coca and Piccolo Forno have more to do with it than CHP,” he said, and added to that the efforts of real estate companies like Wylie Holdings and risk-tolerant developers like A-1.

This is generally not understood beyond the boundaries of Lawrenceville. Many residents shared stories in which ‘outsiders’ have commented how they must be sitting on a gold mine now that Children’s was there.  Not one resident I spoke to believed this to be true, and all were clear: if not Children’s, the old St. Francis would have become something else, and Lawrenceville would have become exactly what it has.

While the values may not be as high, the growth in other parts of the Lawrenceville over the same time period is consistent with the areas surrounding the hospital: 61% increase in Lower Lawrenceville and 38% in Upper Lawrenceville.  The trajectories of these neighborhoods have been reasonably steady, whereas Bloomfield has fluctuated wildly; James surmised that this was the effect of buyers who have been priced out of Lawrenceville, and that the Bloomfield market is still sorting itself out.  He observed that Lawrenceville is emerging as a growth center (less so than Downtown or Oakland; more like Shadyside) that sends economic ripples into adjoining neighborhoods.  Just as units in Friendship were once (but no longer) advertised with the qualifier “close to Shadyside,” property throughout parts of Pittsburgh’s east end are now labeled as “close to Lawrenceville.”

Coordinated efforts have been made by the hospital, local community groups and others to encourage hospital employees to purchase or rent houses in the neighborhood as means of creating symbiosis between community and institution, like in the heyday of St. Francis, and to enjoy the benefits of being able to walk to work.

An accurate measure of these efforts is nearly impossible to achieve, but residents I talked to knew of very few who fit this ‘live/work’ demographic.  Jenny, Lawrenceville born and raised, told me that she knew she wanted to become a St. Francis nurse as a kid, and when she did, she joined her mother and sisters who already nursed there.  Her path was not uncommon she said, and that was why St. Francis had such strong roots here.  But that was a time when ‘live/work’ wasn’t an urban development strategy – it just happened on its own.  Jenny wrote: “If I had a choice, I would gladly go back to [St. Francis] with all of my colleagues (family) in a heartbeat. I am now at my second job location since [St. Francis] and I can honestly say that I genuinely keep in touch with my St. Francis family.”

Leah, another neighborhood native, shared nearly two hours of stories with me at her dining room table, reaffirming that the few doctors or nurses who live nearby work at hospitals other than Children’s.  Like James, Leah points to the eye test: there simply aren’t people walking around in hospital garb.  Why not?

Neither Lower nor Upper Lawrenceville meets the standard definition of walkable with respect to CHP, so their increasing values cannot realistically be attributed to their proximity to CHP. Lawrenceville is far from flat. Residences near the river sit two hundred feet lower in elevation from the hospital, and thus living “close” to work loses meaning quickly as one mile is seen by many as unwalkable.  CHP’s campus offers limited parking for employees, and those who are eligible pay a premium of  about $170/month.  Others can pay about $40/month to shuttle to work from a satellite lot one mile away – an arrangement that seems to run contrary to the live/work model.  Unless employees can find a house at the top of the hill or in nearby Bloomfield there’s a good chance they’ll have to drive to the satellite lot to access the shuttle.

“Quality of life issues for this area of Lawrenceville are wide-ranging, difficult to sort out, and often downright strange.”

Leah pointed out quite logically that most CHP employees transferred from its prior location in Oakland, where they also didn’t live, and therefore simply commute as they always have.  James validated this by saying that he rents far more units to CHP employees in other neighborhoods such as Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, and another realtor told me the precise number of houses she has sold to CHP employees: one.

The reality, quite simply, is that Lawrenceville is not only the “it” neighborhood, but happened to become the it neighborhood at a time when Pittsburgh as a whole was seeing real estate development happening at a feverish pace, unlike anything in the past two generations.  The ‘it neighborhood’ in the ‘it city.’

After five years, a fair observation may be that early speculative residential transactions were fueled by CHP’s arrival, but since then, pent-up demand and increasing prices and rents cannot be attributed to the hospital.  No one was more surprised by this than me, I admit.  When I posed this to Matthew Galluzzo, Lawrenceville Corporation’s Executive Director, he didn’t accept it at face value.

Galluzzo has a unique ability to respond to an unsolicited question as if he had been thinking about it all day, and put it this way, “The opening of Children’s on May 2, 2009 provided perceptional stability, that…like a well-known brand, made property owners comfortable with investing.”  In other words, when an institution spends $630 million, it makes fixing up a porch, updating a kitchen or renovating an entire house much easier for even the most cautious property owners.

The Neighborhood Below

Whereas CHP’s impact on residential and business development has been neutral, conversations about quality of life issues were more erratic and impassioned, and comments to both the good and bad mounted quickly.  Again, the challenge became a matter of sorting out which changes related directly to the hospital versus other phenomena of an evolving community.

Quality of life issues for this area of Lawrenceville are wide-ranging, difficult to sort out, and often downright strange.  Children’s proactively took significant steps to anticipate and mitigate known concerns.  The designated flight paths for helicopters steer their arrivals and departures over the Allegheny Cemetery, minimizing low-level flight above residences.  Similarly, ambulances silence sirens before they turn off Penn Avenue into the residential streets.

The most arduous conflict to date was centered around a persistent drone emanating from exhaust towers on the roof of the 20-story research tower that was reported as an irritant ten blocks away.  For those who lived closer, it was torture – or as one resident described it, “medieval almost” – a whirring buzz from which there was no escape.  Homeowners who invested money, time and sweat into their houses couldn’t relax outside, or even leave their windows open – prisoners of their own good fortune.

When the outcries turned to outrage, the hospital responded by spending approximately a quarter of a million dollars on acoustical engineers, studies and ultimately the implementation of puffy, sleeping bag-like mufflers on each of the fan towers.  The mummified fans can still be heard from various locations, but reduced to a faint white noise that the community seems content to live with.

CHP’s deft ability to orchestrate a major engineering feat like this makes their inability (and sometimes unwillingness) to address simpler matters and nuisances all the more puzzling.  Discussing parking makes me numb all over, but this neighborhood’s parking woes are, I admit, unique, and pose two challenging questions that have implications citywide:  Did CHP and the transportation planners at the City fail to meet CHP’s parking demand?  And what happens when the burden of institutional parking falls upon a community?

DSC_7938 (1)

An historically significant house was demolished in favor of this parking lot

Adjacent to downtown, the neighborhood of Uptown taught us that trading buildings for parking lots is a devastating trend that’s nearly impossible to reverse.  Penn Main is experiencing Uptown Light.  In recent years, Penn Main property owners have demolished several significant buildings in favor of small commercial lots, while others have leased out existing parking spaces to CHP employees.  Zoning requirements for landscaping/screening and proper ingress/egress are routinely ignored, and on the rare occasion when the city enforces its own regulations, the citations issued are minimal compared to the revenue illegal lots generate.

Meanwhile, as part of the Residential Permit Parking Program, countless Central Lawrenceville residents sell their visitors passes to hospital employees which enable them to park on residential streets for their entire work day; while others rent out space on their own property for CHP employees to park. More shocking is that residents occasionally find the cars of hospital visitors parked in their private driveways, and on at least one occasion, with a family sleeping in one.  Having a vehicle towed is a cumbersome process that requires the police to issue a citation, and only after 24 hours can the vehicle be towed.

“Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh seems to carry with it some unquantifiable benefits for the neighborhood at large.”

That employees are choosing parking options several blocks away that cost less than the rates they would otherwise pay their employer is a clear indication that CHP, as a major institution, did not provide sufficient parking for its users, and saddled the neighborhood with its unmet parking demand.

Similarly, the streets surrounding CHP have a Skid Row air about them.  Hunkered into doorways, sprawled out on private stoops and front porches, UPMC guests smoke cigarettes wherever they can find a spot where hospital security will leave them in peace.  In sub-freezing temperatures it is not the least bit uncommon to find parents of hospitalized children skulking around an alley having a smoke while their infant shivers in a nearby stroller.

UPMC’s company-wide ban on all UPMC properties is infuriatingly short-sighted, and worse, selectively enforced.  Under the banner of a healthy workplace and environment, smoking is prohibited amongst all employees, contractors and vendors while conducting any hospital-related business (even when off the clock during a lunch break).  The result has been the disappearance of smokers in scrubs,    but even the casual observer can see that the rules don’t apply to EMTs.  Nor do they apply to the employees (who suddenly appeared when the ban went into effect) who take “walks” down the alleys and side streets every two hours.  Most of them are courteous enough not to flick cigarette butts into nearby properties.  Fortunately, there are plenty of sewer catch basins for that.

Family and friends of patients are another story, banished to the sidewalks to fend for themselves. The carpets of cigarette butts left for others to clean up and plumes of smoke wafting into others’ windows suggests that UPMC’s view of healthy, clean environments is self-serving, if not hostile.

Over the years, my personal pleas to CHP have been met with understanding and inefficacy, towards which they have expressed an earnest I feel your pain sympathy while maintaining that they cannot dictate what a non-employee does on a public sidewalk.  While true, CHP has remained unyielding to the fact that these are their guests, and that the public sidewalks are used only because CHP won’t provide a smoking area on its multi-acre campus.  Like parking, smokers become the neighbors’ burden to bear.  (Due to a recent a CHP personnel change I was not able to obtain comments for this story.)

When asked for ways in which CHP has improved the quality of life, a great many residents offered uplifting stories, ranging from volunteering at the hospital to the Superhero window washers, but few addressed any specific quality of life issues, save public safety.

Serious crime in Lawrenceville has fallen dramatically over the past decade or more, in no small part to the strength and effectiveness of its community leaders and organizations, especially Lawrenceville United.  Across the board, the neighborhood remains susceptible to significant property crime, burglaries, etc., yet the areas surrounding CHP appear to experience significantly less than others.  Nearby residents were largely in agreement that the home or car break-ins, vandalism, loitering they experience first-hand is negligible compared to what they see elsewhere through our Nextdoor online community network.  Residents noted that the mere presence of hospital or city police on hospital grounds, plus copious security cameras serve as deterrents.

Lawrenceville’s popularity has come at a cost to many.  Mae, a Lawrenceville native, pointed out that Lawrenceville’s status as once having one of Pittsburgh’s highest rates of owner-occupancy has changed.  Investors have turned owner-occupied residences into rentals at a high rate, she said.  With more rentals come more transient residents who consume a lot but never become vested, and with them come more cars.

Census data confirm Mae’s perceptions:  Despite the hoopla surrounding houses purchased by a far more affluent demographic, between 2000 and 2010, Central Lawrenceville’s rate of owner-occupancy declined by 6% (from 51.8% to 45.6%).  Yet, despite some conversions of owner-occupied to rental units fueled by the anticipation of hospital workers making Lawrenceville their home, most have been for reasons noted above that have nothing to do with CHP.

I asked several people to speculate as to whether the perception that CHP has significantly altered the neighborhood has, in its own strange way, actually altered the neighborhood. To this most everyone said yes.  A UPMC employee who lives in the neighborhood but does not work at Children’s told me that its staff – from doctors to service workers – “routinely demonstrate a level of commitment that exceeds every other UPMC facility” she knows of.  At a time when UPMC does not enjoy a high public opinion, CHP does and always has, and stands out as something different, something special.  And as such, the idea of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh seems to carry with it some unquantifiable benefits for the neighborhood at large.

While on the phone with Galluzzo, I asked him about other ways CHP has impacted the community, especially regarding long-term, large-scale support that may be happening behind the scenes, and there were many.  Most notably, through the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP), CHP and UPMC have made multi-year financial commitments that fund a wide variety of critical neighborhood functions.  With this funding, Lawrenceville United (LU) was able to launch Pep Rally, aimed at strengthening the neighborhood’s public schools.  Lawrenceville Works!, a partnership between Goodwill Industries, the neighborhood organizations and other partners, strives to create employment opportunities, and thus far has placed over 125 people into jobs that average $12/hour.  NAP funds have also been used to pay for parking studies, a significant hospitality initiative, and (if I haven’t lost you already) FIREWORKS.

I would be remiss to omit that, while this CHP/UPMC financial support is vital, there are other corporate entities that provide comparable support, such as PNC Bank.  Beyond the funding, it must be made clear that it takes community organizations that are competent, creative and dedicated to create meaningful value out of dollars.  I don’t need to write their names again, but by now you know who they are; and here I will opine: they are tied for first when I rank the reasons for Lawrenceville’s success.

Five Years

Half a decade ago, community prognostications, while oversimplified here, were that the Penn Main business district would thrive; home prices would be entirely out of reach and overrun with renters; the hospital would recklessly buy up properties and turn them into medical vines that would choke the neighborhood; CHP employees would also be our neighbors; and parking problems would usher us all into a previously unknown eleventh circle of hell.

Most of this has not happened.  Penn Main still languishes as it always has, and residences have remained residences, very few of which are occupied by CHP employees.  And while their values continue to rise, it’s not because of the hospital.  Parking gets rougher each day, for home and business owners, and solutions are as hard to come by as determining who is accountable for it, but it is hardly the hellscape many envisioned.  CHP’s campus is pleasant and clean, but the surrounding areas have experienced more blight since its arrival; as one resident put it, “It’s just become so damn scuzzy around here.”

Lawrenceville’s historic maps are fascinating and tell their own brand of history, one that gives us the what, where and when, but little about the who or why.  My guess is that a 2030 map of this region of Pittsburgh won’t look much different than from today, but the neighborhood will be as different from now as now is from fifteen years ago.  Unfounded, perhaps, but I suspect that few if any of those who contributed to this story will still be here then, yet I’m quite sure who will be.