Friday, October 7, 2016

Pittsburgh's Bedford Dwellings to transform into mixed-income housing community

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 4:51 PM

Bedford Dwellings - PHOTO COURTESY OF HACP
  • Photo courtesy of HACP
  • Bedford Dwellings
When people hear the phrase "nuisance property" most think of bars and other nightlife establishments that are frequently the site of violence or whose patrons often engage in disorderly conduct.

But in the past, this term has also been used to describe Bedford Dwellings, the city's oldest public housing project.
Located in the Hill District, the community has been marked by high crime for decades. From 2010 to 2014, it was ranked as the neighborhood with the second highest homicide rate.  

But that could all change over the next decade. Over the summer, the city announced the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had awarded Bedford Dwellings a $500,000 grant. The funds will be used by the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to stimulate affordable housing and economic development in the Hill District.

"This is the second time this city has been awarded a choice neighborhoods grant. We're fully in to make this a successful project to reinvest in the Hill District," said Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff at a recent community meeting in the Hill District. 

"When communities unite, there's no limit to what we can accomplish. We're here to deliver the kind of neighborhood you want to see. We're mindful that that new growth isn't happening equally in every neighborhood of the city."

The meeting held this week gave community stakeholders and residents a look at how the $500,000 Choice Neighborhoods grant will be used. But it got off to a rocky start when people entering the original meeting place — the Ammon Recreation Center — were met with sweltering temperatures. 

The city tried its best to be welcoming — there was food and even a live band. But many in attendance weren't happy that the meeting was delayed after organizers decided to move it to Macedonia Church next door.

  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
  • Brennan Massie
"Why do we need a band when we're here to talk about housing," said Michelle Hardeman. "We want to get the facts about what they're going to do."

The main take away from the meeting was that Bedford Dwellings would be torn down and replaced with a mixed-income housing community. Housing Authority officials said residents would be relocated and every resident would be guaranteed a spot in the new community once it was built. 

Chestina Lane, who has lived in Bedford Dwellings for more than 35 years, says she hopes the meeting put rumors about the new development to rest. But she admits some of the details neighbors are concerned about remain unclear.

"I think it answered all my questions. I have a better understanding," says Lane. "Once it's torn down I'm concerned about the inconvenience. That's everyone's first question: where are we going to be [relocated]
and how long [will it take]. But I'm not scared because I've seen how it's gone in other communities."  

Larimer in the eastern part of Pittsburgh was awarded a Choice Neighborhoods grant of $30 million in 2014 to build 350 mixed income housing units. The Hill District could be eligible for similar funds depending on the plan developed in this first phase of the program with the $500,000 grant. 

The grant is to be used for three purposes. It includes replacing distressed public and assisted housing with high-quality mixed-income housing. Recipients are also tasked with creating "the conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods to offer the kinds of amenities and assets, including safety, good schools, and commercial activity, that are important to families’ choices about their community." Additionally, the plan should focus on providing services to improve educational outcomes and intergenerational mobility for youth and families.

“No child should be limited in life by the zip code where they were born,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said when the grant was announced. “Today, we’re kick starting the revitalization in 10 distressed neighborhoods across the country. These grants will lay a firm foundation upon which we’ll build better, more thoughtful neighborhoods that are more connected to all the opportunities their communities have to offer.”

This week's meeting was the first in a series city officials say will give Hill District residents a say in the plan for re-development in their community. But some residents at the first installment remain concerned their voices won't be heard. 

"There's no voice for us," said James Alston. "They keep holding meetings to tell us what they're going to do, not ask us."

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Liberty Bridge construction to continue through July 2018

Posted By on Thu, Oct 6, 2016 at 4:50 PM

Construction on the Liberty Bridge - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH B. FAY COMPANY
  • Photo courtesy of Joseph B. Fay Company
  • Construction on the Liberty Bridge
Pittsburgh commuters’ struggle with the Liberty Bridge’s impromptu repairs from a 1,200-degree fire over Labor Day weekend may be over, but don’t expect an end to the traffic jams any time soon.

The fire came after a torch-wielding worker accidentally lit a tarp on fire; the 88 year-old structure is the subject of a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation rehabilitation project contracted out to Joseph B. Fay Company. The blaze warped a truss supporting the bridge, necessitating the bridge’s closure for repairs, and backing up traffic throughout the city.

While the bridge reopened to traffic on Sept. 26, the rehab continues, and commuters can expect further delays from planned closures of the bridge and surrounding roads.

The rehab project began in August 2015 and is scheduled to be finished in July 2018. Despite the traffic closure due to the fire, Dennis Watkins, the vice president of operations at Joseph B. Fay Co, says the project as a whole hasn’t been delayed.

“We didn’t have to shut our work down entirely. We were able to work in other areas [of the bridge],” Watkins says, mentioning the company's sub-contractors started work the day after the fire, on unaffected areas of the bridge. “Hopefully by late October, early November, we should have all lanes open on the Liberty Bridge.”

Repairs will then stop for the winter, before picking back up in 2017. Five weekends of lane closures are already planned for spring, as well as intermittent night work and a closure of the Boulevard of the Allies for 80 days to repair the bridge overpass of the artery.

The fire is currently being investigated by the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the results aren't expected for a few months. In spite of the fire, Joseph B. Fay Co., which is also in charge of the Birmingham Bridges’s ongoing repairs, is confident in its safety precautions.

“We’re obviously enforcing them and making sure they’re being adhered too,” Watkins said. “But we’re really not changing policies or programs because they were already in place.”

No one was hurt in the fire, and Joseph B. Fay Co. is paying for the extra repairs itself, along with a $213,000 fee for every day the bridge was closed to traffic.

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Rally against sexual harassment shuts down McDonald's in Oakland

Posted By on Thu, Oct 6, 2016 at 4:37 PM

Women rally outside of McDonald's, in Oakland - PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • Photo by Rebecca Addison
  • Women rally outside of McDonald's, in Oakland
With signs sporting slogans like “Not Lovin’ Sexual Harassment,”  Pittsburgh activists shut down the Forbes Avenue McDonald's in Oakland at lunch time today. The rally coincided with national efforts at three dozen McDonald's around the country where protesters called on the fast-food restaurant to support workers experiencing sexual harassment on the job. 

"We're here to talk about how McDonald's can be leaders," said Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation. "If McDonald's wants to be a family-values place, they need to make sure McDonald's is a sexual-harassment-free workplace."

The organizers are calling on the fast-food company to enforce the zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment outlined in the company's manual. According to the group, 60 percent of women are sexually harassed in the workplace.

"No company should have tolerance for sexual harassment," said Carmen Alexander of New Voices, a women's health and rights organization. "It's a shame that women have to fight for our own well-being to have control  of their bodies."

Yesterday, McDonald's employees nationwide filed 15 sexual-harassment complaints against their employer. According to the complaints, general managers and corporate staff were notified by workers experiencing sexual harassment, but their complaints were ignored. And in some cases, the employees were even retaliated against.  

"Of all the jobs I've had, the two where I experienced the most sexual harassment were in the restaurant industry," said Jessica Semler, public affairs director of Planned Parenthood Western Pennsylvania. "McDonald's is the second-largest employer in the world. This is fully within their grasp."

Semler related an experience she had with sexual harassment at a previous job. She says she was written up at work for pushing a co-worker who groped her.   

A survey  released Oct. 5 shows 40 percent of female fast-food employees have been sexually harassed in the workplace. The survey by Hart Research Associates also shows that "42 percent of women in the industry who experience unwanted sexual behavior feel forced to accept it because they can’t afford to lose their jobs. More than 1 in 5 women who face sexual harassment (21 percent) report that, after raising the issue, their employer took some negative action, including cutting their hours, changing them to a less desirable schedule, giving them additional duties, and being denied a raise."

"Last time I checked, sexual harassment is a crime," said Rev. Buena Dudley. "It must stop."

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Gaza-based artist at two programs at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 2:51 PM

It’s a rare opportunity to meet an artist based in Gaza, starting tomorrow at the North Side museum.

Mohammed Musallam is one of the artists in the Mattress Factory’s newest Factory Installed exhibition, which opened last Friday.

Danya Musallam and Mohammed Musallam - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MATTRESS FACTORY
  • Photo courtesy of the Mattress Factory
  • Danya Musallam and Mohammed Musallam
Musallam is an internationally exhibited artist whose “work includes installation, video and photography focused on the ‘preservation of our humaneness amid the harshness of our environment,’” according to press materials. His new installation at the Mattress Factory, "The Great Illusion," is a room-sized bed of olive leaves, surrounded by coils of barbed wired on which are impaled pages from passports. Hung from the ceiling above is more barbed wire on whose spikes are stuck passport books folded into paper airplanes.

Musallam and his family have remained in town for an artist talk tomorrow night. Art And …, a new program at the museum, includes a lecture, drinks and a behind-the-scenes look at works. Both Musallam and his wife, Danya Musallam, will participate. Admission to the 6-8 p.m. event is free, but space is limited; RSVP to

On Saturday, Musallam returns for two events. The first, a morning Coffee Date, is for museum members only. Then, from 1-4 p.m., Musallam, his wife and five children participate in an ARTLab, a drop-in, hands-on, interactive program for visitors of all ages. The program, co-hosted by the Saturday Light Brigade, is free with museum admission.

The Mattress Factory is located at 500 Sampsonia Way, on the North Side.

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Pittsburgh to launch new mobility and infrastructure department in 2017

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 2:02 PM

  • CP photo by Aaron Warnick
For Pittsburghers anxiously awaiting the arrival of bus rapid transit, new bike lanes and further ride-hailing innovations, a new sheriff is coming to town.

The City of Pittsburgh recently posted a want-ad for a new director of mobility and infrastructure to its  jobs website. The city’s new department will be tasked with transportation planning.

A technical base in engineering or planning is advertised as ideal experience for the position, but according to Alex Pazuchanics, the city’s policy coordinator, the new position’s responsibilities will go beyond the nitty-gritty details.

“One of the goals of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure ... is to better coordinate across [our] internal departments,” Pazuchanics says, mentioning the departments of public works and city planning as some of the branches the new position will work with.

Pazuchanics says the city tapped into the “national conversation that's happening around urban transportation” to come up with the position, especially in light of the city’s Smart City Challenge submission — a U.S. Department of Transportation initiative that awarded $50 million to the city with the best technology-based solutions to transportation issues.

While Pittsburgh lost out on the money, some of the agenda — which included solar-power autonomous vehicles and smart traffic signals that prioritize buses and trucks — has been folded into the initial goals of the new department . Implementing new technologies will be a top priority, says Pazuchanics.

“Technology is a potentially more cost-effective way to address [the city’s transit] needs,” Pazuchanics says.

Instead of investing in the capital cost of new bus lanes, the city wants to find technological solutions that can increase the efficiency of existing infrastructure with the same capacity. That may include “technology we don’t even know exists yet,” according to Pazuchanics.

Pazuchanics says the new department and director are also expected to take input from city residents, as well as government departments, to ensure there is an “equity component” to future planning. He mentions Pittsburgh’s Complete Streets program as a model for future improvements.

“[We want to be] moving people and not just moving vehicles,” Pazuchanics says, citing “public transportation, roads, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, city steps” as within the purview of the new director.

This suits Molly Nichols, the chairman of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, nicely. According to Nichols, PPT is invested in making sure all residents have a voice in transportation decisions in Pittsburgh.

“If the position helps to streamline the process in which our transportation projects happen, that a good step,” Nichols says. “We’d hope anyone who is in this position prioritizes the needs of the residents who use public transportation every day.”

She’s also encouraged that Pazuchanics cited the Complete Streets program as an inspiration for the department.

“We want to make sure there is a good level of accountability,” Nichols says, adding that Complete Streets did a “good job engaging a lot of stakeholders.”

The new position will also cooperate with groups outside of city government, such as Carnegie Mellon University’s Metro21 program, which “research[s], develop[s] and deploy[s] 21st-century solutions to the challenges facing metro areas,” according to its website, as well as work with the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

When contacted, Port Authority spokesperson Adam Brandolph declined to comment on the new director position itself, but said that the Port Authority would “be happy to work with whoever is selected for that position.”

Pazuchanics says the city expects to fill the position and have the department operational by the beginning of 2017.

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Closing weekend of Re:NEW Festival includes publication of Spanish photographer’s take on Pittsburgh

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 1:15 PM

The final days of this inaugural, month-long festival of art made from upcycled materials include the
  • Photo by Consuelo Bautista
last chance to see a couple of big group exhibits, plus a fashion show and a special one-day art installation in Market Square. (A complete schedule is here.) Another special feature is “Now Here Nowhere,” a limited-run newsprint publication featuring photographs by Consuelo Bautista.

The free 22-page publication features 36 striking black-and-white images of Pittsburgh by Bautista, who specializes in artfully candid street photography. (Pittsburgh City Paper donated the printing services for the project.) Bautista’s resume includes similar projects in Cuba, Colombia and Jerusalem. One publication, “a los Invisibles,” documented the world of African immigrants to Spain, and life in Morocco (which lies just across the Strait of Gibraltar).

In Pittsburgh, Consuelo spent two weeks living on the North Side and shooting all over, from Downtown and the Strip District to Mount Washington and Braddock. Images in “Now Here Nowhere” include an empty wheelchair left on the sidewalk outside a beat-up brick building; a young woman’s neck and ornate earring; the undersides of raised highways; street art; and a little girl watching a youth-football practice. Other than a few short essays on the second-to-last page, the publication includes no captions or other text.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Robert Kelly performs tomorrow night at Pittsburgh Improv

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 12:48 PM

As part of his current national tour, actor and comedian Robert Kelly drops by the Pittsburgh Improv tomorrow.

Robert Kelly performs at Pittsburgh Improv tomorrow night. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MINDY TUCKER
  • Photo courtesy of Mindy Tucker
  • Robert Kelly performs at Pittsburgh Improv tomorrow night.
In 2014, Kelly's hour-long standup special Robert Kelly: Live at the Village Underground premiered on Comedy Central (and it is currently on Netflix). Kelly is known for his introspective, self-deprecating and unapologetic humor both on stage and sometimes onscreen. His presence as a television performer has increased in recent years, with recurring roles on two FX programs — as Louis C.K.’s deadbeat brother on three seasons of Louie, and as Bam Bam on Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.

He’s also appeared in Amy Schumer projects like Trainwreck and Inside Amy Schumer. Kelly even gave a lengthy, personal interview a month ago on Marc Maron’s popular WTF podcast. Since 2010, Kelly has hosted his own comedy podcast, You Know What Dude!

Tickets for this 21-and-over performance of Kelly’s True Story Tour are $15. The performance starts at 8 p.m.

The Improv is located at 166 E. Bridge St., in West Homestead.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Despite strike, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians still on for tomorrow’s Day of Music

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 3:31 PM

The musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are on strike, and the symphony has canceled all its performances through Oct. 27. But the musicians' own planned series of informal Day of Music concerts will go on as scheduled tomorrow.

Left to right: PSO cellists Charlie Powers, Bronwyn Banert, Allie Thompson and Michael DeBruyn, will perform tomorrow at noon at Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown
  • Left to right: PSO cellists Charlie Powers, Bronwyn Banert, Allie Thompson and Michael DeBruyn, will perform tomorrow at noon at Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown
As announced Sept. 20 (10 days before the strike began), the musicians will offer 11 short performances throughout the day and across the city, 10 of which are open to the public. “The goal is to spread out and fill Pittsburgh with music,” says event organizer and flutist Jennifer Steele.

Group sizes range from a simple duo to a complete brass band.

The first performances, at 10 a.m., will involve two string quartets, one at The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh, in Friendship, and one at the Hillman Cancer Center, in Shadyside.

At noon there will be concerts at Fifth Avenue Place and the Allegheny Courthouse, both Downtown. The only show not open to the public, a flute/harp duo's concert, is scheduled for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, at 1 p.m.

There are four performances at 2 p.m.: at Canterbury Place, in Lawrenceville; Little Sisters of the Poor, in Brighton Heights; baggage claim of the Pittsburgh International Airport; and the atrium of Magee-Women’s Hospital, in Oakland.

At 4:30 p.m., a string octet will perform at Light of Life Ministries, in North Side. The last performance of the day is a traditional brass funk band that will play on the veranda of the Hill House located in the Hill District.

For complete details, see here.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Gun-violence rates drop in Pittsburgh, Police Chief McLay credits community-policing tactics

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 5:07 PM

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay
Compared to last year, non-fatal shooting crimes were down in Pittsburgh, according to statistics released by the FBI this week. From January 2016 to August 2016, there were 25 less non-fatal shootings and about 70 less aggravated assaults with a firearm compared to the same time frame in 2015. (However, there were 44 homicides this year, up 10 from the same period in 2015.)

In a press conference on Sept. 30, Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay detailed how community-policing strategies, such as outreach, were effective in lowering these numbers. He said these strategies were  particularly effective in the North Side, given that many neighborhoods there saw significant reductions in violent crime.

“We were very targeted at those who were actually causing the violence,” said McLay. “Since most of the offenders there did not actually live there.” McLay said he wanted his officers to only target those committing the crimes. “I wanted to convey [to residents] that ‘We care about you, we love you, we don’t want you to fall victim to violence.’ That is why outreach is important.”

McLay also explained how in the East End, his officers have worked with the Pittsburgh chapter of Men Against Destruction-Defending Against Drugs and Social-Disorder (MAD DADS) over the last year. He said the work has reduced violent activity in East Liberty and Homewood. “We have seen a dramatic decrease in [complaints] in the East Liberty business district,” said McLay. “In the Homewood business district, businesses have reported less loitering and people are feeling safer.”

McLay said the working relationship with the volunteers at MAD DADS helps to increase communication with the community because “some people are not comfortable talking to the police.”

But McLay says there are still many problems to address. Violence rates are still disproportionately higher among blacks, particularly young black men. And McLay says his department will be paying special attention to Downtown, particularly the area around the Wood Street T Station, which has seen a flurry of criminal activity.

Over, McLay said he will continue to institute community-policing strategies and rejects the notion the department needs to be “tough on crime.” He points to the work with MAD DADS in the East End as proof, as crime rates have dropped there.

‘Community policing is crime prevention,” said McLay. “It reduces crime. It is not just a feel-good strategy.”

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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on strike after failed contract negotiations

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 3:02 PM

PSO musicians and supporters circle Heinz Hall - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
  • CP Photo by Stephen Caruso
  • PSO musicians and supporters circle Heinz Hall
Under gray skies, a picket line of yellow-shirted Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians and their supporters circled Heinz Hall this morning to demand a new contract after negotiations between labor and management fell apart the night before.

Picketers held signs reading “On Strike” beneath a stylized Pittsburgh skyline bearing the word “Musicians” — though one placard asked “What would Beethoven do?” The group included every member of the 99-strong orchestra who was in town, plus a few patrons, fellow musicians and sympathetic workers, all protesting a 15 percent pay cut, limits on new hiring and a freeze in the musicians' pensions.

Those cuts had been part of what Michah Howard, a double bass player in the orchestra as well as the chairman of the orchestra’s negotiating committee, labels the symphony’s “last, best and final offer.”

“These draconian cuts will change this orchestra forever,” Howard says, worrying that lowering the labor standard could harm the orchestra’s ability to attract and keep talent. “We want a fair contract that will ensure the excellence of our institution.”

In a press release, Melia Tourangeau, the PSO's president and CEO, defended the cuts as necessary for the long-term survival of the orchestra.

“Our most immediate challenge is that the runway is extremely short to address key financial circumstances,” Tourangeau said. “Which is why we need the musicians of the PSO to participate in the solution.”

Those “financial circumstances” include a $1.5 million budget deficit this year, as well as $11 million in existing debt.

Howard counters that he brought in independent actuaries to look over the orchestra's financials and says they're not as bleak as management says. He also notes that according to the PSO's own press release, ticket sales are 4 percent higher than expected.

“Most symphonies survive without balancing the budget year after year after year,” Howard said. “The financial situation is not as bleak as [the Symphony is] saying.”

The performers are members of Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians, which covers all of Pittsburgh’s professional instrumentalists, accompanists, and troubadours. They have been negotiating with the PSO since February. After management presented its final offer, on Sept. 18, Howard and the musicians' negotiating committee brought in federal mediation, but no agreement could be brokered.

After a final round of negotiations Thursday, Howard says, it “became very clear” that the union had already received the PSO's final offer. So they decided to strike for only the second time in the orchestra's 121-year history. The last time was in 1975.

“We have real resolve [and] we do not take this lightly,” Howard says of the walk-out. The symphony members planned to keep striking until a “fair contract” is reached.

The work stoppage also forced the cancellation of a planned performance of “PNC Pops: The Music of John Williams” over the weekend. In its stead, a chorus of sympathy honks filled the street as the protesters, some in jackets, braved the first autumn chill.

The canceled performances didn’t bother Alice Gelormino, a Shady Side resident and symphony patron who’s moved from “the peanut gallery to the left box.” She heard about the strike while in a German class, and immediately cut out and headed Downtown to join the picket line.

Standing in the shadow of Heinz’s Hall’s marquee, Gelormino grasped a sign reading “I support PSO musicians.” While aware of the financial difficulties facing the orchestra, Gelormino, who is herself a donor, says there is no excuse for the proposed cuts.

“I think [the musicians] deserve a fair and just wage,” Gelormino says. “We’re a growing city with a lot of support for the arts. [The symphony] has to be creative to find the means and ways to fund it.”

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