For the past 10 years activist William Anderson has paid his neighbor to maintain a vacant lot in Homewood. The lot, which had long been an eyesore, is situated across from the young man's home and near Anderson's auto-body shop.
"Through the time he has grown up maintaining this lot, he has grown a sense of pride in his community because he takes care of this lot," Anderson said during the public comment portion of today's Pittsburgh City Council meeting.
Anderson has taken it upon himself to maintain several lots around his garage. And a new organization in the Hilltop community has been doing the same in their neighborhoods. Now they're calling on city council to support their efforts and to ensure they're not left out of development in their long-blighted neighborhoods.
"Businesses are beginning to spring up where blight once stood and the neighborhoods are buzzing with planning and potential investment," said Jamar Bey, president of the Hilltop Men's Group. "But there is another side to this story. It's a story of being disconnected and a feeling of exclusion."
Rev. Maureen Cross Bolden chimes in at today's council meeting
In light of the new development being done in areas like Homewood and the Hilltop communities that include Beltzhoover, Allentown and Mount Oliver several of today's speakers called on city council to make sure that residents in these areas are included. They asked that local youths and young adults be given employment opportunities tied to projects emerging from the development.
"As parts of our city begin to thrive and become vibrant we would like to provide an opportunity for the forgotten and hopeless young men that walk up and down our streets and hang on it's corners to share in that new vitality as well," Bey said. "Our vision is to employ these struggling young men to clean up the community and teach them life skills that embed an entrepreneurial spirit in them that deters negative behaviors and violence."
The Hilltop Men's Group's program dubbed "Lots of Pride" will train participants to maintain overgrown lots and will include training on how to remove illegally dumped waste. Speakers today said they'd like to see similar programs scaled citywide.
"This isn't just about beautification, this is about safety," said Celeste Taylor, another community activist who spoke today. "This is about pride. This is about people wanting to live in a beautiful environment and be safe."
The speakers said increasing employment opportunities for Pittsburgh youths and young adults will reduce violence
in their neighborhoods. According to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, the victims and perpetrators of violence are overwhelmingly African-American men ages 18-24
"We feel part of the roots of violence is the absence of access to positive work opportunities and entrepreneurial opportunities," said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project and co-convener of the Coalition Against Violence. "I'm asking council that today we don't just have a conversation, but we follow up with council and their staff. How do we get this done so we take a gun out of the hands of our young people and put in a sickle to cut the grass? Take a gun out of the hands of our children and young people and put a hammer in their hands to help rebuild housing."
After members of the group spoke during public comment, Stevens says he received a "positive response" from members of council.