Investment, safety key new visions for Squirrel Hill Gateway

Investment, safety key new visions for Squirrel Hill Gateway

Community members listen as teams of students present their proposals on improving the Gateway. (Photo by Marian Lien)
Community members listen as teams of students present their proposals on improving the Gateway. (Photo by Marian Lien)

Pittsburgh is noted for its livability, though one area might be falling short.

The Gateway to Squirrel Hill possesses a five-way intersection between Murray Avenue, Forward Avenue and Pocusset Street. In recent months, the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition has targeted the area for improvements: A new sign was placed welcoming entrants to Squirrel Hill, and now, the organization is addressing safety.

With the convergence of streets, sidewalks and suboptimal crosswalks, the area is prone to danger, as pedestrians, cyclists and drivers challenge one another for space, say officials. Since August, SHUC and a team of Carnegie Mellon University students have been working to improve the area; on Dec. 3, they offered varying proposals to community members at the Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center.  

Bruce Chan, a graduate student at CMU, explained that each of the three proposals represented a different vision for the Gateway to Squirrel Hill.  

“This is one step of a really long process,” Chan said.  “It’s a holistic approach to this crazy site.”

Chan began the meeting by providing an overview of the program: On Aug. 29, nine students from CMU’s Master of Urban Design program met with SHUC representatives. Nearly one month later, on Oct. 3, a community meeting offered students and community leaders the opportunity to share different visions for the intersection.

As the process progressed, to further increase their familiarity with the area, students took a walking tour of the area, conducted an online survey and shared their concerns with locals at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library, outside the gym at the JCC and inside the Starbucks on Murray Avenue.

Each of three three-person teams shared their proposals at the Dec. 3 meeting. While each of the proposals offered a unique vision for the area, the commonality was a desire for investment and safety.  

Stefani Danes, adjunct professor of architecture at CMU, commented that each of the proposals is trying to “bring people and investment into the area.”  

SHUC official Mardi Isler said she enjoyed the students’ perspectives.

“[We’re] looking at the Gateway of Squirrel Hill through the eyes of youth and competency and creative natures,” she said.

Marian Lien, executive director of SHUC, also praised the students’ efforts.

“We’re very pleased with the students’ work,” said Lien. “They’ve given us a lot to think about.”  

Beginning next week, the students’ proposals, along with further reports, will be available for viewing on SHUC’s website, Those involved in the process hope that increased awareness of the project will ignite area improvements.

The proposals should “spark ideas that will take the greater community and SHUC to the next level for requesting funding from the city, county and state,” said Isler. “The Coalition and Gateway Committee will try to make real the recommendations.”  

Valentina Vavasis, adjunct associate professor at CMU’s School of Architecture, approached the project from a different angle. Unlike Danes’ students, who are interested in urban design, Vavasis worked with students interested in real estate. She explained that the project provided students with “something real to work on.”

“The hope,” added Vavasis, “is it leads to a big idea.” 

Adam Reinherz can be reached at