Squirrel Hill is getting a facelift.
The Gateway Committee of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition recently received several grants that will fund renovations in the neighborhood’s business district.
“What we’re trying to do is maintain what we have and then enhance the business corridor because we want to live in a neighborhood that is driver and pedestrian friendly and that welcomes visitors as they come to shop, or eat or just visit their friends,” said Mardi Isler, chair of the Gateway Committee.
The Gateway Committee has targeted four areas in Squirrel Hill where it wants to “improve the experience that residents and visitors have,” Isler said. Those sites are the minipark on the corner of Darlington Road and Murray Avenue next to the post office, the entrance to Squirrel Hill from the Parkway, O’Connor’s Corner and the area around the Parkvale Bank.
The minipark will be renovated for the first time in about 30 years and new benches will be added. The Gateway Committee has a design grant through the Design Center of Pittsburgh and is working with a landscape architect to make the construction drawings. The construction should begin sometime this summer.
The Gateway Committee also is working to put up a “Welcome to Squirrel Hill” sign at the entrance from the Parkway.
“People need to know they’re entering the best neighborhood in the world to live,” Isler said.
The Gateway Committee has already installed a clock at “O’Connor’s Corner,” but it plans to add trees, shrubs, benches and other enhancements. It also is
researching the idea for a green bus shelter at that corner.
A mural will also be painted on a corner building on Murray Avenue. Benches, trees and shrubs will be added to the surrounding area as well.
“It’s going to be a mural that depicts Squirrel Hill in an abstract kind of a way, and it’s going to be green, it’s going to fit in,” Isler said. “We’ve had artists submit a number of designs and we had a committee select one of the designs and take that to the building owner for approval. It’s going to fit in with the notion that Squirrel Hill is a green neighborhood.”
Much of the focus is on adding plant life to the business district because of the area’s storm weather run off problems. While Squirrel Hill is a green neighborhood, the business corridor is not, according to Isler. The greenery will help soak up some of the water that floods businesses during storms.
“The storm water situation is very serious and it’s affecting the businesses on both sides of Forbes Avenue as well as going down Murray Avenue,” said Ray Baum, president of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. “Many businesses get flooded all the time.”
Adding green space could also bolster business success, Isler said.
“There’s a lot of research that tells us that when you have green neighborhoods and shady, tree-lined streets, that people tend to spend more time there, and when they spend more time they spend more money,” Isler said. “There is a direct correlation between greening a business district and improving the financial bottom line for the businesses that are there.”
There are some worries that lining the streets with trees will obscure the view of store signs. However, the majority of Squirrel Hill’s business owners have been in favor of the updates.
“We put [trees] in front of our store and we think it looks great,” said Norman Childs, owner of Eyetique on Murray Avenue. “I think it adds another dimension to the look of our store and I think it really makes it more of a community.”
Childs has been the Gateway Committee’s link to the business community, Isler said.
While these updates to the neighborhood may alleviate some of the storm weather problems and improve business welfare, the overall goal is making Squirrel Hill’s business corridor more attractive.
“We just think that Squirrel Hill needed to look more like the neighborhood that we perceive it to be,” Isler said.
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)