Millvale Shines with New Solar Power

This guest blog is part of the Pittsburgh Tall media series and was produced by Work Hard Pgh. Our guest writer is Alyse Horn.

Millvale has sustainability on its mind and a goal to eventually become “a self-reliant urban solar village,” said Zaheen Hussain, Millvale’s Sustainability Coordinator.

The community has adopted the goal of slowly incorporating its solar ambitions into its daily routine, starting with the Millvale Community Library.

The library, which is in the heart of the community, was the first to jump onboard and be the frontrunner for reducing the community’s carbon footprint by becoming fully solar operated. Hussain said the library no longer pays utility bills, and when the “bill” comes, it actually looks more like a check because of how much solar energy the library produces.

By saving money, the library is able to hire and pay staff members fulltime wages, which in turn provides more resources for community members.

Hussain said there is a skepticism that surrounds solar energy in the region, because the weather tends to air on the cloudy side, but residents who stop by the library can witness solar energy being harnessed in real time. There is a kiosk in the library that shows how much solar power the building is absorbing and using on a daily basis.

The library also helps residents get access to solar service providers and trustworthy organizations when is comes to solar installations. Millvale enhanced this concept by creating the Solar Ambassador program, where community members selected an ambassador to expand solar knowledge within Millvale and ensure that it is part of the community planning process.  Millvale was also an inaugural partner in the Solarize Allegheny Program.  As stated on their website, “Solarize Allegheny is a project funded by the Heinz Endowments and managed by non-profit SmartPower – to double the amount of solar energy throughout Allegheny County.”

Millvale resident Mandy Wolovich was the first Solar Ambassador for the program and the contact point for anything solar related in the neighborhood. Wolovich said she was part of assessing the solar output and necessities needed to turn the library 100 percent solar.

“The Millvale Community Library has been the hub and launch point for our solar initiatives, as well as other sustainability concepts that are becoming a reality in Millvale,” Wolovich said.

Wolovich’s own home is solar powered, which makes her a solid contact point and she is able to give other residents down-to-earth information on how and why to go solar.

“Years ago, you would hear people having conversations saying that solar isn’t a viable energy source,” Hussain said. “Now we are at the point where we are having educated conversations about it.”

Solar panels are still too pricey for some residents, but what matters is that the conversations are getting started and residents are talking about saving for future solar panels to power their homes.

Hussain said the adoption of solar power can keep Millvale resilient against natural disasters or energy blackouts, and has become even more of a valuable asset to the community. The building next to the library is also solarized now, and over the summer there were panels installed at the Millvale Community Center.

“We want to become self-reliant and independent, but also over time want to decrease our carbon footprint and improve our air quality,” Hussain said.

The Allegheny Solar Co-operative was created because of these diligent solarization efforts. Hussain said the co-op is the first of its kind in southwestern Pennsylvania, and it “seeks to democratize access to solar ownership and is an inclusive approach to solar ownership where we can provide benefits to those who are unable to install solar energy on their existing residencies or businesses.”

More information will be available on the co-op and how to get involved within the coming months.

Special thanks to The Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Neighborhood Allies, Green Mountain Energy, evolveEA, The Heinz Endowments, Solarize Allegheny, and The Borough of Millvale for their support on this initiative.



Millvale Residents Activate Community Plan

Over 90 Millvale residents and stakeholders gathered in the community center on Thursday, January 28 to connect and absorb the next steps to be taken for the Millvale EcoDistrict Pivot Plan.

When the project was first formulated three years ago, Millvale residents said they wanted to focus on enriching Food, Water and Energy. With progress steadily being made on phase one, a meeting was held in October 2015 to formulate phase two: Millvale EcoDistrict Pivot 2.0. During that meeting, residents added Air, Mobility and Equity as focus areas for the project.

EvolveEA has been working with Millvale from the beginning, and Thursday night Christine Mondor and her team presented all of the information that had been gathered for the project and they were able to put forth a “honed down” plan.

“Millvale is an incredible place, and it is going incredible places,” Mondor said.

Each initiative was broken down and created to have the best possible impact for the planet, people, profit and identity of Millvale.

Mondor started the conversation by reviewing Millvale’s Energy goals, and said the community already has some initiatives in place to reach the goal of becoming “a self reliant urban solar village.”

An Allegheny Solar Co-op and the “Solarize Millvale” campaign have been implemented, bringing solar panels to the Millvale Community Library roof and the installation of LED lights to many of the borough’s streetlamps. Mondor said the next step is to gather data on a national level and compare Millvale’s models to other communities in our country, developing “a more detailed business case.”

From the beginning of the EcoDistrict talks, Food was a huge concern for Millvale and its residents. More than one third of the community’s population lives over one mile away from a supermarket or grocery store, and that means it is considered a food desert. Mondor said that the people of Millvale spend more money on their cars than they do on food. Currently, Launch Millvale: Food Enterprise Incubator is in the works for the community.

Residents want their neighborhood to become “a foodie paradise for everyone [that] is known for hyper local production,” Mondor said. This takes production, processing and distribution into consideration. Future projects for Millvale to focus on are creating a food foraging trail, which will be a community walking path that connects hillsides and green spaces and could feature edible plants along the walkway. The neighborhood also wants to create a “restaurant cluster” that “would establish Millvale as a food destination in the Greater Pittsburgh Area.”

But considering Millvale’s placement, Water is definitely a liability that could hurt business owners; like when Girty’s Run overflowed in 2004 and 2007. Mondor said that the issues are “immediate and tangible,” and explained how the community’s location affects the EcoDistrict plan.

“Millvale is like being at the bottom of a sink bowl and someone left the faucet on,” Mondor said.

According to research done by evolveEA, “Most of Millvale’s storm water issues are a result of flows from upstream communities. Millvale will remain vulnerable to flooding and the combined sewer overflows if [the tipping gates] cannot be effectively addressed without collaborative, multi-municipal action.”

Mondor explained different ways to fix the problem, including expanding the basin that the water is flowing into, stream portals and developing complete streets on Grant and North Avenues. Complete streets would improve the sidewalk culture above, but also have underground water system infrastructures in place. Most importantly, the solution came back to needing collaboration from neighboring communities because “we need to turn the faucet off,” Mondor said.

Complete streets also includes Mobility, which Millvaler’s in the community stressed the importance of in the beginning of EcoDistrict talks. The community wants to be known as “a place where all ages of people have the freedom to move safely.”

Mondor added the importance of safety and also creating accessibility for those who don’t have cars. Replacing sidewalks was an issue that was brought up when discussing Mobility, which falls under complete streets. Another idea presented for future transportation plans was a kayak commuter hub, which says a lot about how unique Millvale’s location is.

“Millvale has done some good stuff, and the bike infrastructure has some sass to it,” Mondor said, commenting on the sharrow’s and bike racks that are already in place around the community to promote biking.

Mondor then turned toward Millvale’s clean Air concern and yearning to create “a community where people can breathe easy indoors and outdoors.” Mondor explained that most of the pollution being produced in and around the community comes from the roads and highways. One way Millvale can improve air quality is by planting trees between the community and roads to act as a buffer for pollution, such as a clean air park. Mondor said breathe easy zones are also a way to combat pollution in the community, which is a “focus on building-based air filtration” and “includes very efficient filters, smart air sealing, and green roofs.”

Tying all of these initiatives together is Equity, which seemed to be subconsciously considered throughout the planning process by everyone involved. The community decided that its Equity requirements focus on providing education, health, economic opportunity, accessibility, a welcoming community and affordability to sustain its ideal EcoDistrict. Currently, affordable housing projects and connected green spaces are in the works.

“You’re very enabled and empowered to shape your environment,” Mondor said.

Millvale is on track to complete these goals, and more, by 2030.

Special thanks to the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Neighborhood Allies, EvolveEA, The Borough of Millvale and the Millvale Community Development Corporation for their support on this initiative.

This blog is part of the Pittsburgh Tall media series and was produced by Work Hard Pgh. Our guest writer is Alyse Horn, and the photography was done by Ryan Haggerty.

Food Focused Entrepreneurs: Free Food Business Consultations on June 6!

Calling all food focused entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh: are you looking for free professional development of  your business plan and creative assets?

New Sun Rising seeks three project leaders (or teams) to work with skilled volunteers from Deloitte and a special UpTo creative consultation on Friday, June 6th at the Millvale Community Center from 9am-3:30pm. Bring your ideas, laptop, and passion. We’ll provide the expertise and direction to help move your vision towards reality. Ideal candidates have a food based business concept under development and are interested in locating their business in Millvale.

After an introduction by evolveEA you’ll join volunteers from Deloitte to tour the Town Square project, which is slated to include an open food market, greenhouse, educational facilities, and a collaborative workspace. Project leaders and Deloitte professionals will engage in a day of hans-on, business plan development. This is a great opportunity to access the services of experienced volunteers, and make your idea happen!

Interested individuals or teams are encouraged to apply with a brief letter of inquiry sent to Please share this opportunity among your personal and professional networks!

New Sun Rising promotes social entrepreneurship through programming, fiscal sponsorship, quarterly workshops, bridge building, and general merrymaking. Consider supporting NSR and other social innovation partners on the Day of Giving May 6, 2014.

New Sun Rising and UpTo

Second Annual Girty’s Run Watershed Summit

Last Monday night, 33 concerned citizens and volunteers gathered together at the Millvale Library for the second annual Girty’s Run Watershed summit in partnership with Allegheny Cleanways. The focus of the the Summit was to discuss progress since last year’s meeting and to recruit volunteers to begin the implementation of the Girty’s Run Citizen’s Visual Assessment.

Brian Wolovich introduces speakers at the Girty's Run Watershed Summit

Councilman Brian Wolovich introduces speakers at the Girty’s Run Watershed Summit

Since the last summit, 850 trees have been planted and 2 bioswales have been constructed to address storm water issues in Millvale. An assessment plan and template was drafted and ready for implementation. A public Girty’s Run Watershed Reference Library is starting to come together, and will eventually be available in both physical and online formats.

At the meeting, crew leaders who will be taking volunteers out on the stream for the visual assessment discussed what volunteering to take part in the assessment would entail, and attendees were given the opportunity to sign up to participate in the visual assessment in March. Additionally, attendees discussed future events and plans for the watershed including stream clean-ups, tree care, and potential green storm water infrastructure projects.

Draai Laag Simon Girty Ale

Thanks to Millvale’s own Draai Laag Brewery for donating a case of Simon Girty Ale to the cause!

For full meeting notes, click here.

To get more information on the watershed assessment, or to sign up as a volunteer, please click here or contact Hannah Geiser at

Girty’s Run Watershed Assessment and Upcoming Summit

Allegheny Cleanways and the Millvale Community Library would like to invite you the second Girty’s Run Watershed Citizens’ Summit on February 24, 2014 at 7 pm at the Millvale Library (213 Grant Avenue).

We are pleased to report that Allegheny Cleanways received a grant from the Laurel Foundation that partially funds the Watershed Assessment process as recommended by Three Rivers Waterkeeper and Dominique Benzio of the Browne Leadership Fellows program.

The objective of this phase of work is to have citizens join with experts and activists to visually identify risks, threats, and opportunities to Girty’s Run.  It is a qualitative and awareness-raising exercise that will help (1) prioritize stream restoration, trash elimination and other volunteer-driven improvement projects and (2) raise a collective understanding or awareness of the upcoming storm and sewer infrastructure improvements to be made in the watershed.

The grant also includes funds to make available data, maps, permits, surveys, etc. that relate to Girty’s Run. The resources will be housed at the Community Library but also will be developed to be shared electronically. We intend to create posters for libraries, schools, municipal buildings and other public spaces in the watershed…and eventually made accessible through the internet.

In the past month, the project team has been gathering the data, producing stream segment maps, and assessment forms. These materials will be shared and described at the February 24th meeting.

We hope that you will be able to join us, sign-up for the stream assessment process, and identify other individuals or organizations that can help transform Girty’s Run into the community asset it deserves to be.


Please RSVP to the February 24th meeting by emailing Dominique at

Whenever you have a question, concern or comment about Girty’s Run or the citizens visual assessment process please do not hesitate to contact Myrna Newman, Executive Director, Allegheny Cleanways (, or John Stephen, Project Coordinator (

Stream Assessment Updates will be posted at:, so stay tuned!

Install Day


It happened!  Yes, Install day was one of the most hectic of days… also the longest.

The moss seen in the pictures isn’t the real one that will be there.  For now, just so everyone can get an idea of what the final piece will look like, we’ve glued on some fake moss.  Looks pretty real, right?

Hope you like what all of our hard work has done!

Grand Opening of the Millvale Community Library


This is it!  The grand opening of the Millvale Comunity Library is coming up on August 18th, 2013.  Be there!  Some great people who are wanting to inspire change in a community will be there and wanting to talk about new possibilities.  If you want to get involved or just come to see the progress, then come on down!

The project of building the library as well as the mural has been one that brings together multiple communities.  It’s bridging together those who are established in Millvale with the city of Pittsburgh.  You have to remember that Millvale is not technically part of Pittsburgh but rather on its own.  It’s bringing together artists and workers who in the end realize that their work is so similar.  Also, it’s creating change in a community.  Both for individuals like our teen assistants, who are experiencing something totally new at quite the young age, and for the entire town who is finally getting to see some physical progress.

Hope to see some new faces there!

– Gianna

Testing It Out



Ok, so it’s coming together for the final stages!  Installation day is, fingers crossed, going to be tomorrow!  Big things are happening to Millvale this week and this is part of it.

Quick little overview for our readers:  We are creating an eco moss mural that will be installed in Millvale.  Our base is made out of steel which you see in all the photos.  The big plates are all put together to make up what looks like the Millvale skyline.  Then, we have some letters that go on top of that (see where those little round rod guys are sticking out of the sheet metal?).  Those letters will be totally covered in moss and spell out the word “imagine.”  Cool, right?

So much has been happening that it’s hard to keep up!  Joanna has been working furiously to get everyone going and moving.  Brian took a little break from setting up the library to help out with hanging our template on the wall of the site.  What a brave guy, hanging out the window for our sake.  We also had Paolo Piscitelli on board for the day and let me just say, he was the biggest help anyone could every ask for.  The guy knows how to make sculptures and think about those details that get lost in the chaos.  He is a part time professor at Pitt and makes some pretty awesome sculptures, too.  Our teen helpers who are also Millvale residents have been there each step of the way: Ashley and Brandon have probably learned more in the past few months than most college students learn in four years.

I helped out with template building a couple of days with Joanna.  Papercutting is my thing, but cutting out pieces of foam that are taller than you is a whole other story… But those boys at Red Star really helped out with last minute metalwork that we asked them for.  After all of that was done, all that was left was the painting of the piece.  Stay tuned for more pictures!

So remember: Installation day of the mural is TOMORROW, August 13, 2012.  But the grand opening of the library is on August 18!  So come on down if you can and meet the team!

– Gianna

One of Many Workdays

So here’s a little peek into workdays at Joanna’s studio.



It’s coming together!  After many trials, workdays, and lunch breaks we are able to get a good feel for how the mural is going to look.  For those of you readers who are wondering why in the world we are talking about an Eco mural when there is clearly steel in this picture, we can explain!

It all started with the sketch that was to be the grand plan for the mural on the library.  From there, we had to find a way to realize the vision.  In the end the final decision was made to make a steel base that will have moss growing on top.  This steel pieces in the photos are basically the skeleton of the entire project.  Next steps are to put them together and do a whole lot more welding.  Joanna Commandaros is the little commander of her trusty working team: Chris Cassady and Jay Grassel.  Between the three of them, you can’t imagine the work and problem solving being done.  We also have a few other people on the job who are putting in so much work:  Ashley Fredericks and Brandon Flaherty.

So what am I doing in all of this?  Well, I’m managing the PR and keeping you all informed.  I get to take my camera everywhere I go and snap some pictures of everyone looking awesome and intense while they work.  Trust me, they all appreciate the headshots.  But I want to get our project out there and spread the word about what it is that we’re doing in Millvale.

 Keep checking the blog for more updates!

– Gianna