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.