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The Hill Rebuilds Itself

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journal contribution
posted on 16.06.1999, 00:00 by Urban Laboratory

Among many citizen groups, each working on its own facet of the problem of forging a new path for the community, is the Coalition for a Healthy Urban Habitat. At the core of this group’s work is an effort to emeliorate the sense of loss and displacement which citizens experience in a time of uncertainty and change. If tradition is the living bridge between history and the future, then the vitality of “collective memories” is its most vital component.

The Coalition’s Terry Baltimore contacted the Urban Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in the Spring 1998, and requested an interdisciplinary urban design program to run parallel with the program being carried out by Drs. Robert and Mindi Fullilove of Columbia University’s School of Public Health, and Dr. Anthony Robins of the University of Pittsburgh. Graduate students from the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management and final year undergraduate students from the School of Architecture formed seven teams, starting work at the end of August 1998.

Each team engaged in a three stage study: Analysis and Program; Urban Design Recommendations; Individual Projects within the overall urban design recommendations. Citizens worked with the students at every stage. Early on in the program, Terry Baltimore organized a “teach-in” for Hill citizens. The teach-in included Mindi and Robert Fullilove, Anthony Robins, and Tracy Myers from the Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum. Students from the Urban Laboratory asked the citizens to “create a map of memories”. A huge sheet of white paper was pinned to the wall, a thick black line was drawn across it to represent Centre Avenue from downtown to Oakland. Before long the map was filled with a rich mixture of places, memories and hopes. As citizens described what they drew on the map, the more the students understood the intersection of deep tradition and aspiration for the future. As a result of this and further meetings, and individual interviews citizens, the students on each of the seven teams were able to develop their own individual themes. One team for example, emphasized an approach to economic development of the Hill that would provide maximum entrepreneurial opportunity for the Hill’s own citizens. Another team emphasized transit as a strategy to link citizens in the Hill with job opportunities in the region, and bring visitors to the Hill from other parts of the metropolitan region to shop and to attend cultural events. Yet another team emphasized a means of creating density and hence commercial markets in the Hill. And yet another, not surprisingly, picked up on the Hill’s rich cultural history, particularly in music, jazz and gospel.