Powered by NEXTpittsburgh / Written by Sandra Tolliver

Maggie Negrete rented a house in Lawrenceville for three years but knew it was time to go.

The popular neighborhood stretching eastward from the Strip District along the Allegheny River is experiencing a phenomenon: rehabbed homes now cost $325,000 to $450,000 and a new townhouse can top $500,000. Many rentals are $2 a square foot, and going up.

“I saw the writing on the wall. I wasn’t going to be able to live there much longer. Everyone I knew, their rent was going through the roof,” Negrete says.

Maggie Negrete at home in Allentown. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Last March, she moved to Allentown, where she bought a two-story frame house built in the 1900s near Grandview Park with a porch, fenced backyard, and half-finished basement for her artist’s studio. The home was move-in ready, though she’ll update the kitchen and, with a loan from the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, replace the boiler.

She chose Allentown because “I knew that Lawrenceville, Bloomfield – those were out of the question.”

Paolo Pedercini, 34, Associate Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, thought the same thing when he bought a house in Garfield and moved with his girlfriend last October after four years in a Bloomfield rental. They were priced out of the neighborhood, he says, and liked Garfield’s diversity.

“I’m not interested in being in the next Lawrenceville or East Liberty if that means that the people who are living here are going to leave,” Pedercini says.

The three-story late Victorian he bought from the city had been boarded up for five or six years and needed “significant investment” to renovate. And now?

“We are definitely happy,” he says. “It’s a lively neighborhood, across from Bloomfield and Friendship. We didn’t have to change our habits.”

Negrete, 28, can take a bus from her hilltop neighborhood to her job Downtown at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Her neighbors are “very nice, inviting,” and she has befriended the business owners along East Warrington Avenue. Mornings, she walks with neighborhood kids to their bus stop.

“From my second-floor window I can look out over the top of hills and I can see for miles and miles. It’s beautiful,” she says. She laughs, thinking back to the one house for sale in Lawrenceville for $55,000 that caught her eye, until she found it had no utilities. “There weren’t even walls.”

Lawrenceville, she says, “is changing so fast. The old cast of characters, who had been there their whole lives, are becoming the minority. It just doesn’t feel the same.”

Inside Paolo Pedercini’s renovated Victorian in Garfield. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Inside Paolo Pedercini’s renovated Victorian in Garfield. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Though most homes for sale in Pittsburgh are priced under $100,000, new construction and renovated older homes in Lawrenceville are listed for $300,000 to $500,000, says Kyra Straussman, director of real estate with the URA.

People who can’t afford pricey neighborhoods such as Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, East Liberty and Lawrenceville are looking in Morningside, Polish Hill and Stanton Heights, says Straussman. She recommends they also explore buying in the West End – Elliott, Sheraden or Chartiers – or in South Hills neighborhoods such as Allentown, Mt. Washington, Beltzhoover, Beechview, Brookline or Dormont.

“There is incredible housing stock, greatly undervalued, particularly for families,” Straussman says.

Most neighborhoods have bigger footprint homes, built when the city’s population of 305,000 was double its size. Other areas have smaller homes, such as Carrick, which was built for middle class millworkers, and Stanton Heights, developed in the 1950s and ‘60s.

A buyer can find, “if not bargains, certainly reasonably priced homes in reasonably good condition,” says Straussman.

Arabella St. in Knoxville. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Arabella Street. in Knoxville. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Matthew Galluzzo, executive director of Lawrenceville Corporation, acknowledges “profound market pressure does exist in our neighborhood, for a lot of different reasons.” He cites the Children’s Hospital of UPMC and a bustling business district with shops, restaurants, a movie theater, pinball arcade and bowling alley.

“We saw it by the end of 2012,” Galluzzo says, recalling a home needing work that sold for $411,000. “We realized the market was turning much more quickly than we’d seen.”

To address the need for permanent, affordable housing, Lawrenceville Corporation last year “green-lit what will become the first community land trust in the city,” using its equity and money from philanthropy and the URA, he says.

Galluzzo doesn’t want to discourage the wealth creation that’s happening – “there are clear benefits to having a stable real estate market,” he says – but none of the new housing units coming online will be affordable.

“That’s a crisis for us,” he says.

Carroll St. in Lawrenceville. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Carroll Street in Lawrenceville. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Exploring options

These days when Greg Panza visits Lawrenceville for a night out with friends, “I feel like I’m on vacation,” he says.

Panza, 44, a realtor with Northwood Realty Services, suggests prospective home buyers look at his neighborhood of Mt. Washington.

“Some people are real diehards and they want to be out that way,” he says of Lawrenceville, “but I’m trying to communicate to people there are other options that are half the price with just as cool homes and with growing amenities.

“So before you spend $400,000 on a house, come to Mt. Washington to see the same house for $250,000, with parking (and) a little more elbow room.”

The Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation bought and renovated homes in the Estella micro-neighborhood during the past five years. “What was our poorest performing neighborhood has dramatically increased in value,” Panza says. “The highest priced home that sold in 2010 was $100,000; in 2015, the highest priced home was $230,000 and that was a remodel, gutted and flipped. Even the median price went from $38,000 to $75,000.”

Nearby, Joe Calloway, owner of RE 360 development company, is committed to erasing Allentown’s decline. In the 1990s, before the Zone 3 police station moved there, “it was one of the worst” neighborhoods for crime, he says.

But Calloway, 35, of Pine took the risk and began buying properties. He owns around 40 parcels in Allentown, including 11 commercial storefronts and two warehouses, and his construction company helps offset his remodeling costs.

He convinced the Birmingham Foundation to invest in his project to buy low-cost, rundown homes and fix them up for sale at $125,000 to $150,000 – or more.

“Allentown is on the cusp – an up-and-coming neighborhood like South Side Slopes,” Calloway says. “You get an amazing amount of house in these neighborhoods, considering Allentown is one mile from Downtown. This is a great community.”

Unlike Lawrenceville’s obvious transformation from industrial past to a shopping and dining destination, it’s too early to track real turnaround in Allentown, Calloway acknowledges. But he and Panza and Josh Lucas, with the Work Hard Pittsburgh small-business incubator, have faith in its eventual transformation.

Photo of Allentown by Zos Xavius
Warrington Avenue in Allentown. Photo by Zos Xavius.

“You can see the change already – a lot of young people,” says Lucas, of Duquesne Heights.

Some Allentown homes Calloway bought for $30,000 or $40,000 and invested around $10,000 in cosmetics to make them more livable. Others required $50,000 or more to modernize.

Pittsburgh’s median income of around $55,000 doesn’t support homes costing $400,000, he says. “It’s not realistic. It’s not affordable for a lot of people. Not everyone works for Google or a big law firm Downtown. They’re looking to buy in that $150,000 range.”

Calloway made available a warehouse for the Hilltop Alliance’s program, Industry on Industry, which offers discounted studio space to makers and artists. The program is part of the thrust to lure businesses by offering 50% rent abatement for their first year.

Lucas’ incubator and Academy Pittsburgh boot camps aim to help people become self-reliant by learning marketable skills.

“We’re hoping to attract people who fall in love with the community, buy a house and raise a family,” Calloway says. “When we started up here three years ago, everyone thought he and I were crazy. But then came the coffee shop, and tenants in the warehouse who make reclaimed artisan goods, and Leon’s Caribbean, and Spool, the boutique fabric shop.

“We’re getting a ton of people coming. They’re being forced out (of higher-priced neighborhoods) or they’re losing their places to work. We’re saying come over and get good quality space.”

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Congratulations to Maggie’s Farm Rum Distillery in the Strip District for making the Nov. 15 issue of Wine Spectator. It is one of six artisanal distilleries recognized as “among the most distinctive and exciting producers” among the 750+ small distillers operating in the United States today.

TimRussellMaggiesFarmRotatorMaggie’s Farm (also known as Allegheny Distilling) is Pennsylvania’s first producer of a commercially-available craft rum dating back to Prohibition. All products are distilled from scratch on the Spanish-made copper still just behind its cocktail bar on Smallman and 31st Street. Maggie’s Farm aims for smooth yet full-bodied spirit.

“Founder Tim Russell’s approach to distillation is: by hand, by ear, by nose, by palate, on that simple still,” the article notes. “Russell says, ‘That’s part of what “craft” is. Rather than pressing buttons and looking at what an LCD screen tells me, I know what the temperature is. I know what the proof is. I know how the distillate tastes. That’s how I learned to distill.’ ”

Check out the Nov. 15 issue on newsstands now, or stop by Maggie’s Farm in person to taste the rum during its limited cocktail hours on Friday or Saturdays. Bottle sales are Wednesdays through Sundays.


Bonnie Pfister

Click here for a video showing what others love about these jobs. 

Did you know that there are good-paying jobs available all over southwestern Pennsylvania for women and men willing to be trained — for free — while they work?

The unions representing iron workers, electricians, heavy-equipment operators and sheet-metal workers (those who build and install heating and cooling ductwork) are in great need of people who to construct the iconic buildings and vital infrastructure of Pittsburgh, present and future.

Not only is training free, you can earn-while-you-learn through paid apprenticeships as you shadow veteran workers (journeymen) who will help to learn the trade. Once you attain journeymen status, you will be eligible for pay raises and benefits such as paid sick leave, vacation time, healthcare insurance and more.

If college isn’t for you, or if you’re a mid-career person ready to transition into a job with better career prospects, then click here to check out the free training and career assistance of the building trades. 

Check out these links for specific jobs: 

You can also check out this video to hear directly from iron workers, electricians, operators and sheet-metal workers about their jobs.


Powered by Laurie Bailey for NEXTPittsburgh.

Pittsburgh innovation studio Deeplocal created a new twist to the balloons and birthdays theme. Call it an inflated sense of selfie.

Combining the pop culture selfie craze and a birthday party staple, the Selfiebration Machine was designed and constructed by Deeplocal for Old Navy to honor the retailer’s 20th birthday. In October it made stops in New York City’s Times Square and near Los Angeles’ TCL Chinese Theater for eight hours at each location.

Selfies, sent by well-wishers via Twitter and captured by Deeplocal-designed software, were transformed into digitized photos made up of nearly 1,000 customized latex balloons on a 15-by-15-foot structure.

The balloons, divided among 16 identical “balloon boxes,” inflated simultaneously with each capture, thanks to almost five miles of wiring and a pneumatic valving system built by Deeplocal engineers, explains CEO Nathan Martin.

The device is capable of showing two images a minute.

“Fun is intrinsic to Old Navy’s DNA, and the smiles from the wonder and amazement were so rewarding. That said, the reaction in social really blew us away,” says Taylor Bux, director of digital/social for Old Navy.

Displaying about 2,000 images, last week’s participation far exceeded Deeplocal’s goals, says Martin.

“We generated 640 million impressions on Twitter alone; #selfiebration was used over 17 thousand times,” says Bux.

Concept through creation to going live took just eight weeks.

A mix of about 20 artists and engineers, Deeplocal began in 2006 when Martin, then a research fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, led mapping software research work. Since then Deeplocal has crafted concepts and the technology to produce national campaigns for the likes of Nike, Gap, Toyota and others.

“We come up with the ideas to generate news coverage and attention without the client paying for it to help promote the brand for the company,” says Martin.

And most projects, he says, are typically done for less than the cost of a television commercial.

A 2013 campaign for Google grabbed the attention of the Today Show, ESPN and more when the company designed a telepathic robotic pitcher with a vision system. The project allowed Nick LaGrande, a 13-year-old whose rare blood disease prevented him from being in crowds, to virtually pitch a ball through Google’s Fiber network from a studio in Kansas City to an Oakland A’s home game in California.

Phil Cynar
Nobel Laureate (and Pitt grad) Maathai Wangari

Pittsburgh has inspired and enabled great achievements by pioneers in environmental justice, medicine, art and sports. You can learn more here, but a sampling is below.

Kenya-born Wangari Maathai was a global leader on environmental and anti-poverty issues. She earned a master’s degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh and received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

A native of Springdale, a community along the Allegheny River just 18 miles northeast of the City of Pittsburgh and a 1929 alumna of Pittsburgh’s Chatham University, Rachel Carson was a marine biologist, conservationist and author. Her book, Silent Spring, is credited with advancing the global environmental movement. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of its publication.

University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine for polio – one of America’s most frightening public health crises – on March 26, 1953 in Pittsburgh. Widespread use of his vaccine is expected to globally eradicate this crippling disease.

Pittsburgh Pirates Right Fielder Roberto Clemente‘s breathtaking skills as a hitter helped the Pirates win two World Series. A native of Puerto Rico, Clemente was the first Latino in U.S. baseball to receive Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP awards and to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Pittsburgh-born leader of the pop-art movement beginning in the 1960s, Andy Warhol blurred the lines between art and life, commerce, film and celebrity. “The pop idea was that anybody could do anything.” Warhol is also often remembered for his quip, “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Pittsburgh is home to The Andy Warhol Museum, the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to one artist.

Born on Pittsburgh’s North Side in a neighborhood now called Allegheny West, Gertrude Stein was a writer, poet, art collector and feminist. She spent most of her life in Paris, nurturing such now-famous avant-garde artists as Matisse and Picasso, and expatriate American writers during the first half of the 20th century.

A native of Guatemala, Luis Von Ahn is a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor and MacArthur “Genius” grant winner. He pioneered crowd-sourcing and the reCAPTCHA software used to digitize books and other printed text. His latest venture is Duolingo, a free language-learning website and crowd-sourced text translation platform.

Born to Portuguese parents in Mozambique, Teresa Heinz is an American businesswoman and philanthropist. She chairs The Heinz Endowments and Heinz Family Philanthropies, which help the Pittsburgh region thrive economically, ecologically, educationally and culturally.

Called “the father of modern transplantation,” Dr. Thomas Starzl, was the first to perform human liver transplants. A physician, researcher and organ transplant expert, Dr. Starzl has called Pittsburgh his home since 1981.

An American entrepreneur and engineer, George Westinghouse is the inventor of the railway air brake. This device enabled trains to be stopped – for the first time – with fail-safe accuracy by locomotive engineers and was eventually adopted on the majority of the world’s railroads. Westinghouse was also a pioneer of the electrical industry and one of Thomas Edison’s main rivals. A transplant to the Pittsburgh region from his native New York state, Westinghouse and his wife, made their first home in Pittsburgh in 1868.


Phil Cynar

Most revolutions don’t get started in a garden – let alone a green rooftop edible garden.  But that’s where the call to action in Pittsburgh was made this morning during the first official event of the 2012 One Young World Summit, which brings 1,000 up-and-coming leaders from 190 countries to Pittsburgh for a weekend of probing issues of global concern and creating resolutions to help guide change.

Surrounded by beds of fresh herbs and vegetables at Phipps Conservatory  and Botanical Gardens, oft-called “green Pittsburgh under one roof,” internationally renowned chef and founder of the Food Revolution Jamie Oliver, alongside Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and other community leaders, today challenged Pittsburghers to join the revolution to make the city healthier and even more food-conscious – especially at the family level – over the next year.

Chef Jamie Oliver speaks at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens to promote “Food Revolution” in Pittsburgh PHOTO CREDIT: Annie O’Neill

This challenge would make Pittsburgh the first city to commit to a 12-month program to kick-start a Food Revolution.

Recognizing that obesity levels are soaring in America and causing manifold health problems – even as starvation plagues many other parts of the globe from which One Young World delegates hail – the Food Revolution aims to educate individuals and families about what’s in the food they’re eating and encourages them to make better choices.

Oliver’s ambition, as he described it today, is to create a healthier world by prompting community leaders, businesses and schools to work together to promote food education and provide more families with access to great food.  “Pittsburgh is not a city that’s broken.  There are already so many wonderful things here – people, programs and places, including Phipps.  You’re doing great things; now let’s just push it a little more [with the Food Revolution],” he said.

In response, Let’s Move Pittsburgh – a collaborative of organizations, parents and caregivers committed to making the region one of the nation’s healthiest places for children to live – launched 10,000 Tables, a pledge encouraging area households to prepare and eat at least one homemade, television-free meal together each week for one year. As part of the pledge, Let’s Move Pittsburgh will equip participants with helpful resources for making smart shopping choices, growing healthy ingredients at home and cooking more nutritiously for kids. “We’ve launched 10,000 Tables in support of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution because we know that kids in families that eat home-cooked meals – with the TV off and the conversation on – are healthier and have better chances of developing good habits that last for lifetimes,” said Richard Piacentini, executive director of Phipps and director of Let’s Move Pittsburgh.

Local ambassadors of the Food Revolution in Pittsburgh will be tasked with monitoring and reporting on a number of goals relative to the city’s evolution toward being “even-healthier” and “more food conscious” throughout the year ahead.