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CMU awarded $3.5 million grant to develop technologies for transportation safety and efficiency

Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania have been awarded a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in order to develop technologies that will make transportation safer and more efficient.

The grant, titled Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation (T-SET), will establish the collaboration between the two universities as a University Transportation Center. 

The grant was announced last week by Senator Bob Casey. 

“I’m pleased that two of Pennsylvania’s finest research institutions will help tackle the nation’s transportation problems by finding ways to improve safety, upgrade infrastructure and ensure that the best new technologies come from American companies,” Senator Casey said in a statement.

CMU President Dr. Jared Cohon said the award will allow the two universities to bring to bear a great wealth of computational technology talent to Pennsylvania’s and the nation’s transportation sector.

“Further, it will pave the way for new career paths in intelligent transportation that will have a transformative impact on the transportation industry,” he said.

Get There PGH is advancing a plan to bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to Pittsburgh, a mode of transportation that has emerged in recent years in part due to advances made in efficiency technologies.

Court Gould, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, says his organization is interested in BRT because it utilizes such technological improvements, allowing for increased transit access, reduced congestion, and greater service to riders.

Gould believes the grant will allow CMU to continue work it has already begun, citing the earlier development of an iPhone app by the university, which allows riders to track busses with real-time information. 

Gould says matching CMU's information technology prowess with the needs of transportation efficiency in the region is a win for the Pittsburgh area.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Ken Walters, CMU; Court Gould, Sustainable Pittsburgh

Get There PGH advancing bus rapid transit, to hold public information meeting Thursday

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) could someday link Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, greatly improving the connection between these two important centers of commerce and employment.  Get There PGH, a partnership of over 30 neighborhood organizations, is advancing a plan for this transit initiative, and will host an informational public meeting throughout the day on Thursday, January 12th.

Of the 30-plus organizations, Sustainable Pittsburgh is acting as a convener in bringing the exploration of BRT to the community. 

Executive Director Court Gould says this evaluation of BRT is at the earliest stage, and Get There PGH seeks to learn whether it fits with community visions and needs, and how it could facilitate not only mobility, but prosperity, public health, and revitalization, among other issues.

“The stakeholders…are viewing the bus rapid transit as part of a larger community vision interest and need, not as an isolated transportation project,” Gould says.

BRT is a form of bus transit that operates more similar to a rail system, with dedicated stations, route priority, and platform fare collection, among other efficiency measures.  And while BRT shares design principals with rail transit, it is also far less expensive to implement.

An Alternatives Analysis and Environmental Assessment, to determine whether BRT would work in Pittsburgh, began last year.  The upcoming public information session is the first in a series as part of that study.

Supporters of BRT cite economic growth and neighborhood development along corridors as benefits of the transit mode, along with safer streets, and improved mobility for city residents and visitors. 

Gould says BRT differs from the Port Authority’s current East-West busways, noting rapid is a reference to efficiency of service and not high traveling speeds.  He says the region’s busways were innovative in their time, but that cities nationally and abroad have gone forward and applied those same attributes to on-street systems, rather than segregated facilities.

“So this would be Pittsburgh now coming full-circle to catching up with the trend that in some ways it was a pioneer of, but with a new twist,” Gould says.

Among its stakeholders Get There PGH includes the City of Pittsburgh, Port Authority of Allegheny County, Allegheny Conference on Community Development, local universities, and Bike Pittsburgh.

The information sessions will be held tomorrow, during two sessions, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Hall Ballroom, 4227 Fifth Ave. in Oakland.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Court Gould, Sustainable Pittsburgh; Scott Bricker, Bike Pittsburgh

URA home improvement loans made available to many, few income restrictions

Through a variety of home improvement loan programs, the URA is seeking to help as many people as possible in making repairs efficient and affordable.

Jenny Kohnfelder, manager of consumer programs, says one of the URA’s goals is to offer homeowners programs they can use as soon as they’ve purchase a home.

The Home Improvement Loan Program, for example, has no equity requirements, meaning new homeowners can apply for that program the very next day, immediately after purchasing a home.

Through this program, homeowners are able to hire their own contractor, or even do the work themselves.  If they chose the do-it-yourself route, the loan would only cover materials, not labor.  The program has a 5.99% interest rate, and a $15,000 limit.

For the HIRP, there are income restrictions based on neighborhoods. But if a home is within a Target Neighborhood, no income restrictions apply.

Target Neighborhoods are determined based on Census and IRS data, Kohnfelder says.

“There are no income guidelines in those areas because we want to encourage people to move into these neighborhoods that are suffering a little bit,” Kohnfelder says.

And if a homeowner does not meet the requirements for the HILP loan, Pennsylvania's Keystone Renovation & Repair Program addresses income restrictions, where household income can be as high as $98,550.  The minimum loan amout is $2,500, and the maximum is $35,000.  This program also requires little to no equity for eligibility.

Through the Keystone R&R program, the URA will provide technical assistance with rehabilitation work, finalize a write-up, and will arrange contractors to competitively bid on the work, if the homeowner does not already have one. 

And the Pittsburgh Home Rehabilitation Program, which Kohnfelder says is perhaps the URA’s best, offers a 0% interest rate.  Although under that program, a two-family household income cannot exceed $41,000. 

Kohnfelder says the URA offers these various programs so that as many people with different incomes can take part in home restoration. 

For more detailed information on the URA’s loan programs, visit their website here

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source: Jenny Kohnfelder 

James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy opens, Pittsburgh jazz standard revived

James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy has opened in Deutschtown, evoking the spirit of a former Pittsburgh jazz hangout, while offering an updated menu of food and drinks.

Located at the intersection of Foreland and James Streets (just north of East Ohio Street), the large building was originally built for the Perry Homestead Loan and Trust Company in the 1800's.  More recently, the Classical Revival-style structure has been home to a string of neighborhood restaurants and other quirky uses.

The first floor restaurant space, while repaired and renovated, appears much like it might have in years past: exposed brick, a handsome, dark-wood bar, and wooden booths.  Autographed musician photographs line one wall, mementos inherited from the former jazz club once located here, the James Street Tavern.

The James Street Tavern was a beloved local venue and restaurant, serving Louisiana-style cuisine.  Co-owners Adam Johnston and Lisa Saftner say when local musicians heard that “James Street” was back, they were overwhelmed with enthusiasm and support.

“I had no idea that there was such a huge jazz community in Pittsburgh,” Saftner says. 

James Street is already booked with jazz and blues three nights a week (Friday through Sunday) through May.

Performances are held in the "speakeasy" basement level, where bands take the stage in an intimate setting, at arm’s length from seated patrons.  Scheduled performers include the Boilermaker Jazz Band, Roger Humphries Quintet, and the Etta Cox & Al Dowe Band.

The Pittsburgh Jazz Society has also relocated their weekly Sunday Night Jazz series to the speakeasy.  On January 15th, the Kevin Howard Quartet will take the stage at 6 p.m.

Johnston says the menu at James Street was designed to be as eclectic as this Northside neighborhood.  That means everything wings and burgers, to Cajun oysters, short ribs, and chicken fried steak.  There’s also plenty of appetizers and small-plates to chose from, for sharing with friends during a set of live jazz.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Lisa Saftner, Adam Johnston

East End Eden wellness collective opening in East Liberty

East End Eden, a new wellness center collective in East Liberty, will open January 20th, offering city residents another space to unwind, and recharge both the mind and body. 

The 1,200 sq. ft. collective, located on the mezzanine level of the Liberty Bank building, is run by Emily Escalante, and a group of other independent practitioners of massage therapy, reiki, yoga, and other fields of wellness. 

Escalante says the center, with extra-large windows, beautiful floors, and lots of natural light, has a kind of lounge feel, where participants could sit and enjoy tea before and after yoga classes, stretch, meditate, or other peaceful activities.

“It's kind of like hanging out in your friend’s cool loft and getting well at the same time,” she says.

During the January 20th opening, from 6 - 9 p.m., cocktails will be served, coupons and prizes will be given away, and those interested can meet the different wellness practitioners of the East End Eden collective. 

On Tuesday, January 24th, the center will conduct a visioning workshop, where attendees can create a mental map of one’s life and goals.

“If you visualize where you want to go, you can kind of create the life that you want to live,” Escalante says. 

And every Thursday morning, a yoga class will be given for stress management.  Escalante says it’s a very gentle, restorative class, intended to be more meditative than an intense workout.

Escalante is a graduate of the Pittsburgh School of Massage Therapy, and is experienced in Swedish massage, reiki levels 1 + 2, reflexology, hydrotherapy, and aromatherapy, among other types of massage. 

East End Eden is located at 6101 Penn Avenue, Suite M01, East Liberty.  412-361-4850.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Emily Escalante

Movie inspired by Lawrenceville progressive dinners soon to be filmed there

A new film titled Progression, inspired by the Lawrenceville Urban Pioneers Society Dinner, will be filmed in the neighborhood beginning in March. 

Written and directed by Gab Cody and Sam Turich, the narrative film takes place over the course of an evening, and will focus on three different couples as they wander through the homes and streets of Lawrenceville.

Cody says the film will be driven by conversations and the behavior of people, not by special effects or action sequences.  “Rather a world of people at dinner tables having funny conversations,” she says.

Which is how Cody perceives the LUPS Progressive Dinner.  That event is in its 27th year and has grown from 12 participants to 150.

Cody and Turich moved to Lawrenceville from New York City four years ago.  Three months after moving in they participated in the progressive dinner, and were able to meet “so many great, quirky, weird, strange, funny, hilarious, smart people that we were delighted that we'd chosen to live in Lawrenceville,” Cody says.

“It’s a really magical night in which you are thrust into situations with strangers but often times in their homes,” Cody says.  That type of encounter can be unusual, she says, but is always filled with interesting social interactions and conversations, where friendships develop, and even romance can bloom.

Which is why Cody decided it would be a great setting for a movie of this kind.

Cody and Turich's previous short film, Mombies, was also set in Lawrenceville.  Pageboy Salon & Boutique owner Rachel Vallozzi, who starred in Mombies, will design costumes for Progression, and Cody is reaching out to restaurants and chefs in the Pittsburgh area to design the film's food. 

Filming is scheduled to take place between March and July, and Cody hopes to have a local premier as early as next fall.

Fat Beckett, a play written by Cody and directed by Turich, is currently in production by the Quantum Theatre, and runs through December 18th at the Old School House in Lawrenceville.

And a Kickstarter campaign has launched to help finance the film.  Visit that site here.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Gab Cody

High school students develop and design ideas for vacant lot in Homestead

A group of high school students from Allegheny County have been tasked with reimagining a vacant lot in Homestead.  And today, after three months of planning and design, they will present their concepts and drawings to a panel of architects and community development leaders.

This is the final session in an apprenticeship program, a cooperation between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.  These two organizations have partnered for the program since the 1980s, allowing high school students with an interest in architecture to experience studio work and the design process hands-on.

The vacant lot under consideration is located at 7th Avenue and Amity Street.  According to Louise Sturgess, of the PHLF, Amity Street has become a secondary Main Street for the community of Homewood. 

Students were asked to create a design that connects the growing Waterfront complex with the historic Homestead community, using Amity Street as a connector between the two destinations.

Through a series of sessions, students have completed design challenges, a site tour, had discussions with prominent urban designers and toured professional architecture studios, and have presented preliminary site plans to architecture students at Carnegie Mellon University. 

Today, the 25 students will give their final presentations to an audience that includes professional architects and designers, Homestead community leaders, and representatives from the Mon Valley Initiative.

Sturgess says that whether or not students choose to pursue architecture in college, they have taken part in a valuable lesson on how community planning takes place.

“As adults they will know that they can become involved in community design decisions,” Sturgess says.  “We really open up their eyes to the importance of the built environment, the value of historic preservation,” and the academic training required in schools of architecture, engineering, or historic preservation, she says.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source: Louise Sturgess

Panello Boutique opens in Lawrenceville

Panello Boutique has opened on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, just in time for the holiday shopping season. The shop features women’s clothing from small and independent designers, including jackets, blazers, jeans, accessories, and handbags.

Manager Emily Slagel says items at Panello are offered at a lower, more affordable price point than many other boutiques. Most clothing items are under $100, and jewelry, both new and vintage, ranges between $14 and $75.

Owner Cara Moody, who co-owns Jupe Boutique in the South Side, was looking for a new space to expand. It was another Lawrenceville business owner, Alissa Martin, of Pavement, who alerted her to the open retail space on Butler, and encouraged her to open a shop there.

Slagel says Panello will try to keep the same hours as other shops on the street, and that area businesses try to help each other succeed.

“We’re really trying to build it into a shopping district and a community,” she says.

In addition to clothing and jewelry, Panello is currently carrying screen-printed iPad cases, and Pittsburgh-themed t-shirts designed by Julie Dinardo.

Panello is located at 3703 Butler Street, replacing the former Sugar boutique, which closed this past summer.

Next week Moody is planning a shop-local event with the customer review site Yelp, and will offer refreshments to guests, from 4 to 8 P.M.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Emily Slagel, Cara Moody 

Vietnam's Pho expands in the Strip; new source for banh mi in Pittsburgh

Vietnam's Pho is expanding in the Strip District, adding an Express Bar adjacent to the main restaurant space, featuring banh mi sandwiches, bubble tea, and salad and sushi bars.

Tom Nguyen, co-owner and chef, says when an adjacent restaurant space became available, he and partner Gina Trinh decided to expand because so many customers were asking for those Vietnamese hoagies. 

For banh mi lovers, this is exciting news. Banh mi, (a Vietnamese sandwiches of marinated meats or tofu, pickled vegetables, jalapenos, and herbs on baguette) are increasing in popularity in Pittsburgh. 

Lucy Nguyen (no relation) has served these sandwiches from a sidewalk grill for many years, but spends her winters in Vietnam.  With Vietnam’s Pho’s new Express Bar, these sandwiches will be available year-round.

Nguyen says he is surprised that so many Pittsburghers have been asking for the Vietnamese sandwiches, and that this demand is the whole reason for the expansion.

Nguyen says he personally favors light salads for lunch, which is why he included the salad bar.  Pasta, potato, and tuna salads are included, but also Vietnamese-style preparations, like papaya, lotus, and green mustard salads.  Meals are weighed, and paid by the pound.

At the sushi bar, which seats seven, a chef will prepare rolls in front of the customer.  Rolls include avocado, cucumber, tuna, eel, and California, among many others.

Fruit smoothies, teas, and bubble teas feature tropical fruits like passion fruit, kumquat, mango, as well as peach, honeydew, and other fruits.  And there's even one made from durian, a fruit still considered quite peculiar among American tastes.

Vietnam's Pho has been serving the beef noodle soups that are its namesake, among many other Vietnamese dishes, for the past three years in the Strip.

In celebration of their grand opening, items at the Express Bar will be 10% off for the first two weeks. 

Vietnam’s Pho is open 11 A.M. to 9 P.M.; the Express Bar opens earlier, 9 A.M. to 7 P.M.
1627 Penn Avenue, Strip District. 412-281-8881.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Soruce:  Tom Nguyen, Gina Trinh

Little Bangkok Thai restaurant opens in the Strip

The Strip District can now add Thai cuisine to its ever-expanding list of diverse restaurants, as Little Bangkok celebrated a grand opening on Monday. 

Owned by Drew Kessler and Chef Pornpen Thammasaroret, the 60-seat restaurant occupies one-half of the former Sunseri Jimmy & Nino Co. space on Penn Avenue.

Thammasaroret moved to Pittsburgh from Nakorn Pathom, Thailand three years ago, and has worked as a chef at Benihana in Greentree.

Thammasaroret was able to build relationships with customers at that restaurant, where cooking is done tableside.  When customers would ask her where she was from, and learned that she was Thai, they encouraged her to open a shop of her own, cooking the food she was most familiar with.

And so she did.  Thammasaroret says everyone in the Strip District, including neighboring restaurant and shop owners, have been incredibly kind and supportive. 

Thammasaroret says she didn't have to train to become a chef of Thai cuisine because she grew up with it, watching her mother and aunts cook it in the home. 

“I was born with it,” she says with a laugh.

According to Thammasaroret most menu items at Little Bangkok would be eaten in the home in Thailand, but the Bangkok Basil, Pad Phet, and Pad Thai dishes on the menu are especially typical of home cooking.

Thammasaroret says she chose the Strip District because it’s close to everything she needs, and she hopes to use the freshest ingredients every day.

In the near future, Thammasaroret would like to serve traditional Thai breakfast on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, which includes light soups and a Thai-style omelet.

Little Bangkok in the Strip, 1906 Penn Avenue, 15222.  412-586-4107.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Pornpen Thammasaroret

Simple Green Cabinets bring sustainable design to kitchens and more

Pete Schoonmaker, owner of  Simple Green Cabinets, says his products are the most environmentally friendly on the Pittsburgh market.

So green in fact that, according to Schoonmaker, when a project reaches the end of its life expectancy you could bury an entire kitchen in the ground and not transmit any toxins into the earth. "It's all good stuff," he says.

While Simple Green Cabinets builds multipurpose cabinets, entertainment centers, bars, and does general contracting work, they primarily remodel kitchens, using materials that are non-toxic and locally sourced.

SGC’s plywood is formaldehyde-free, comprised of recycled wood fiber, and use only waterborne glues.  And while Schoonmaker says cabinet doors can be made of any material a client chooses, an emphasis is put on locally timbered wood.  Of the hardwoods Schoonmaker uses, 95% comes from Pennsylvania forests.

According to Schoonmaker, many other builders still use toxic lacquer wood finishes for cabinets, which often require EPA permits.  In contrast, he says SCG’s stains, paints, and clear-lacquers are all waterborne, safer to handle, and lack unpleasant, harmful odors.

Schoonmaker says choosing locally sourced materials, and locals builders, is increasingly important to his clients.

“People are wanting to build more responsibly,” he says. 

But being conscious of waste and resource usage also makes good business sense to Schoonmaker.

“We waste very little here --we don't waste time, we don't waste man power, and we don't waste resources,” he says.

Schoonmaker also donates his sawdust to urban gardens throughout the city.  A friend, who teaches art at a local university, takes SGC’s wood scraps for her students to work with.

“My point-of-view on being a sustainable company is if we are wasting, then we’re losing,” Schoonmaker says.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Pete Schoonmaker

Project Seal-Up community and sustainability initiative helps heat homes in Larimer

A new sustainability initiative is hoping to make a difference in the lives of homeowners in Larimer. 

Project Seal-Up, in cooperation with the Kingsley Association and Green For All,  is conducting energy audits of homes in that neighborhood and offering energy efficiency solutions.

Project founder Chester Thrower says this project literally fills the gaps in this community, by helping to make homes more energy efficient, but also by bringing sustainability concepts to a low-income community, which often bears the brunt of unsustainable environmental practices.

Project Seal-Up aims to teach homeowners to save 15-30% on monthly energy bills, reduce local carbon emissions, improve residential air quality, and help develop environmental stewardship in the community.

A former Green Outreach Coordinator for the Kingsley Association, Thrower says he wanted to give back to his hometown and to help others in the community.  He works fulltime as a BPI building analyst, but on  weekends, Thrower volunteers his time to Project Seal-Up, providing free home energy audits to Larimer residents.

Thrower has been interested in the environmental movement and green jobs for many years, and was previously a fellow with the Green For All organization in Oakland, California.  However, once back in Pittsburgh, he realized that for many people the initial cost of renewable energy, such as purchasing solar panels, put that method out of reach.

He says while taking a step back, he realized that energy efficiency, and retrofitting homes, is actually the foundation of renewable energy.

With funds from a Green For All micro-grant, Thrower was able to purchase an auditing tool called a Blower Door, which allows the auditor to see where air leaks from a home. 

And he says retrofits serve more than one purpose.  “Because you’re actually renewing a community,” he says, by eliminating blight, and putting existing structures back together.

“Ultimately this will result in the success and empowerment of a community, as well as a vital paradigm shift for historically disadvantaged minorities,” Thrower says.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Chester D. Thrower, Project Seal-Up

Emerging art gallery and performance space, 3634 Penn Avenue, to hold an opening Saturday

From the street, 3634 Penn Avenue seems like any other nondescript, underused building.  But once inside, beyond the red brick and glass-block windows, the space reveals itself as a haven for visual and performance art.

The building, which Monk McAllister leases, was once a former home brewing supply store.  With the help of the building’s owner, Monk transformed the store into a wide-open gallery and performance space comprising the entire first floor, and an upstairs living space.

Monk grew up in Pittsburgh, but left for New York City in 1977.  When family drew him back just a few years ago, he wanted to have an impact on the local arts scene. Through his arts venue he began to meet interesting people and a side of Pittsburgh he wasn’t previously aware of.  

Monk says developments in Pittsburgh’s art scene, like Penn Avenue Arts District and the monthly Unblurred Art Crawl, are great additions to the city, and he credit’s local nonprofit organizations and the work of individuals for these changes.

“It's almost as if the art scene in Pittsburgh has picked itself up by its own bootstraps,” he says.

But Laurie Trok can attest to the impact Monk himself has made.  A Pittsburgh-based artist, Trok says Monk gives local artists ample time and space to develop ideas.

“This is a very different gallery experience than any gallery I’ve ever shown in before,” Trok says.  “Monk is willing to work with you and take time to see your vision through, and he has a similar vision with you.”  

Trok’s latest show, titled “don’t go back to sleep,” will be on display at 3634 Penn Avenue, from December 10th through January 7th.  A reception will be held this Saturday, the 10th, from 7 to 11 p.m. featuring a live music performance at 8 p.m.

Trok says her abstract work is a bit like electronic music, in that she borrows from other things, remixing or reinventing found objects.  

“I like the idea of taking things that are nothing to anyone anymore…and making art out of them,” Trok says.

Although the space is sometimes known as Morris Levy Gallery or Monk’s Place, Monk likes to refer to the gallery simply by its address, 3634 Penn Avenue.

For more information: 412-681-0154.

Writer:  Andrew More
Source:  Monk McAllister, Laurie Trok

Wigle Whiskey grand opening this Friday, first distillery in Pittsburgh since prohibition

Wigle Whiskey celebrates a grand opening this Friday, offering the public a chance to taste the first Pittsburgh-distilled spirit since prohibition.

Eric Meyer, co-owner of Wigle Whiskey, says the celebration will include a three-in-one tour: a walk through the production space and the entire whiskey process, from grain to bottle; a history of the Whiskey Rebellion, as told through the distillery’s namesake Philip Wigle; and a tasting room primer on how to drink whiskey.  

A whiskey cocktail will kick-off the tour, followed by a tasting of white, un-aged rye and wheat whiskeys.

Since Wigle is new, don’t expect any aged, dark whiskey just yet.  For now, the available whiskey will be un-aged rye (think tequila), and un-aged wheat (buttery and smooth, similar to a wheat beer), both of which Meyer describes as clear, interesting spirits, good for mixing.

“I think people will be pleasantly surprised by how they taste,” he says.

But for those who can’t wait for the traditional aging process, Wigle will soon offer do-it-yourself kits: a bottle of white whiskey and a small, oak barrel.  Meyer says these smaller barrels significantly reduce the aging time, and a dark spirit can be ready in 2-3 months.

Although this Friday’s event is sold out, tours of the grain-to-bottle facility will continue every Saturday and Sunday through December.  Groups are limited to eight participants; register here.

Still pending a label approval from the federal government, Wigle Whiskey will soon be available for purchase online through the state liquor stores, with shipping to your home or nearest state store.

In the meantime, the best way to sample Wigle Whiskey will be the weekend tours ($20), which begin at 2 P.M. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Eric Meyer

Uptown mosaic welcomes commuters and aims to put neighborhood on the map

A shimmering mosaic of glass and ceramic now welcomes visitors and residents to the Uptown neighborhood.  Located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and the Birmingham Bridge, the installation aims to proclaim Uptown as a neighborhood of art and creativity.

Jeanne McNutt, executive director of Uptown Partners, says a lot of people don’t know exactly where Uptown is, with commuters often treating the neighborhood as a speedway between Downtown and Oakland.  

“So this literally puts us on the map,” McNutt says.  “But it’s also a piece of art…to show that we’re a creative, energetic, forward-minded organization and community.”

The towering welcome sign, designed by local artist James Simon, represents a tree, filled with colorful wildlife including penguins, chickens, turtles, and lady bugs.  

Simon chose a tree to symbolize the re-growth of Uptown as a clean, green, and safe place.  Once the design was complete, teens from the Hill House Association’s Youth Services Program helped place and adhere the tiles that would become the mosaic.

Simon says involving kids in the project provided a lesson on how art can help transform a physical environment, and beautify their own neighborhood.

McNutt says that there are several other Uptown developments in the works, including the residential conversion of the former Fifth Avenue High School.  She says once those projects are complete, the neighborhood will begin to reflect the vibrancy that the new welcome sign depicts.

“Just as the sign is a quality piece of art, everything that finds itself on the Avenues…is of high caliber,” McNutt says.  “I think it shows that we're a community that cares about ourselves.”

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  James Simon; Jeanne McNutt
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