Photo by Heather Mull

P4 Progress Takes Hold in Uptown

There may be no more appropriate community “welcome” sign than resident James Simon’s soaring mosaic and mirror sculpture that greets those traveling on Fifth Avenue from Oakland into the heart of Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. Bright leaves, birds and fantastically colored wildlife shine, their individual brilliance joining to form the 25’ tall tree-shaped “Welcome to Uptown” sign. It has become a landmark for this 1.5 mile stretch along the Monongahela that connects the city’s university corridor with the Golden Triangle. Longtime residents, students and tech entrepreneurs join artists and families to form a lively neighborhood with both historic buildings and new apartment structures. 

It is in this arena of new construction that grantee Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh’s Jeanne McNutt works to ensure that the ideals of Pittsburgh’s p4 conferences have demonstrable effect on the neighborhood where she lives and works. Co-convened by The Heinz Endowments and City of Pittsburgh, the p4 Conferences – 2015, 2016 and April 2018 – tackle issues of people, planet, place and performance, and have provided inspiration for new initiatives that foster sustainable, innovative and inclusive growth. 

As Uptown Partners’ executive director, Ms. McNutt is a longtime resident and advocate for the neighborhood, and serves as a community voice as new development takes hold in the Uptown EcoInnovation District (EID). She has worked with the City’s Department of City Planning, institutions and stakeholders in Uptown to create the “The EcoInnovation District Plan” – Pittsburgh’s first City-adopted community plan.

“The EcoInnovation District Plan” was built through an extensive City and neighborhood-led community planning process and was inspired by both national best practices and concepts generated during the p4 conferences. Meant to guide both community and public partners who have a stake in Uptown’s future, neighborhood input was key in the EID Plan’s creation. Public gatherings designed to collect input – including outdoor events with food trucks and music – attracted over 550 people, and 50 individual interviews and 20 focus group meetings were among the outreach efforts that lead to the plan.

Not only was the two year input process valuable for neighborhood planning purposes, it also had an unexpected benefit. “The interactive planning events brought the diverse community together,” said Ms. McNutt. “The bonus was hearing residents’ enthusiasm for more opportunities to enjoy each other’s company.”

Those involved in the planning process shared input, including safety concerns due to vacant land, buildings and surface parking lots that are empty at night. The input gathered at public sessions - along with citywide discussions like the p4 Framework - shaped the EID plan and its vision for the district. The Department of City Planning then created a new land use system based on the community’s goals and the vision articulated in the plan. The EcoInnovation District Zoning announced on February 20th includes a Performance Points System that allows flexibility for developers while ensuring that projects keep within parameters outlined by the neighborhood. 

The Performance Points System includes a “height bonus” element, allowing buildings to rise above the normal height limit in exchange for inclusion of one or more components from a list of public amenities identified through public input during the EID planning process. Consistent with the p4 Framework, the slate of height bonus options includes affordable housing, management of stormwater with green infrastructure, building energy efficient structures, inclusion of historic design elements and rehabilitation of older buildings. Ms. McNutt believes the new height bonus “is the carrot that has the potential to entice new construction, and be a win for both community and developers. This is an innovative development tool to help us 'get it right' as we respond proactively to pressures of a changing market.” 

Ms. McNutt knows that Uptown has its challenges, but believes with continued thoughtful, community-focused planning it can thrive. She, too, loves the colorful, soaring “Welcome to Uptown” sign for all the creative energy it represents. “Uptown has the right combination of location, character, development opportunities and determination to be an even more vibrant part of the fabric of The City of Pittsburgh.”

Read the City of Pittsburgh’s full EcoInnovation District Plan here or the EcoInnovation District Zoning press release here.