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Millvale EcoDistrict works to address housing, food and energy challenges

| Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, 12:01 a.m.
Installation of solar panels on top of the Community Center is an example of the strides that have been made in sustainability in Millvale.
Installation of solar panels on top of the Community Center is an example of the strides that have been made in sustainability in Millvale.
Shaler Area students watch the installation of solar panels in Millvale laste year as the region continues to work toward self-sustainability.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Shaler Area students watch the installation of solar panels in Millvale laste year as the region continues to work toward self-sustainability.

Approximately 25 attended a Feb. 15 meeting celebrating the Millvale EcoDistrict Plan and strategizing for its future.

Environmental and architectural firm evolveEA partnered in 2012 with Millvale Borough, Millvale Community Development Corp., Millvale Community Library, New Sun Rising, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities at Mt. Alvernia and others on the multi-year plan focusing on food, water and energy.

The committee completed a second phase in 2016, which focused on air quality, transportation and equity.

“A plan is a plan, but action is what we're about,” said Zaheen Hussain, New Sun Rising sustainability director and Millvale sustainability coordinator, during the Millvale Community Center presentation.

To that end, Wolovich, a borough councilman and Millvale Community Library founder, announced the purchase of 1141 North Ave. as a pilot project for Millvale's first affordable housing unit through Chunky Skunk Holdings LLC.

Wolovich said officials will hire Millvale contractors and ask residents to help renovate the two-story, single-family property. Wolovich said his goal is to finish by year's end.

Additionally, he said that representatives from KaBOOM!, a nonprofit focused on building playgrounds in low- to moderate-income communities, contacted the borough to express interest in bringing equipment to Millvale.

Denise Rudar, Gardens of Millvale chairwoman, spoke about increasing the community gardens from four to 13 lots. The gardens provide produce for Tupelo Honey Teas and other businesses, she said.

The Gardens of Millvale has sold produce alongside the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at its Green Grocer mobile farmers market at Millvale's Grant Avenue Pocket Park.

Rudar wants to schedule pop-up farmers markets inside Millvale's senior high-rise buildings since residents might experience difficulty traveling to Green Grocer events.

“While our goal is in 2030 that we become a hyperlocal food production foodie paradise, our daily goal is to improve accessibility of food to people in Millvale,” she said.

Attendee Mel Cronin, Millvale resident and 412 Food Rescue program manager, said she wants to increase her community involvement regarding the plan.

While she expressed an interest in the plan's food component, she noted that “food doesn't happen without the other ones; it's hard to separate one out over the others. It's really fascinating.”

Responses from the summer 2017 community needs assessment will help leaders determine how the EcoDistrict Plan can best work for residents.

University of Pittsburgh student Daly Trimble shared her experiences gathering needs assessment responses throughout the borough. Residents also received surveys online and through the mail.

“That meant some really interesting adventures for me. I think I got chased by dogs. Like, I was in bars for the first time in my life. I was also in convents. So, you got to go to a bar and then to a convent. It was wonderful, and you found out where people stayed and what they valued.”

Common themes were “fear of being left behind” by leaders or development and wishes for playgrounds, grocery stores and housing.

EvolveEA plans to provide a more thorough breakdown of the data.

“The importance of this data can't be overstated as we start to understand that these are some things that we are struggling with,” Wolovich said.

“So, the question becomes how we leverage all of this great work that we have going on to meet these great needs? We are doing a lot of great work around the neighborhood, but how can that go forward?”

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