2010 PFIG Recipient Gregg Forse
College of Arts & Sciences
2011 Graduation Year
Internship: Pittsburgh Hilltop Alliance
Notes on the first week
Last week, I began working for the Pittsburgh Hilltop Alliance, an umbrella organization that brings together various smaller community organizations from ten neighborhoods in the hillltop, a region in the south side of Pittsburgh. Overall, the Hilltop Alliance aims to revitalize these neighborhoods and to improve the quality of life within their communities through a grass-roots approach. At this time, the Hilltop Alliance, although it has only been in operation for a relatively short period of time, has organized "Action Teams" within the communities that develop strategies to re purpose vacant lots and to create a "One-Stop-Shop" in order to coordinate and to simplify the search for available services to residents. The preparation for future public safety teams is ongoing as well.
This summer, my time will largely be preoccupied with the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Community and Information System, a data and mapping system of the city. Primarily, I will use the PNCIS to analyze crime data that will hopefully assist current community and police dialogues and the public safety actions teams, the creation of which will take place at the end of June. In addition, I will be researching potential new grant opportunities for the Hilltop Alliance, preparing for upcoming community events, directly participating in an existing Re-purposing Vacant Lots action team, as well as routine canvassing to distribute information about Keeping Homes on the Hilltop, a Hilltop Alliance initiative which educates residents of other local organizations' efforts to help prevent housing foreclosures.
Hopefully, my work this summer will contribute to the development of the Hilltop Alliance's community organizing efforts. The Hilltop Alliance has established a community-oriented approach in the hilltop and I hope my short-term contributions will be beneficial to the long-term goals of the organization. Furthermore, I hope to gain a stronger understanding of urban and social issues. I plan to be involved in these issues as a career, most likely through city planning in some capacity. I hope this internship will give me practical experience and interaction with these issues in order to to help guide the direction of future educational options and job searches following my undergraduate education.
I want to take this opportunity to tell about an important event at the Hilltop Alliance that was the culmination of work that dated well before the start of my internship. In preparation for the event, I contacted numerous elected officials and members of community organizations about the event, and I made community members aware of the event on my canvassing routes throughout neighborhoods in the Hilltop.
Last week, the Hilltop Alliance hosted the most recent installment of its community organizing events. The meeting, called the United Hilltop = Safe Streets Action Forum, was preceded by 5 weeks of dialogues among police and community members in which groups developed strategies to make various neighborhoods and communities safer. At the Action Forum, groups presented their two best ideas, followed by a vote and the formation of a task force to put the most popular proposed ideas into action. Surprisingly, there was a general consensus between the ideas that the various groups presented. In general, people desired stronger communication between the community and the police, as well as improved and new block watches. Certainly, improving both of these aspects would enhance the quality of life in the neighborhoods in which I have gotten to know over the last few weeks.
In my opinion, if people view the police as the enemy, and not as a resource, the police are unable to perform their job of protecting citizens. Likewise, if the police are illiterate of the issues and intricacies of the neighborhoods they work in, community members are unable to develop this necessary trust of the police. Improved communication between these two groups will undoubtedly enhance the effectiveness of police efforts in this area. Additionally, if residents fear their own neighborhood streets, a community is hardly likely to develop into a thriving community and block watches can only help in creating a sense of community and helping to reduce crime. In this sense, I think the Action Forum set forth solid strategies to make the Hilltop a healthier and safer community.
I was pleased to play a part in this event and, moving forward, I am excited to contribute to the Hilltop Alliance's continued public safety efforts in South Pittsburgh for the rest of the summer. In my remaining time, I will be attending the newly-formed public safety task force's regular meetings. So far, I have done an extensive amount of crime data research and analysis with the Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community and Information System (PNCIS), a mapping and data system made available through the University of Pittsburgh. I think my research will be an asset and will be able to contribute to the decisions the public safety task force makes in regards to determining areas that are in need of their attention. Community members' familiarity with the area surely plays a strong role, but I think the combination of their knowledge along with data to either corroborate or refute the reputation of an area creates an effective way of determining the best uses of resources.
In this post, I would like to convey, respectively, the most rewarding, most personally interesting, and most important aspects of my internship this summer with the Hilltop Alliance in Pittsburgh.
1. A significant portion of my internship involved door-to-door canvassing to inform community members about available free services as well as opportunities to become involved in the Hilltop Alliance's various community programs. Understandably, many residents were often suspicious and/or resistant to helping someone that knocked on their door and asked them to participate in something they had often never heard of. However, a number of residents expressed genuine interest in participating in the Hilltop Alliance's grass roots, community driven efforts. Their enthusiasm for generating positive change in their neighborhoods definitely created a rewarding aspect to a task that I was initially intimidated of doing, but one that I became increasingly confident in doing as the summer progressed.
2. I was also extremely grateful to learn more about a variety of urban issues during my internship this summer, especially those related to public transit. For example, I represented the Hilltop Alliance at transportation working group meetings in which community groups throughout the city discussed transportation-related issues and tried to generate solutions for current problems. In addition, I attended a Pennsylvania House of Representatives Transportation Committee Hearing regarding the state's current budget situation and the possibility of massive cuts to public transportation systems, particularly the one in Pittsburgh. Repeatedly, those who gave testimony to the committee relayed the social and economic necessity of efficient and wide-reaching public transit in a large city. Prior to this summer, I was passionate about public transit but I had neither studied in a classroom nor directly experienced in the inner workings of a public transit system. My increased exposure through this internship has given greater insight, particularly the financial aspect, of an issue that I hope to be involved in after my time at UVA (transit related planning or development).
3. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time working at the neighborhood level this summer for the Hilltop Alliance, I would like to work for a wider-reaching, perhaps a city-wide organization, following graduation. My internship, however, taught me an exceedingly important lesson that will certainly guide my future work. It may seem obvious, but the community's interests and opinions are supremely important to any type of development, construction, or general work that takes place in a city neighborhood. This summer, a city organization built a structure adjacent to the Hilltop Alliance's office that will house families with handicapped members. Architecturally and aesthetically, the newly constructed building was certainly an improvement over the previously vacant lot on the Allentown neighborhood's business district, but community members expressed absolute disdain for the new building, simply because it was built without recognition of community members' opinions. In the future, I plan to take this lesson, that the community's wishes should be the guiding principle in development, and implement it into a potential job following graduation, hopefully in city planning, economic development, or some other related field.