Community Revitalization, Pennsylvania and Beyond

Guest blogger Bob Hurley, GAI Pennsylvania Business Development Director, shares his experience of working together with local stakeholders to build strong, vital communities.


Partnering With Communities to Build a Shared Vision

Over my many years working for entities like Allegheny County, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and others, I learned the language and inner workings of government and nonprofits—and I also developed the listening skills that are essential to the success of projects that affect people, places, and local business.

My experience has taught me that the initiatives that best contribute to long-lasting positive outcomes invariably arise from the communities themselves. True and sustainable community revitalization hinges on engagement, communication, trust, and consensus.

The highest use of community revitalization opportunities come from the people who will live, work, and play in those communities every day.

Supporting Pennsylvania’s Main Street Economies

Every community benefits from having a successful economy. Historically, the economies of smaller communities in and around the Pittsburgh area have centered on small businesses along the community’s Main Street.

The Allegheny Together program that I oversaw as Allegheny County Economic Development Director sought to foster business development in and around these business districts, and, by 2016, we had helped more than 550 businesses open and provided financing assistance for nearly 2,100 existing establishments—those businesses had added more than 3,200 jobs paying over $4 million annually in wages.

I’ve long been driven to help boost the Pittsburgh region’s economy and enhance quality of life for the area’s many communities—and while I’m proud of Allegheny Together’s achievements, I have to give the lion’s share of credit to the people of the communities themselves. Hundreds of residents, officials, and business owners attended dozens of workshops that generated ideas about how to best implement the program in their communities. For while government and nonprofit programs can offer funding and frameworks, the highest use of community revitalization opportunities come from the people who will live, work, and play in those communities every day.

Listening to the People

The Allegheny Together workshops offered an opportunity for people to come together to identify and embrace their community’s unique attributes, and find ways to build off of what made each community unique.

This approach of sustained community engagement is a foundation of the GAI Community Solutions Group’s (CSG) approach toward community revitalization projects. I’ve developed an intimate knowledge of many Pennsylvania communities and their needs over 14 years working for Allegheny County, and I can say with confidence that our CSG is uniquely equipped to help these neighborhoods—and others like them—to explore and implement long-term community revitalization strategies.

It’s not simply sprucing up storefronts, but taking into consideration businesses, streets and walkability, stable housing alternatives, neighborhood amenities, and recreation spaces—considerations that will build sustainable and enjoyable communities that will serve existing residents, attract new residents, and appeal to visitors. Ultimately, the goal is to help create safe urban neighborhoods that provide for all the needs of daily life.

Working Together Yields Winning Results

OBTNext

We’ve seen the engagement strategy work in the GAI CSG’s OBT Next project in Orlando, FL. This award-winning project brought residents, government, business, and nonprofits together to explore options, define goals, and formulate a master plan that will help redefine a stretch of the city’s Orange Blossom Trail. The plan envisions five unique districts along the thoroughfare, each with its own distinct flavor and economic profile. GAI’s CSG is also working directly with nonprofit LIFT Orlando to help bring new housing, recreation, education, and healthcare options to the Orange Blossom Trail’s West Lakes area.

WADA Study Area

In St. Petersburg, FL, our CSG engaged with the community and local nonprofits to help develop the city’s Warehouse Arts/Deuces Live districts into walkable neighborhoods that retain and celebrate their distinctive cultural flavors—historic African-American neighborhoods and an evolving industrial arts area—peppered with welcoming shared spaces and friendly to new business and residential opportunities.

Wauwatosa

In the historic village section of Wauwatosa, WI (Milwaukee area), the GAI CSG led a project that brought together stakeholders including city staff, residents, and business people to craft improved streetscapes, public spaces, and more—enhancing the village’s unique attributes while boosting access, safety, recreation options, and commercial opportunity. The results are found not only in improved shared spaces, streets, event sites, and bicycle and pedestrian amenities, but in two new significant mixed-use infill development projects and in new business openings that actually took place during construction in anticipation of the refurbished village.

Upper Arlington

In Upper Arlington, OH (Columbus area), GAI’s CSG worked to reconcile emerging development opportunities in the Lane Avenue Corridor with neighborhood impacts. The group assisted city staff, concerned neighborhood groups, and development interests in resolving issues including traffic calming, urban form and scale, circulation, and parking to allow new investment to occur in a way that is sensitive to the character of the existing neighborhoods while also building a more livable Lane Avenue environment.

And in addition to leading and managing the interactive workshops and public meetings that help define community’s shared vision, the GAI CSG delivers the design, landscape, financial and economic strategy, and implementation support that bring community revitalization initiatives to fruition.

Building Trust and Relationships to Build Communities

Throughout my career with Pittsburgh area government and nonprofit entities, it was my privilege to take part in initiatives that sought to boost the region’s economy, improve services, and enhance quality of life for the area’s many communities. Along the way, I nurtured relationships, built connections, and earned the trust that is so beneficial for getting things done.

Today at GAI, I’m happy to be able to continue my devotion to bettering communities in the Pittsburgh region and elsewhere with the backing of a multifaceted team of planning and engineering specialists. Partnering with people to build local economic opportunities that align with and support the community’s unique sense of place are key to building thriving, sustainable places to live, and I’m gratified to be able to carry that mission forward.

Until next time –

Bob

 

Read more from Bob Hurley:

Contact GAI PA Business Development Director Bob Hurley, 412.399.5537, and learn how he can connect you with superior engineering, planning, development, and economic strategy services that will help your initiatives succeed. 


Bob HurleyBob Hurley has decades of experience in environmental, community, and land use planning in the government sector. As former Allegheny County Economic Development Director, Bob oversaw major growth initiatives that significantly improved the region’s economy, including the replacement of UPMC hospital, establishment of a main streets program for Allegheny County communities, and assisting in development of the region’s airport corridor. His prior experience also includes working for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh; the City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office as Manager of Economic Development; and for the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

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