Up On The Farm: Ambitious Urban Agriculture In The City’s Hilltop
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | AUG 27, 2017
Eight years ago, the remaining residents of St. Clair Village were mourning the loss of their homes, which the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh had decided to demolish. Now, in a transformation that may be symbolic of the new Pittsburgh, the neighborhood is being reborn as the Hilltop Urban Farm.
No one should minimize the loss and the controversy that accompanied the closing of the apartment complex that once housed 1,000 families. In 2005, the authority razed more than half of the units, and the remaining units were in a state of disrepair. The authority decided to close the community, citing a study that indicated it would cost $27 million to upgrade and maintain the buildings. Residents were displaced, and the supply of affordable housing was reduced.
Now 23 acres of the site are in the early stages of becoming one of the largest urban farms in the country. The nonprofit Hilltop Alliance, with many partners, is spearheading the plan that includes community-supported agriculture, an orchard, a farm market, an education center, greenhouses, storm-water ponds, and community garden plots.
The Hilltop Alliance has conducted a careful planning process lasting more than four years. It involved feasibility work by agriculture experts at Penn State University and discussions with community members. Churches and youth-serving organizations have expressed hope that the development will give neighborhood youth a positive outlet for their energy and a way to earn some money.
Across the nation, urban agriculture is on the rise, with attendant challenges. While Detroit has made great strides, there has been controversy about the proper use of land that is near public transportation and which may be appropriate for housing. Pittsburgh seems to be avoiding these problems, since city council passed an urban agriculture ordinance in 2011 and has monitored progress since then.
The preparation of the soil at the Hilltop Urban Farm has begun, and an abandoned property will literally bear fruit in the coming years.