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Pennsylvania New Pathways to Equity Project

This grant funds the renewal and revitalization of public spaces in the Hill District of Pittsburgh and will help make the area more accessible to pedestrians and provide economic opportunities for residents.

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A man crosses a street in the downtown area of Pittsburgh on June 2, 2017. (Getty/Eric Baradat)
Snapshot
  • Project name: New Pathways to Equity Project

  • Program: Local and Regional Project Assistance Grants (RAISE)

  • Law: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

  • Recipient: City of Pittsburgh, Hill District

  • Investment amount: $11,320,000

  • City: Pittsburgh

  • State: Pennsylvania

  • Congressional district: 12

  • Construction start date: 2026 (at the latest)

This profile is part of a project that finds and tracks the public and private sector investments generated or supported by three of the Biden administration’s economic laws. These laws make investments in the American people, helping to grow the middle class, lowering the cost of living, and setting up America to better compete and cooperate in the world. Pulling directly from several sources, this catalog provides users with publicly available information such as the number of jobs created, workforce training partnerships, and storytellers benefiting from particular projects, among other detailed information. The profile below expands on the economic, practical, and climate impacts of just one of the 35,000 investments that can be found in the Biden Administration Investment Tracker. It may be updated to account for future project developments.

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The Hill District of the City of Pittsburgh received $11,320,000 from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to revitalize the public areas of the district after they were wiped out following World War II. The newly enlivened area will be safer and more accessible to all residents as well as serve as a source of economic opportunity for its population, more than 70 percent of which is Black.

Historical context

Pittsburgh’s Hill District was a thriving, culturally significant majority-Black district in the uptown part of Pittsburgh until the 1950s, but it was decimated by urban renewal projects:

  • The Hill District was first settled as a result of the Great Migration, as Black men and women looking to leave the South took jobs at steel mills in Pittsburgh that were left vacant by men fighting in World War I. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the district became a Black cultural mecca and was also known by the names “Little Harlem, Little Haiti, and ‘the crossroads of the world.’” – Pittsburgh Beautiful, last accessed April 2023
  • “After World War II, the housing in the Hill was slated for redevelopment due to aging housing conditions. However, this process was not planned out well, and the lives of the local people were disrupted as the renewal got under way. Over 8000 residents (as well as 400 local businesses) were displaced, and the area’s access to the downtown economy was cut off. A new arena and parking lot were built in an area that predominantly black families had once called home. … By 1990, 71 percent of the community’s residents and a majority of its businesses were gone.” – Pittsburgh Beautiful, last accessed April 2023
  • Since the 1990s, there have been increasingly strong calls to revitalize the area, and efforts to do so have included razing old public housing complexes and replacing them with “units designed as townhouses that blended in with the existing architecture of the surrounding neighborhood.” In 2011, “the neighborhood collectively completed the Greater Hill District Master plan,” which outlines the development of new housing, retail, business, recreation, and green space, renovation of existing space, and key initiatives that support the community and its residents” with the aims of “cultural, commercial, and residential revitalization.” – The Hill Community Development Corporation, last accessed April 2023
  • “Once the vibrant center of Black cultural, civic, and economic life in Pittsburgh, the Hill District was deliberately cleaved from the city center by highway infrastructure and systematically decimated by redlining and urban renewal. Situated between downtown Pittsburgh and the Oakland area (the second and third largest economic centers in Pennsylvania), the Hill District remains isolated from opportunities for economic and social mobility due in large part to limited transportation mobility and neglected infrastructure.” – Pittsburgh City Government, last accessed April 2023

Project summary

The award will fund infrastructure construction projects focused on revitalizing, reconnecting, and rebuilding public spaces in the Hill District:

  • “The project will fund construction activities associated with improvements to the public right-of-way in the Hill District in Pittsburgh. Improvements will include the reconstruction of intersections, street corridors, and city steps and will include the installation of traffic calming measures, sidewalks, and green infrastructure.” – U.S. Department of Transportation, 2022
  • The project will also fund construction of “pedestrian improvements that are accessible to people with disabilities. It will help reconnect the upper and lower Hill and Downtown.” – 4ABC WTAE, August 25, 2022
  • Specific projects include the construction of traffic speed reduction infrastructure, street beautification, adding high-visibility crosswalks, upgrading traffic signals, installing street furniture and public art, rehabilitating degraded steps and sidewalks, improving street lighting, and installing infrastructure to address flooding and stormwater issues. – Pittsburgh City Government, last accessed April 2023

Outcomes, improvements, and practical impact

This project will revitalize the infrastructure in the Hill District and provide economic connections and opportunities for residents:

  • “The project will revitalize the Hill District, a community that has suffered deterioration and disconnection from the business district of Pittsburgh through historical disinvestment. By making ADA-compliant pedestrian infrastructure improvements, the project will safely connect low-income residents to transit hubs and employment opportunities.” – U.S. Department of Transportation, 2022
  • These improvements will make Centre Avenue, the heart of the Hill District, safer and more accessible for pedestrians, drivers, public transit passengers, and other Pittsburgh residents. – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), August 11, 2022

Climate impact 

Although the focus of the project is not specifically on addressing climate change, some of the construction projects will contribute to overall environmental sustainability goals:

  • “New electric vehicle charging options and low-impact development stormwater infrastructure contribute to environmental sustainability.” – U.S. Department of Transportation, 2022
  • Specifically, the project will install “green infrastructure,” which is “an approach to water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycles such as tree boxes, planters, permeable pavement, rain gardens” and more. The project will also encourage the use of more sustainable transportation by making the district more navigable by and safe for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users. – Pittsburgh City Government, last accessed April 2023

Racial equity and justice impact

As part of the Local and Regional Project Assistance Grants (RAISE) grant program, this project will affect a community that is more than 70 percent Black:

  • “Just over 7,000 people or about 72 percent of Hill District’s population identifies as Black, non-Hispanic/Latino.” – ECONorthwest and others

Economic impact

The economic impact of the investment has not been quantified, but the building projects funded by the grant will bring more economic activity to the Hill District and boost its economic strength overall, reversing long-standing economic disinvestment in the neighborhood:

  • “Centre Avenue is the main transportation artery and business center of the Hill District. Proposed improvements would focus on using the street to enhance the commercial district and support infill development. Priority would be given to managing the curb for street parking and loading through commercial areas, traffic speed reduction, pedestrian safety and accessibility improvements, and would transform Centre Avenue from an auto-dominated roadway to a multimodal boulevard.” – Pittsburgh City Government, last accessed April 4, 2023

Official supporting statements

  • “The Hill District is a vibrant community that for too long has been disconnected from the rest of the City of Pittsburgh. … This grant, made possible by the infrastructure law, will make Centre Avenue safer and more accessible to drivers, public transit users, pedestrians and all residents of Pittsburgh. This project will bring more businesses, customers and workers to the Hill District, boosting the neighborhood’s economic strength.” – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, August 11, 2022
  • Former Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle (D): “This grant is the culmination of years of hard work to invest in the revitalization of the Hill District. This project will provide safer streets, better transit, and improved accessibility in the Hill District. Along with the federal funding we secured to reconnect downtown and the Hill District with the I-579 Cap Project, this grant will ensure that we are investing in the middle and upper Hill District equitably. … This project also bolsters the City’s Avenues of Hope project to work with local and minority business owners to invest in historically marginalized corridors throughout the City.” – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, August 11, 2022
  • County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D): “We were glad to support this important project that will improve the quality of life for residents in the Hill District. … Through continued investment in the neighborhood, we are improving infrastructure, mobility and access for those who live there, but also for those who come to eat, shop and visit.” – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, August 11, 2022
  • Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey (D):
    • “This grant is not just an investment into essential infrastructure, it is also an investment in correcting long standing harms that have isolated the Hill from Downtown. … Designing solutions and getting them funded required a true community partnership, and this is an example of the kind of ambitious reinvestment in our city that can happen when we all work towards a common purpose and shared goal.” – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, August 11, 2022
    • “This is how we rebuild the vibrancy of the Hill District. This is how we create economic opportunity. … It starts the healing process. It starts to say that we recognize what we did 50, 60 years ago didn’t work. And we’re trying everything possible to assure that we connect people from the Hill back to the cultural fabric of Downtown, to Oakland, to Lawrenceville and other areas where we know we want to connect the whole city. This is what we do in order to restore what was taken from this neighborhood, and it starts with infrastructure.” – 4ABC WAE, August 25, 2022
  • Amani Development Team Member Re. Lee Walls: “It helps us to develop the human capital in our community. It helps people to get to Downtown, to jobs that are Downtown, awaiting.” – 4ABC WTAE, August 25, 2022

Selected clips

  • “Pittsburgh lands major federal grant for Hill District infrastructure” – 4ABC WTAE, August 25, 2022

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

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