The Hill District: Still waiting for something great to happen

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A sandwich neighborhood

While the Hill is slowly redeveloping, the area continues to face serious obstacles.

“One of the contradictions of the Hill District is that it is sandwiched between two of the highest value areas of the city, and yet it is not high value,” said Miller, mentioning Downtown and Oakland as the two high-value areas.

The low values stem in part from the perception that the Hill is not safe. However, statistics from Pittsburgh’s annual police report for 2012 show that the crime rate in the Hill District – about 3 violent incidents per 100 people – is actually slightly lower than the city average. The low rate has remained more or less the same for the last several years.

But the area still grapples with a reputation that goes back to riots in 1968 – when crime in the city as a whole was at a high point – and drug epidemics in the 1970s and 1980s.

This perception has discouraged economic development, despite the neighborhood’s proximity to Downtown.

Payne said she has always felt safe there.

“It’s really a mystery to me why it’s perceived to be dangerous,” she said.

You can find crime in any neighborhood, she added. “If you want trouble, you know where to go find it.”

The Hill has its share of blocks known for drug trafficking and gang violence. But there are many other areas, like Payne’s block of Cliff Street, that are dominated by private homeowners who are invested in the community.

She jokes with friends that they can enjoy the view from her kitchen window for five dollars. With her incredible view of the Allegheny River, it’s a bargain.

These days, she sees college students moving into the neighborhood, and former residents coming back from the suburbs.

An informal community ambassador, Payne is happy to show outsiders that, in addition to its rich history, the Hill District is a place of beauty.

Circling the Herron Hill reservoir – topographically one of the highest points in Allegheny County – pedestrians can see for miles, with breathtaking views of Oakland, Downtown, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and beyond. On clear days, Payne sits by the reservoir and quilts images of the city.

A short drive from there, Arcena Street, which sits on a bluff above the Strip District, is the neighborhood gathering place to watch fireworks, with stunning views of the Allegheny River.

With its proximity to Downtown, Oakland and the Strip District, the Hill is situated in the heart of the city.

“People are starting to look at this place differently, as a place of opportunity,” said Hall-Russell.

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