Green Building Alliance is thrilled to honor the Millvale EcoDistrict with our Inspiration Award at the 2017 Emerald Evening gala and awards ceremony. With a history of devastating floods and disinvestment, the residents of Millvale are reimagining their community, and building a neighborhood where everyone can thrive. Join us on September 21st as we celebrate their vision, perseverance, and tremendous dedication to their own flavor of sustainability.
Situated where Girty’s Run spills into the Allegheny River, Millvale is a small town that happened upon a big city. “When you go down the street, everyone beeps and waves. It’s a hometown,” says longtime resident and business owner Janet Zipf. “If you feel like going to the store in your pajamas, well knock yourself out. No matter who you are or what you do, you’ll find a place here.” This spirit of collective quirk has kept the community going despite the loss of its mainstay industrial employers, and has brought forth a uniquely candid approach to rebuilding. As Brian Wolovich, founder of the Millvale Community Library explains, “I’m not a community planner. If we are going change our neighborhood, it has to start with the residents, with the people who know the neighborhood the best.”
And start with the residents it has. Millvale has spent five years thoughtfully crafting its redevelopment, growing a 12 person meeting in the yet unheated library into a community wide sustainability movement. In partnership with the local Borough Council, the community library, the Millvale Community Development Corporation, and planning firm evolveEA, residents have held block parties, visioning sessions, and educational events to create their own EcoDistrict plan, focusing on energy, water, food, air, mobility, and equity. They have even hired a dedicated sustainability coordinator to monitor the plan’s implementation. “It took us a year to come up with these crazy goals for the town. But when we finally presented the [EcoDistrict] plan, I just thought, of course we can do this. The plan wasn’t being told to us. The people who live here decided to do this, to make Millvale a place where people wanted to stay,” says co-chair of the Gardens of Millvale Denise Rudar.
A quick jaunt through the .68 square mile town and residents’ commitment to the plan’s principals becomes immediately evident. Around one corner lies a bioswale and community arts studio, while an alley ends at an enormous vegetable filled garden, flanked by an orchard, green house, and some creeping hops vines. That’s not to mention the newly restored food hub, to house local start-ups and a small grocery shop, the Moose Lodge living its second life as a community co-working space and food lab, a solar powered library, and Sharryl, a ponytailed bike sharrow that guides drivers to share the road. More than anything, residents got involved to ensure that Millvale preserves its identity.“It gives me goosebumps to see all the excitement and growth and new projects,” reflects Lisa Love, chair of the Business Association of Millvale. “But at the end of the day, we are a small town where everyone knows everyone. We welcome new folks, we celebrate those that have kept us going. And that’s how it should stay.”
To learn more about Millvale and the people and projects transforming our region, save the date for our Emerald Evening on September 21, 2017 at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.