PCRG VISTAs Attend Main Streets Conference in Pittsburgh

25 May

Our AmeriCorps VISTA members had the pleasure of attending the Main Street Now Conference alongside PCRG staff this year. The National Main Street Center, Inc. (NMSC) is a membership-based nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing historic downtowns and creating people-centered places that will increase investment, which will in turn create jobs and sense of pride for residents. The Main Street Now Conference is the largest nationwide gathering of commercial district revitalization professionals and it was held in Pittsburgh this year. Around 1,500 community leaders from all over the country attended the conference this year. Here are some of the highlights from our VISTA members,

I enjoyed the session “Hospitals: Not just for sick people!” at this year’s Main Street Conference about the role hospital anchor institutions can play in community health that goes beyond providing beds and emergency rooms. The panel from Highmark and Allegheny General Hospital talked about their new outreach program Health’s Angels, which has a community outreach component, sending hospital staff into the neighborhoods to check needs around the hospital. The panel also showed how it organizes vendor fairs and promotional events at the hospital to bring local business to the thousands of hospital staff, and how it partners with community groups in hospital site planning that could impact the neighborhood. – Jessica Durkin

The Main Street Now was a fantastic experience. It justified my commitment and interest in working in historic preservation and revitalization efforts. From event planning to marketing, ideas were flowing between sessions. Making small and colorful changes to a business district or community gateway can make the difference to bringing back a once thriving Main Street. – William Prince

The Main Street Now Conference allowed me to learn more about community development from the perspective of main street management. It also showed me that there is much more room for collaboration between main street managers, city officials, and nonprofit organizations when it comes to placemaking. My favorite session was called “Radical Inclusion: Hosting Meaningful Conversations That Transform Your Community.” During this session, the facilitators shared different strategies for bringing the community together in conversations where all participants not only feel welcomed, but like they have a voice. I was excited that the World Cafe model was included as a strategy because I am currently in the process of planning a series of three community workshops in Wilkinsburg that are based on this model. – Ashley Pinamonti

“I attended the Placemaking Session. During this session, we discussed cheap and easy ways to improve our communities through “placemaking”, or creating attractive and convenient areas that can be a hub for community activity. The key is finding abandoned, unattractive, or underused lots and providing cheap improvements such as benches, community gardens, and parks. Good placemaking is about conforming design to human desire, making it convenient for people, rather than inhibiting people’s natural tendencies. Good placemaking utilizes convenience, color, and utility. Even small changes can make massive differences in attendance by creating an emotional connection to the space that both attracts people to it and keeps them coming back, enriching the surrounding community.” – Max Chis

At the Main Street Conference, I had the opportunity to attend many sessions to learn more about the different roles main streets play across the country. I attended a session entitled Shared Use Kitchens: Creating Entrepreneurs with Talent, which focused on the continued development of Pretzel City Kitchens, a shared use commercial kitchen space in Freeport, Illinois. Pretzel City Kitchens hopes to encourage collaboration, support local farmers and businesses, and involve both high school and college students through this project. The overall goals of the Kitchen include improving food security and supporting overall community health. I found this concept very interesting because Freeport is a food desert, similar to Millvale, the community where I serve as a VISTA, and I like learning about projects and solutions other communities are exploring to improve food security. – Maria Mongelluzzo


During a special screening they viewed ‘Through the Place’, a documentary by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. Pictured below are some of our VISTAs and staff with Arthur Ziegler, President of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.