“Through science, we shall know it to be correct; through art, we shall know it to be beautiful”
The South Hilltop Men’s Group is a non-profit project of New Sun Rising, directed by Beltzhoover native, Jmar Bey. Their mission is to promote environmental protection through community training programs that use sustainable practices. With a broader goal to create hope and opportunity for those who have none. Since 2015, the South Hilltop Men’s Group has been working to support the responsible and inclusive revitalization of Beltzhoover.
In order to address widespread problems like blight and abandonment, lack of resources, and excessive unemployment while preserving and developing assets within the community, New Sun Rising and the South Hilltop Men’s Group acquired 600 Beltzhoover Ave on November 1, 2019 to become the eventual Beltzhoover Institute of Arts & Sciences. The proposed renovation will be led by the South Hilltop Men’s Group, creating a hub for revitalization and local jobs while addressing environmental issues. Allegheny County Economic Development has approved a $250,000 CITF grant. City of Pittsburgh $100,000 NIF, and Federal Community Project Funding Grant of $428,064 to support the initial phase of work.
The building is strategically located along Beltzhoover Avenue, a major artery that connects McKinley Park and Emerald View Park, serving as a hub for learning, training, and creativity and connecting related projects along an eco-corridor. To support work in combating blight the project will be anchored by two departments: the Wangari Maathai Environmental Laboratory and an Art Studio. Together, these departments will provide space and opportunities for residents to become engaged in the revitalization of the community.
The Wangari Maathai Environmental Laboratory will provide space for equipment, research, and education on urban environmental topics, focusing on green space management. The Laboratory is named after Wangari Maathai, who became the first African woman and first environmentalist to receive a Nobel Peace prize. Maathai studied at the University of Pittsburgh and later founded the Green Belt Movement, which creates employment to combat deforestation through sustainable practices. The Laboratory will be located on the same block as the Lots of Pride experimental research garden. This project is actively testing various methods for soil remediation using sustainable, low-cost techniques. The strategically located site provides outdoor practical research space that will be supported by the Laboratory.
In addition to the laboratory and art studio, this building will feature green infrastructure and sustainable technologies which will also serve as educational tools, as the building itself will be transformed into a living classroom. For example, a rooftop greenhouse will be used to incubate plants for the various neighborhood community gardens. Stormwater will be captured for irrigation and cleaning on the property. A 2,000 gallon fish tank will display Pennsylvania’s native fish species and spread awareness about the importance of wildlife management. Solar energy will be used to power lighting or other equipment. Mesh networking will be used to provide free internet access to project participants and local residents. All of these various components serve multiple purposes with education and awareness at the heart of it all.
The importance of this project isn’t just about rehabbing a building. The importance of this project is about resurrecting a neighborhood and bringing hope to a broken community. This building serves as a metaphoric symbol of our neighborhood. Battered and blighted it stands as one of the last commercial buildings left, in a once beautiful and proud area. A once happy community full of friendly people and thriving businesses. A safe place for children with a good school and good neighbors. The kind of place to raise a family in.