What is the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation?


The cultural and economic revitalization of Pittsburgh always seems to be in the news. Much of the city’s neighborhood-level transformation has resulted from citizen participation channeled through a unique type of nonprofit organization called a community development corporation (CDC).

The CDC concept took hold among American city planners in the 1970s as a means of effectively linking community needs with municipal resources.

A CDC’s mission is to help its affiliated neighborhood or business district design programs that promote affordable housing, economic development, improved public safety, improved social services, and community planning. future growth. As a community undergoes change, the CDC works to guide that change for the benefit of residents and businesses.

Established in 1990, Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) was one of Pittsburgh’s first CDCs. Three decades later, it still plays an important role as a sounding board for the concerns of 11,000 residents, approximately 275 businesses and approximately 1.2 million annual visitors to Grandview Avenue and Emerald View Park.

Gordon Davidson has served as the organization’s Executive Director since March 2018. A Peters Township native, he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of Science in Building Science, then completed a Master of Science in science in public policy and management. from the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University.

During his career, he has held positions with the National Recycling Coalition, the National Information Technology Center and the Pittsburgh Technology Council, in addition to consulting for NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Departments of Energy and Defence.

That and over 20 years of hands-on experience in home renovations and building new homes gives Davidson a solid foundation to handle the challenges of complex rehabilitation projects.

Davidson’s interest in community development began while a student in Troy, New York. Many of his courses focused on local government efforts to improve housing and infrastructure development.

“My graduation project studied design and usage codes in Pittsburgh,” he recalls.

A few years later, he was working in management and technology transfer and couldn’t help noticing that “there were always references to interesting things happening in Pittsburgh, new trends and new solutions to the challenges of urban planning”.

NEXTpittsburgh spoke with Davidson about some of the challenges an urban CDC is likely to face in the near future.

A view of Mount Washington. Photo by Bill Dawson via Flickr Creative Commons.

NEXTpittsburgh: MWCDC serves two neighborhoods, Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights?

Gordon Davidson: Two neighborhoods, one community. This was determined by the people who originally created the MWCDC, deciding the size of their service area.

NEXTpittsburgh: What prompted the creation of this particular CDC?

Davidson: Until the MWCDC was licensed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, there was no unified community voice equipped to deal with government entities, foundations, developers, and other organizations necessary to ensure the future of the district.

In the late 1980s, Michelle Madoff was the Pittsburgh City Council representative for Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights. His collaborator, Bill Urbanic, helped residents and businesses realize that their diverse interests could be better served by creating an independent non-profit organization focused on economic development. For the first time, Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights had a recognized community organization to represent them.

NEXTpittsburgh: Is the MWCDC still largely community-based?

Davidson: We are entirely community-based. The Board of Directors is drawn entirely from the community, either as residents or business owners. We host monthly forums on topics of interest to residents and businesses, and several council committees are open to community members. We encourage the community to provide feedback that we can evaluate in the decision-making process.

NEXTpittsburgh: What kind of stuff did the CDC bring to Mount Washington?

Davidson: First, it is important to remember that a CDC is development oriented and specifically development that affects many sectors of the community. This ranges from brick-and-mortar upgrades like parking garages and parklets to exterior sculpting, signage and landscaping, as well as coordinating new housing and business structures.

The Shiloh Parking Plaza, Gateway Arch, and part of Firemen’s Park on Shiloh were MWCDC projects. The same was true for the belvedere and the reception garden of the McArdle/Merrimac intersection.

In its early days, the CDC helped developers find ways to reallocate vacant structures to new uses such as senior housing or lofts – Wesley Towers, Prospect School, Boggs Avenue School, South Hills High School, St. Mary of the Mount School.

We’ve also helped convert many single-detached properties into viable single-family housing and commercial structures, often in partnership with the Pittsburgh Housing Development Corporation.

The community has also told us that they find it important to find support for basic improvements in the quality of life of the properties. We maintain a comprehensive property disposal and acquisition plan complemented by our yard improvement program and our front door program and other curb appeal programs.

This year we are launching the Grab Bars and Handrails program for low to moderate income senior and disabled homeowners, part of a Neighborhood Partnership Program grant we received.

Two houses on Beltzhoover Avenue were recently renovated by the MWCDC. Photo by Sebastien Fotz.

NEXTpittsburgh: Corporate recruiting was a big part of the effort?

Davidson: We encouraged several retailers like Rite Aid, Shop ‘n Save and Grandview Bakery to come or stay in the neighborhood. They are often anchor institutions for a community and a huge asset in attracting new businesses, home buyers and visitors. We have a business advisory board that helps us review and develop local business marketing plans.

NEXTpittsburgh: How did the MWCDC come to play a leading role in the creation of Emerald View Park?

Davidson: It was an extraordinary vision for its time in the early 2000s, and we had dedicated and passionate board members and community people who kept it going every step of the way. Think of the scale of creating a 257-acre regional park connecting Mount Washington, Duquesne Heights, South Side, Allentown and Beechview in a 19-mile network of stunning wilderness trails and awe-inspiring views of the rivers and line of Pittsburgh skyline.

Reclaiming this greenspace for public use involved tens of thousands of volunteer hours in planning and cleanup, as well as generous tax support from foundations and the City of Pittsburgh. Since 2016, MWCDC has partnered with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to promote Emerald View Park and visualize future improvements. In 2021, we received funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to complete trail repair and invasive plant management planning throughout the parks system.

NEXTpittsburgh: What are the biggest challenges for MWCDC in the near future?

Davidson: The first challenge for any CDC is that these challenges are constantly changing. We identify them by developing a strategic plan every five years, and our Board of Directors has nearly completed the 2023-2028 plan. It is a process where we identify problems as well as opportunities and present them to the neighborhood for their comments if they wish.

Over the next few months, we want to get more information for low-income residents about available social services. We want to better help our companies to promote their needs to local authorities. There is an ongoing list of beautification projects, as well as improvements such as converting utilities to be underground on Grandview Avenue West, and overhauling the Boggs/Bailey/Wyoming business district . And it is always a major challenge to find funding to achieve the objectives of the strategic plan.

NEXTpittsburgh: As we emerge from the Covid pandemic, has 2022 been a busier year than the others?

Davidson: 2022 has been the busiest year since I started at the MWCDC in 2018. Currently, the MWCDC staff and board are involved in nearly 80 active external projects. We are starting a new community needs survey, undertaking our first demographic data analysis, and launching a post-incubator project of minority and women-owned businesses. The VFW Street Banners project is entering its second phase. We have applied for a Federal Scenic Byways grant to create a Grand View Scenic Byway Entrance Garden and have six other proposals awaiting funding decisions.

NEXTpittsburgh: Seems like a CDC should always be ready to pivot.

Davidson: Predicting the changes a community will have to face to continue to thrive is never a sure thing. Having a CDC that can keep people engaged in this process of change is an essential first step.

Mt. Washington CDCPNeighborhoods of Pittsburgh

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