Protecting Panther Hollow

Panther Hollow
Panther Hollow, by Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor, The Pitt News

Protecting Panther Hollow

The Pitt News / Mark Pesto and Elaina Zachos / Senior Staff Writers / October 9, 2015

Carlino Giampolo, the unofficial mayor of Oakland, has loved his community for more than thirty years, which is why he’s fighting the city’s most recent expansion project and pledging to “Save Panther Hollow.”

Giampolo has long campaigned against the University for the preservation of his community in Panther Hollow, a tiny neighborhood which lies along Boundary Street in the Junction Hollow valley below Oakland.

Now, he wants to raise awareness for another campaign against a proposed transportation corridor through Junction Hollow and the Panther Hollow neighborhood.

That road would connect Oakland and its universities to Almono, a former steel mill site in Hazelwood, along the Monongahela River. A coalition of Pittsburgh foundations and nonprofits plan to redevelop Almono into a prime destination for new housing and office space.

According to preliminary plans, if the city builds this transit link, it will run along South Neville Street in Oakland, down from its intersection with Forbes Avenue at South Neville Street, and onto Boundary Street through Panther Hollow. It would continue onto a proposed road along the existing bike trail through Panther Hollow before reconnecting with Boundary Street as it enters Greenfield.

“Connecting the [Almono] site to the rest of the community is a priority,” Katie O’Malley, a spokesperson for Mayor William Peduto, wrote in an e-mail.

But Giampolo worries that Boundary Street becoming part of this corridor could destroy the tight-knit Panther Hollow community. Although he initially agreed to an interview, he later declined as he wanted to develop his campaign further before talking with The Pitt News. The Pitt News called him two more times and spoke to him at his home, but Giampolo still declined to comment.

However, Giampolo has publicized his concerns in blog entries on the Save Panther Hollow website.

The project’s announcement “created anxiety, fear and dread, especially for the elderly residents” of Panther Hollow, Giampolo wrote in a blog post on Sept. 24.

“We fully intend to triumph over this proposed roadway,” Giampolo wrote in the post, “and we will do so in a manner in which we uphold our ideals, principles, self-respect and dignity.”

Save Panther Hollow isn’t the first site on which Giampolo has expressed his views on issues within Oakland. On the Oakland Dignity site, he has published numerous essays and open letters about Pitt’s expansion into Oakland, which he considers destructive to the community of permanent residents, and about student-caused problems like noise and litter.

“For far too long, community organizations have allowed the University of Pittsburgh to dictate how residents of the community were able to live,” Giampolo wrote in a December 2013 post on Oakland Dignity.

Paul Supowitz, the vice chancellor for community and governmental relations at Pitt, said he’s familiar with Giampolo’s concerns.

Supowitz said litter is still a problem. Although he said community initiatives like Keep it Clean, Oakland! — a collaborative project with the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation in which students, residents and business owners adopt blocks and keep them litter-free — have improved the situation.

“I do not think we’re satisfied, especially on the litter front,” Supowitz said.

As for the other student-caused problems, Pat Corelli, Student Government Board’s governmental relations committee chair, said he doesn’t think Giampolo’s complaints pertain to most students living in the Oakland community.

“The vast majority of students living off campus are responsible,” Corelli said.

Still, Corelli said there’s not much of a relationship between students and Oakland’s permanent residents. According to Corelli, many students don’t bother getting to know residents, who, in turn, often consider students to be nuisances.

“I think a lot of students have come to the conclusion that we should have more of a sense of community,” Corelli said.

To help build that sense of community, Supowitz said, Pitt issues the Student Guide to Campus Life, a document meant to make students understand they’re not the only ones in South Oakland and that they have responsibilities as community members.

Supowitz also said recent Pitt “block parties” — where students and permanent residents meet — have gotten them to talk to each other and address problems as they appear.

According to Supowitz, he and Pitt try to respond to Oakland residents’ concerns. He said his office has monthly meetings with community groups like the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, Peoples Oakland and the Oakland Business Improvement District. Although he can’t deny that Giampolo is passionate, Supowitz said Giampolo might have the wrong approach to some local problems. Giampolo doesn’t want to work with established community groups, preferring to act on his own, Supowitz said.

“He’s a person with his head in the right place, but he makes it difficult to work with him because of the way he goes about things,” Supowitz said.

Along with his outspoken activism, Giampolo’s deep history in Oakland make him a figurehead in the community.

The 68-year-old resident has lived in the area for his entire life. He attended Central Catholic High School and graduated from Duquesne University around 1970.

Family members say Giampolo is proud of his neighborhood, which sits relatively unseen at the bottom of Joncaire Street in South Oakland. Italian immigrants from the towns of Pizzoferrato and Gamberale settled into the neighborhood in the late 1800s. Most of those families, including Giampolo’s, still live in that area today.

Giampolo lives catty-corner to his extended family. He also lives across the street from a friend that he’s known for 40 years.

“Down here, it’s a handshake,” said George Casciato, Giampolo’s distant cousin. “In the rest of the world, you have to have contracts.”

A small patch of grass sits in the crook of Boundary Street, the main road through Panther Hollow. Picnic tables striped with red, white and green represent the neighborhood’s Italian pride. The community planted two trees in remembrance of Giampolo’s father, Carl Sr., and his uncle, Bob.

A small plaque under a white arbor in the parklet lists the surnames of the families who first settled in the area. “Giampolo” is sandwiched between a slew of other Italian names.

Anna Casciato, Giampolo’s aunt, said her nephew wears his Italian heritage “like a banner.”

Giampolo works to keep the community clean. He uses his own money to beautify the area, Anna Casciato said, cleaning up the hillside and planting flowers.

Pitt administrators have also noticed Giampolo’s dedication to keeping Panther Hollow clean. While discussing litter problems in Oakland, Supowitz singled out Boundary Street as a particularly “pristine” area.

George Casciato said his cousin fights for the people in the community. He works to inform his neighbors of what’s going on in Oakland and fights for the surrounding community to respect the native residents in Panther Hollow.

“This is our town,” George Casciato said. “He fought, and has been fighting that forever.”

Anna Casciato also testified to Giampolo’s work ethic.

“He wants to do it all the right way and he never gives up,” she said. “He’s someone who gets an idea and he sticks with it.”

Whether he’s fighting for his community or dancing across the country, family and friends say Giampolo always keeps moving.

“I don’t know if he has spare time,” George Casciato said.

And the city assures that it cares about the people living in the communities that the Almono project might affect, should it come to fruition.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority board of directors recently ratified an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for a $3 million grant to design the link, according to an Oct. 5 post on Save Panther Hollow.

Although the project is still in the planning stages, O’Malley said any plans for an Oakland-Almono transportation corridor would engage the community.

“Mayor Peduto and Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin care a great deal about the effects that projects have on a community,” O’Malley wrote in an email. “If and when the transportation corridor project comes to light, community stakeholders will be at the table and community feedback will be vital to the process.

The Pitt News / Mark Pesto and Elaina Zachos / Senior Staff Writers / October 9, 2015