A Call To Action

By Carlino Giampolo
September 21, 2015

SAVE PANTHER HOLLOW. Those three words are easy to say, but they present a tremendous challenge to our longtime residents in stopping a proposed roadway through the heart of our neighborhood. Those seeking to destroy one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods are among the most powerful entities in the city. We fully intend to triumph over this proposed roadway, and we will do so in a manner in which we uphold our ideals, principles, self-respect, and dignity. A journey such as this, to maintain continuity and connection to the past and to preserve a beloved neighborhood, is truly what makes one’s life more meaningful. In accomplishing this feat, we bind ourselves to our history, to one another, and to our own spirituality.

Panther Hollow is a part of the larger neighborhood of Oakland. It is situated in a valley below the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The city of Pittsburgh’s plan, known as the Oakland Transit Corridor, would build a roadway connecting Oakland to a development site in Hazelwood. The roadway would also run through the adjacent neighborhood of Greenfield in a small section known as “The Run.” We have aligned ourselves with the good people of Greenfield because the city’s proposed road corridor would destroy their neighborhood as well.

The city’s plan for this road corridor first came to our community’s attention via an August 29 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The project was unanticipated by the Panther Hollow community, and created anxiety, fear and dread, especially for the elderly residents. Neither Mayor William Peduto, nor Chief of Staff and Chief Development Officer Kevin Acklin, nor our Pittsburgh City Council members, nor leaders of the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University had the compassion or integrity to inform the longtime residents of this plan. Without the newspaper article our community would still be uninformed.

Pittsburgh’s mayor is Italian American, and his chief of staff was born and raised in Oakland. Despite this, the two of them kept this plan, and any agendas associated with it, secret from our community. The longtime residents of Panther Hollow and others impacted by this plan will not be sacrificed for the desires of city and university administrators or the financial benefit of others. That this roadway plan was initiated in such an unjustified way underscores the grave challenges facing our community. This secretive manner in which the Urban Redevelopment Authority ratified a $3 million dollar application for a state grant to help pay for the first phase of this project warrants investigation to determine if there were any illegal actions or violations of city, county, or state laws.

This is not the first time the city, universities, developers, and others have attempted to destroy Panther Hollow. In the 1970s a plan was proposed to build University of Pittsburgh research facilities in Panther Hollow, but the actions of the men and women of our community prevailed in preserving the neighborhood. We honor the individuals who made it possible for our neighborhood to continue existing. We fully expect those who support this new roadway to regurgitate the 1970s rhetoric about how essential the roadway is to the growth of the city and universities. Panther Hollow was preserved then without harming growth, and the same will be true in preserving Panther Hollow today.

It is not easy to bring to light the wrongdoings of our two major universities, but problems continue to grow when neglected. Panther Hollow was an established community with hundreds of residents before the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University existed in Oakland. The community’s ongoing problems with Pittsburgh’s two major universities are rooted in the elitist attitude and greed of their administrators.

It is important to separate the researchers and innovators of these universities from the administrators. World-renowned Dr. Thomas Starzl, known as the father of organ transplants, would often meet with Oakland residents to share coffee, donuts, and good conversation. Dr. Starzl and other innovators from Pitt and CMU who have created astonishing feats for the good of mankind deserve our highest praise and gratitude. This positive impact seems to be lacking at the administrative level of these two universities insofar as decisions which may impact their host communities.

The University of Pittsburgh has decimated much of South Oakland with its uncontrolled growth, while Carnegie Mellon University has done the same to North Oakland. In the case of Pitt, ownership of approximately 100 buildings, nearly 9,000 dormitory beds, and 30,000 students in Oakland is not enough. This greed-based expansion dates back to the 1970s when Pitt demolished renowned Forbes Field. Pitt then persuaded the state to invoke eminent domain on the homes, businesses and church across the street, with the stipulation that only university buildings could be constructed there. At the time, South Bouquet Street had approximately a dozen students and over 200 residents; today there are 700 students and three residents. Carnegie Mellon University behaved with similar disregard when they purchased a building occupied by a hospice service, and then converted it to a dormitory for students.

Belief precedes experience. For there to be long lasting and positive changes for our community, it is of utmost importance that there is a change in the beliefs and attitudes of university and city administrators. At a community meeting about a decade ago, a now deceased resident of Panther Hollow asked a Pitt associate vice chancellor when would Pitt’s expansion in Oakland end. The insolent response was: “Never.” This associate vice chancellor, who has never lived in Oakland, also appeared before the city council in 2010 seeking approval for Pitt’s Master Plan. On his map of Oakland he pointed out various places for Pitt’s expansion and referred to them as “areas of opportunity.” We call those places “home.”

The city council hearings for approval of Pitt’s Master Plan, a plan that will impact our community for generations, were chaired by our current mayor. The May 6 hearing lasted only 15 minutes with no mention of how the plan would affect the Oakland community. The May 12 hearing was concluded after 58 seconds. At the third hearing, the council voted 9-0 to approve the Master Plan. Those hearings practically gave Pitt carte blanche to expand into our neighborhood, and are a clear indication of the strong alliance between Pitt and city officials, which is so destructive to our community. The alliance between the city and CMU is just as strong and just as destructive to Oakland.

Panther Hollow provides the city of Pittsburgh with a strong sense of place. For the longtime residents it is the dwelling place not only of our memories but also of our greater desires. Because of its rich Italian American heritage, Panther Hollow is an ideal location for an Italian Cultural Center. Instead of wanting to destroy our neighborhood, the vast resources of the city and universities should be focused on preserving Pittsburgh’s proud Italian tradition and should make this vision a reality.

Our community fully understands that city and university officials, developers, and other supporters of this roadway project may continue with their uncaring ways and ignore our calls to abandon the roadway through Panther Hollow. We may need the legal assistance of courageous and compassionate individuals who are committed to supporting this cause. As such, in the future there will be a crowd funding link to help with a defense fund. We hope you will take the opportunity to become involved, because insatiable greed is a cancer that can spread to any neighborhood.

Defining moments are life changing. You can walk away or decide to stick your neck out. We ask that you project yourself into the future and then look back to the present. We hope you will then say: I became involved and made a difference to SAVE PANTHER HOLLOW.

“Save Panther Hollow” • (808) 282-4100 or (412) 682-7769 •