Barbara Talerico and CNNC: Developing the Northside
In advance of City of Asylum/Pittsburgh’s Jazz Poetry Concert, Sampsonia Way is speaking with the five Northside community leaders who will be emceeing the event. This is the second installment in the Jazz/Poetry Emcee interview series.
Barbara Talerico is the President of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council (CNNC), a community-based organization that is working to develop and market Pittsburgh’s Central Northside neighborhood. In August, Talerico—a 15 year resident of the Northside—received Sampsonia Way into her home in the Mexican War Streets to discuss the neighborhood, her love of jazz and poetry, and her organization’s efforts.
How long has the Central Northside Neighborhood Council been around?
The organization was founded in 1970. Its primary purpose is to enhance the quality of life of all Central Northside residents and over the years its efforts have included a variety of public advocacy and real estate development projects.
How long have you been involved in the CNNC and how would you describe the organization and its goals?
I performed various roles in the CNNC since 2008, more recently as its treasurer and now as its president. Our board is comprised of 13 neighborhood volunteers representing a variety of backgrounds. Our vision statement, adopted in 2010, is to transform all of our neighborhood’s vacant lots and empty storefronts by filling them with thriving individuals, commerce and families of all kinds by the end of 2015.
How will you accomplish that goal?
We are focusing our efforts on three major areas: real estate development, safety, and branding. We have a portfolio of blighted residential and commercial properties that we are working with developers to restore. Our safety committee meets regularly to address issues of concern to our neighbors, and we hired a consulting firm to help us brand and market our neighborhood.
Which blocks or buildings are you focusing on?
We saved a number of historically important buildings in the Garden Theater block. A mix of commercial and residential uses will breathe life back into these grand structures and will bring job opportunities to our residents. In other areas scattered throughout the neighborhood we’re focusing on infill housing – a mix designed for owners and renters.
What do you see coming from that?
By continually improving the safety and attractiveness of our neighborhood, we will reverse the years of disinvestment and decline. Our marketing campaign is designed to appeal to all ages and income levels. We’re proud of our economic and racial diversity and our outreach efforts reinforce this. When we reach our goal, the Central Northside will be an even more vibrant and sought-out neighborhood.
What’s the most satisfying part of working with CNNC?
Working with really smart, dedicated people who are making substantial progress toward revitalizing an already wonderful neighborhood.
How else are you involved in the Northside community?
I work with City of Asylum throughout the year, and always help during Jazz/Poetry and Writers in the Gardens. My home has been featured in several Mexican War Streets house tours, and I also volunteer as a tour guide.
I feel like in Pittsburgh, the Northside doesn’t get as much attention, beyond PNC Park and the Casino. How do people react when you tell them that this is your community?
It depends. I’m often asked if it’s safe over here, and I reassure people that it is. It’s always interesting that when I mention that I live in the Mexican War Streets, people invariably have heard of it, no matter where they are from, and they always exclaim how great it is.
What would you want people who aren’t familiar with the Northside to know about it?
This is a neighborhood in the true sense of the word, in terms of the positive interaction among neighbors, the closeness, the vitality, the walkability. If your newspaper’s sitting on the stoop too long your neighbor will put it in your mail slot, they’ll care for your pets, they’ll watch out for your children. We all know each other’s names and sit on our stoops and chat with each other. Once you experience our neighborhood, it dispels all the negative images that people might otherwise have.
We have many great cultural institutions right here in our neighborhood: The Children’s Museum, the National Aviary, the New Hazlett Theater, and of course, City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. If you only have a couple of hours to experience the Central Northside, you should come to Jazz/Poetry, which perfectly represents the urban-ness, diversity, and creativity of our neighborhood.
So how did you first get involved with the Jazz/Poetry Concerts?
I spotted the brightly-colored poster hanging in a window and was intrigued. I love jazz, so I had to check it out. I was hooked after that first concert.
Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing at the upcoming concert?
Oh, I always love hearing Oliver Lake perform, especially when he’s riffing behind a poetry reading.
How about poetry? Who have been your favorite poets in the past Jazz Poetry Concerts?
Terrance Hayes, Lynn Emanuel and Gerald Stern. But I also need to mention Alex Harding‘s saxophone performance during John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament”. That one had me in tears.
Can’t make the concert? Watch it live via Livestream here.