HP neighbor plans to conquer invasive vines, and you can help

By Diane Averill

They’re creeping all over the place and no doubt, you’ve seen them: those drooping masses of invasive vines that strangle our public trees.

HP resident Karen Toole plans to do something about it and she’s counting on community volunteers to join her, in celebration of Earth Day. A floral designer and Penn State master gardener, Karen has secured DPW permits for vine cutting and removal from the area around the Highland Park Reservoir on two Saturdays, April 15 and April 22, from 10 a.m. to noon. (Similar events will take place at the Spring Hill Greenway on the North Side.)

But it won’t be all work and no play. On the succeeding Sundays, April 16 and April 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, and April 23 at Phipps Garden Center participants (including children) will be led in making vine spheres which they can then take home or contribute to a still-in-the-works public art installation. Tools and materials will be provided for all events, purchased with the proceeds of the GoFundMe that Karen has set up.

At each vine-cutting site, Karen will have fellow master gardeners on hand to answer questions and be on the lookout for the destructive spotted lanternfly, ready to direct isolation and disposal of the invasive pest. Of critical importance, open-bed trucks will be needed to transport the vines from the park to the workshop sites. Karen hopes that local business owners and contractors will step up to provide this vital service.

A Tree Pittsburgh study found that from 2010 to 2015, Pittsburgh lost 6.2 per cent of its tree canopy. While much of that loss accrues to development, it nonetheless makes every remaining tree more valuable.

Vines destroy trees not just by blocking sunlight to prevent leafing out, they can trap moisture that leads to disease and bug infestations. Some vines will girdle a tree so tightly that circulation of water and nutrients is choked off.

On frequent walks with her Australian shepherd, Cruz (named for his birthplace of Santa Cruz, CA), Karen has paused to pull down some vines from time to time. The city does what it can, she says, but the problem is too big for any one entity to solve. Thus, she hopes that this initial “conquering of the vines,” as she calls it, will be become an annual event reaching a larger area. “We have more control,” she said, “if we work together.”

To volunteer or for more information, go to Karen’s business website or Instagram.

Tonight Is Light Up Night!

Check out details below on which shops will have specials and where to find the best light displays. You can also download the map or pick up a printed one in select locations while supplies last.

Super Shops (with Light-up Night Specials) & Sparkle Spots

Numbers in “( )” correlate to numbers on the Light-up Night map

*Hard copies of Light-up Maps available at these locations, while supplies last

*(1) Bryant Street Parklet:  Winter wonderland photo-ops

(2) Casa Brasil: 5% off take-out with the code “light-up” or 10% off dine-in orders of $50 or more with a paper copy of the Light-up Night map (5904 Bryant Street)

*(3) Panache:  30% off any purchase (5910 Bryant Street)

*(4) Gallery Ama:  Free holiday ornaments (1221 Millbrae Way)

*(5) Tazza D’oro:  Free brownies & blondies (1125 Highland Ave)

*(6) St. Andrews Church:  Free cookies and hot cocoa, plus have your picture taken with St. Nicholas and enjoy the lights and trees in the sanctuary (5801 Hampton Street)

(7) Pittsburgh Theological Seminary:  Enjoy the lighted trees out front and help yourself to candy canes that will be there for visitors; cars are welcome to drive through (616 N. Highland Ave)

(8) Winterton Street: Lined with luminaries

Plus treats at (9) 5710 Hampton St. and treats & Santa at (10) 920 Sheridan Ave!

The HPCC Dictionary

Do you know your HPCC from your HPCDC from your HPGC?

Whether you’re new to Highland Park or you’ve been here for a few years, you’ve probably encountered a term or acronym used in the neighborhood that you didn’t immediately recognize. Here’s a guide to help clarify the different entities and spaces that come up when you live in Highland Park.

HPCC ➡ Highland Park Community Council
We are the oldest continually operating neighborhood organization in the City of Pittsburgh and are run completely by volunteers. We host monthly community events, publish a monthly newsletter and this blog. Our mission is to take a leading role in the community activities that address issues of common interest and concern and that promote a safe and healthy neighborhood for the diverse residents of Highland Park. Learn more on our website.

HPCDC ➡ Highland Park Community Development Corporation
The HPCDC works to develop vacant and idle lots around Highland Park. They have had a huge hand in the revitalization of the Highland Park business district on Bryant St. The HPCC often works with the HPCDC, but the two organizations are separate entities. Learn more on its website.

HPGC ➡ Highland Park Garden Club
The HPGC supports individual gardeners, promotes garden education, and provides neighborhood garden and horticultural activities. Learn more on its website.

HPELBPC ➡ Highland Park/East Liberty Bike Ped Committee
The HPELBPC is a group of residents dedicated to supporting infrastructural improvements for bikers and pedestrians. Learn more on its Facebook page.

MACC ➡ Morningside Area Community Council
MACC is the mirror neighborhood organization to the HPCC for the neighboring Morningside neighborhood. Like the HPCC, MACC is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to improving and supporting the Morningside community. Learn more on its website.

BGC The Garfield-Bloomfield Corporation
The Garfield-Bloomfeild Corporation is a community organization founded in 1976 to address physical and economic declines in the neighborhood. It has a strong focus on ensuring affordable housing in neighboring Garfield and runs a number of programs to support low-income families. Learn more on the website.

ELDI East Liberty Development Inc.
The East Liberty Development Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing East Liberty. It is involved in development projects in the neighborhood and invests in and supports projects aimed at supporting and creating benefit to residents of East Liberty. Read more about the projects ELDI supports on its website.

EECM East End Cooperative Ministry
On the border of Highland Park and East Liberty, the East End Cooperative Ministry provides food for people who need it, runs a shelter and other housing programs, and offers programs to enable people to secure steady employment. Additional details are available on its website.

The ListServ
This long-standing email-based mailing list is run by a neighborhood volunteer. It is one of the most active ways neighbors communicate digitally with each other. Though it’s not run by the HPCC, all HPCC public communication is posted to this list. To sign up, go to mail.highlandparkpa.com

The Parklet or Bryant St. Parklet
In 2020, the HPCC worked with the HPCDC and Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority to set aside a corner lot at Bryant St. and N. Euclid St. as a community green space. The HPCC leases this property from the URA, and HPCC volunteers provide its ongoing maintenance.

Flynn Parklet
There is also a space called Flynn Parklet at Bunkerhill St. and N Saint Clair St. which is a tennis/hockey/basketball court area operated by the City of Pittsburgh.

The Farmhouse
This refers to the large building next to the Farmhouse Playground and baseball field on Farmhouse Dr. in the northeast corner of the neighborhood, adjacent to Highland Park.

The Fountain
This refers to the large fountain in the front entrance garden in Highland Park (the city park).

The Super Playground
This refers to the large playground on Reservoir Drive, visible up the hill from Bunker Hill Street. 

What have we missed? Send your suggestions to hpcceditor.com and we’ll update the list!

Meet Your Neighbor: Dr. Asa Lee, President of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

By Diane Averill

The first thing you notice as you enter the office of the Reverend Dr. Asa J. Lee—who prefers to be called, simply, Asa—is the sizable calabash that sits on the floor in front of his desk. Burnt orange in color, it is ornamented by the image of the mythical Sankofa bird, picked out in tiny beads of pink, white and dark blue. The bird’s feet face forward, while its head is turned to look backwards.

“It symbolizes using the past as a guide for planning the future,” Asa explains.

The Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, at S. Highland Avenue and St. Marie Street, chose Asa to guide the institution into the future as its seventh president. Inaugurated in the Fall of 2021, he represents a considerable step forward from the past in that he is an ordained Baptist minister heading up a seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, and he is the first African American to do so.

Asa Lee

In their march forward, both Asa and the seminary sustain long traditions, such as the learning of Greek and Hebrew, which Asa demonstrates when he pulls a Greek New Testament from the bookcase. Flipping through the pages covered in the Greek alphabet, he reads aloud, in Greek, a portion of the Lord’s Prayer.

While ecumenism abounds at PTS, where the student body represents a number of different faiths, it thrives as well at the Lee family home on Jackson Street, where Asa’s wife, Chenda, is an ordained clergy member of the United Methodist Church and works as director of clergy and congregational development for the UMC’s western Pennsylvania conference. The Lees’ four daughters, ranging in age from six to 13, attend Catholic school.

A Maryland native, Asa obtained his bachelor’s degree in music education from Hampton University with a major in trumpet and a piano/organ minor. Growing up, he had played organ in church and after four years teaching in private and public schools, he decided to heed the call to the ministry that he had felt as a teen. It was at Wesley Theological Seminary that he met Chenda.

Music remains an integral part of Asa’s life, much in the form of his children, who play flute, guitar and piano. Three of them play ukulele, and one is the family vocalist. Chenda, he says, would not call herself musical but she has a beautiful singing voice.

Back in June of 2021, after first arriving in Pittsburgh, Asa spent a lot of time getting out to meet “anyone and everyone,” he says, to get a feel for who were his neighbors and where connections could be made.

“Neighbor is a spiritual concept,” he says, and one that is fraught with contradiction. As neighbors looking out for each other, it’s easy, he explains, to send a check to a favorite charity or an international appeal for help, “…but what about the homeless guy that you just passed on the street? It’s hard to help who’s right in front of you.” He observes a caution in Pittsburgh’s emphasis on named and defined neighborhoods, in that it can create boundaries that keep people apart.

Transcending boundaries and building relationships for the good of the city are the foundational goals of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, an interfaith organization for which Asa sits on the board of directors. The foundation’s Amen to Action project, now in its fifth year, will package one million meals in November, to be distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Ten sites in the metro area will each produce 100,000 meals, paid for by donations and packaged by volunteers. On November 12, Asa and PTS will host one such event, staffed from churches of all faiths in the surrounding East End. (To make a donation, go to amentoaction.org.)

While there are still more neighbors to meet and things to learn about the city he now calls home, Asa Lee has made up his mind quite firmly about one of Pittsburgh’s signature culinary concepts: On sandwiches and salads, he says, with his signature ready smile, “Please, I’ll take my fries on the side!”

Super Playground – Open for Play! 

After nine months of closure, the Highland Park Super Playground has reopened! 

On August 24th, a grand reopening celebration was hosted by the Highland Park Community Council along with the City of Pittsburgh. Hundreds of neighbors and families gathered to enjoy a beautiful first day of play. The event kicked off with an official ribbon-cutting with words from Andrea Ketzel (the project lead for the new playground from the City of Pittsburgh), Monica Watt (longtime Super-Playground caretaker and HPCC playground committee member), Marsha Kolbe and Roseanne Levine (the two Highland Park prior-residents who led the creation of the original Super Playground), as well as Mayor Ed Gainey and Highland Park city councilperson Deb Gross.

The weather was gorgeous for the opening and the new playground glowed under the sun, filled with kids climbing, running, swinging and laughing.  A large, playful balloon arch and balloon bouquets added to the festive view, contributed by Von Walter + FUNKballoon. Under the Maple Grove shelter, kids enjoyed free treats from Vinnie’s Shaved Ice, as well as face painting and temporary tattoos from artists with PGH Party Creations, all sponsored by the Highland Park Community Council. 

The new playground retains the wooden, natural-play feel of the original Super Playground, a key expressed desire of the community. It also has some new elements including individual and group bouncers, a scramble area with wooden stumps, and both large and small boat play structures. The ground around the playground is now squishy, safe for running (or falling!) and easy to navigate with a stroller or wheelchair. There are more varieties of swings, including a large-spider swing that can hold multiple people, two double swings that kids and adults can ride together, and two toddler swings. Surrounding the perimeter of the new playground are several picnic tables and a number of custom wood benches made from reclaimed wood – some of which came from the older trees around the playground which had to be removed due to their condition when construction began.

At the front of the playground glimmers the new community garden mosaic sign, created in partnership with the Pittsburgh Glass Center. The sign reads “Highland Park Super Playground” in mirrored letters surrounded by colorful flowers made by community members. If you or a loved one joined us for the mosaic flower-making events earlier this summer, you can find your flower on the online mosaic guide. There, you’ll also find photo albums of the mosaic-making, playground construction and the grand opening, as well as a link to purchase a special commemorative Highland Park flower mosaic kit from Pittsburgh Glass Center to make and keep at home.

Additional changes to the playground are coming this fall. Over 40 new trees will be planted in and around the playground once the weather is more consistently cool. Pittsburgh Glass Center will also be installing a dozen small “hidden mosaics” inspired by ideas submitted by kids and community members last year. 

The large tunnel near the playground will continue to be under construction until next summer. Once that is complete, the road around the reservoir will open again to traffic. Over the next few years we also will hopefully be seeing improvement to the paths leading to and from the playground. 

The HPCC would like to thank all the community members who provided input for the new playground design, online or during the multiple community design meetings. We’d also especially like to recognize our playground committee members, who spent the last two years working with the City of Pittsburgh to keep the community connected, involved, and informed about the redesign project: Sabrina Culyba, Mac Lynch, Betsy Rogerson and Monica Watt.

If you haven’t had a chance to see the new playground, we encourage you to swing on by!