From being a hero to being shunned: Stories from the front lines of Pittsburgh’s pandemic

With the first shipments of the vaccine arriving, the rising number of COVID-19 infections is still threatening to overwhelm workers at local ICUs and nursing homes. These three women have seen it all: from being called a hero to being shunned, and from working 16-hour shifts to quarantining at home with COVID. Despite hopeful news, they fear the worst is yet to come.

Justin Strong stands beside a new steam cleaner he purchased with a loan from Honeycomb Credit.

Things were looking good, then the pandemic hit. How four Pittsburgh-area businesses are weathering the COVID era.

COVID-19 has brought hard times to small business owners across the nation.. The online review website Yelp estimated that before July 10, 73,000 small businesses in the United States had closed permanently. Times have been difficult for businesses in the Pittsburgh region, and while the outlook is uncertain, PublicSource spoke to the owners of four resilient businesses that have stayed afloat by obtaining credit, going online, developing new streams of revenue, and in one case, simply breaking the rules.

Bikers on Forbes Avenue in Downtown during a July 28, 2019 Open Streets event. (Photo by Teake Zuidema/Publicsource)

With more investment in bike infrastructure, will Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods benefit equally?

Over the years, the City of Pittsburgh has been supportive of cycling. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who’s been pejoratively called “Bike Lane Billy,” wants to get more residents out of cars and on bicycles. “A 21st century city is a multi-modal city,” Peduto said in a 2017 debate during his reelection campaign. “It is a city that is designed for cars and bikes and pedestrians, and public transit, and not simply the automobile. That’s 1950s.”

Plastics in Pittsburgh: Recycling is getting more complicated

Recycling has always been considered a part of the solution to the problem of plastic pollution. But American recycling is facing a crisis since China in January 2018 announced it would sharply limit plastic imports. The move sparks questions about what actually can be recycled and how plastic waste is handled in Allegheny County.

Many Pittsburgh-area plastics end up in landfills or the environment. Is recycling a solution or only a patch?

Pittsburgh has its own floating garbage patch. Behind a mooring cell for coal barges, some 400 feet upstream from the Hot Metal Bridge, a soaked mass of debris hugs the northern bank of the Monongahela River. It’s made up of tree branches, tires and a variety of discarded plastic products: water bottles, soccer and basketballs, sneakers, mangled pieces of polystyrene foam, cups, shopping bags and eating utensils. The patch is one destination for plastics in the Pittsburgh region. Other plastics are bound for recycling plants, where in many cases they’re shipped to landfills because they are either too dirty or are one of many types of plastics not recycled locally.

Sarah Baxendell, director of the Hilltop Urban Farm, points to the land set aside for (Photo by Teake Zuidema/PublicSource)

What does Pittsburgh’s Hilltop Urban Farm need to do to mitigate a food desert? Access to healthy food may only be a start.

It was raining nonstop, but that didn’t seem to have any effect on Sarah Baxendell’s enthusiasm as she showed visitors the future site of the Hilltop Urban Farm in Pittsburgh’s St. Clair neighborhood.

The 23-acre farm will grow food to sell, but its creators at the Hilltop Alliance are also planning to teach youth about agriculture and create a new generation of urban farmers. The farm will spin off into a stand-alone organization, and its staff hopes to transform what is now a food desert into an area “abundant with access to healthy food,” according to the farm’s website.

Tyler Mower, 20, has been undergoing training to become a steamfitter at the Steamfitters Local 449 technology training center in Harmony, Pa. (Photo by Teake Zuidema/PublicSource)

Will Pittsburgh flourish as a hub of eds and meds or gas and petrochemicals? Can we have it both ways?

Pittsburgh now brands itself as a modern city built on research, robots, universities, advanced manufacturing, green energy — and the high-skilled jobs that come with it all.

But there’s another narrative developing: The plethora of shale gas and natural gas liquids in Southwestern Pennsylvania provide a solid foundation to build a new gas and petrochemical hub in Pittsburgh’s backyard.