South Side Community Council History
The very first South Side Community Council was founded in 1939, an outgrowth of the South Side Exchange Club. The 1939 Council was composed of two delegates from each of 48 local groups, including church groups, social and ethnic clubs, and political organizations. It claimed a membership of 4,000 and had as its purpose the provision of help for needy residents of South Side during difficult economic times.
The group we know today as the South Side Community Council began in 1961 and was formalized in 1962 as the South Pittsburgh Development Council by people who lived and/or worked on the South Side and were concerned about South Side’s future. The majority of those in leadership positions were businessmen in the community. During its formative years, while SPDC continued to grow in strength of numbers and by reputation, the organization remained under the leadership of the business community, but it was the residents who made up the committees who did the real “leg work” and accomplished goals.
The first item on the council’s agenda in 1963 was to conduct a South Side Survey conducted through a door-to-door interview campaign. They were able to compile a complete picture of the South Side and its people. The results were invaluable to the Council as they determined their work. The information was also used by other individuals and groups who sought specific information about the South Side.
Over the next two years, the council worked on various issues through committees and were somewhat effective in quite a few areas. The Traffic, Streets and Parking Committee was able to rid the neighborhood of abandon cars. They submitted a list of 217 abandoned cars to the Director of Public Safety and after two years, it was noted that most of the cars were removed. When the council learned that the State was planning a four lane highway on Carson Street and that buildings would be demolished, the committee held a public meeting with the state district engineer. After hearing from the residents and businessmen, he pledged to consider the citizen’s interest.
The Health and Sanitation Committee was instrumental in bringing a regular and detailed street cleaning schedule to the South Side. The Education and Youth Committee initiated a scholarship to a local student since many of the students who wanted to continue their education were in need of financial aid. The award and the committee also showed that the council members were aware of the importance of educating the young people in the neighborhood in preparation of being productive citizens. They were also one of the first citizen organizations in the city to actively support the Pittsburgh Council on Public Education.
In May, 1965, after learning that the City had decided not to spend more money improving South Side Park, or even maintaining the facilities there because the park had the highest rate of vandalism in the city, the Committee went to work to see what could be done. More than 3,000 fliers were passed out and a publicity campaign was organized telling people the location of the park and about available recreational facilities. Their slogan was A Park that is Used will not be Abused. Arrangements were made with several Boy Scout troops to clear brush for paths, picnic sites and play areas. Swings, picnic tables and charcoal sites were added in July, 1965 by the city and used of the park increased tremendously.
The Employment Committee conducted an additional house to house survey in July, 1965 regarding employment, unemployment, family income sources and demographics. They shared it with the Poverty Program for its use in recruiting unemployed, those in need of family services casework, and children eligible for Project Head Start.
The Housing and Zoning Committee sponsored a Home Improvement Contest. In July, 1964 residents were invited to submit “before and after” photographs of improvements. This well-publicized event helped residents decide to make needed repairs and beautify their property. As a result of concerns that the entire South Side Flats might be zoned industrial, the committee began to work on a uniform housing code and house code enforcement. The Committee also worked with city staff in order to bring the ideas and wishes of the South Side businessmen and residents to the attention of those who were planning for the future fo the community.
Over just a two year period, the South Side Community Council showed that they had the makings of a functioning citizens organization.
Fifty-five years later, the names of the committees may have changed but the South Side Community Council continues to focus on quality of life issues. The zoning committee works with developers and the city to ensure that the development is aligned with city code and the South Side neighborhood plan. East Carson Street, our main street, has historic designation status and this committee has begun to work with businesses to ensure that the guidelines are followed. The fundraising and community engagement committee organizes an annual home and garden tour to highlight urban living. They also organize two social events – one in the spring and one in the beginning of fall to foster a connectedness among those who currently lie on both the SS Flats and Slopes. Those members on the Beautification/Revitalization/Stabilization/Maintenance Committee work on a variety of beautification projects including the Riverfront Trail and community gardens. Residents have organized into block watches and work together to introduce themselves to the students who become part of South Side each year. They also work with the Duquesne University and University of Pittsburgh on clean up projects. South Side Community Council has partnered with the South Side Slopes Association to form South Watch where residents meet monthly with city and state officials, representatives from city departments, the parking authority, Zone 3 police and Duquesne University to address trash violations and problem property. Council members and South Side residents continue realize that in order to find successful solutions to problems, they must continue to unite or perish.