Submitted by Beverly Bagosi Boggio, founding board member 1998-2008, past president and past StepTrek chair
On Memorial Day weekend 1998, there was a fire in a home on Holt Street that destroyed three homes in the time that it took the Fire Department to arrive and stage their equipment. Due to the unique topography of the South Side Slopes, narrow hilly streets and tight corners, the fire won. Because of this, a group of active Slopes neighbors were galvanized. Throughout the summer, several meetings were held and by October 1998 a Board of Directors was chosen and the South Side Slopes Association was born. The initial slogan was “SOS/Save Our Slopes”. Thanks to the partnership with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire, the Firefighter’s Union and several Fire engine manufacturers, within a year, the City had the plans to order 4 smaller pumper trucks with a tighter turning radius and narrow wheel span to safely travel all of the hilly City neighborhoods, not just the Slopes. This was ambitious and the Board was focused. Keep in mind that the internet of 1998 was not what it is today. We got our first “AOL” email address in 2002, followed by our first website, later that year.
In those early days, the SSSNA Board was tenacious and committed – a spirit that carries on in today’s Board. The projects were large and the budget was shoestring. Each month, the Board members addressing and mailing the newsletter would bring stamps, as there was no funding. The first grant was $250 from the City and we felt like millionaires. In the beginning, we partnered with the former South Side Local Development Company/SSLDC under their 501(c)3 nonprofit umbrella. That is how we were able to obtain grants to improve the Slopes. We were also able to survey housing stock and catalog our steps and their condition. We received 501(c)3 designation in 2005. We continued our partnership until the SSLDC completed their mission in 2012. We received an Elm Street designation for five years to feather into the Main Street designation that SSLDC had from the State. (Learn about Elm Street and Main Street designations here: https://padowntown.org/programs/elm-street-program)
SSSNA also became a member organization of the South Side Planning Forum. We gave input for the South Side Works development and participated in the new land use designations of MAP Pittsburgh. We attended City zoning hearings and invited developers with plans to build/restore in the Slopes, to share their plans and get our input from the community at our meetings. We began long‐standing relationships with City, County and State agencies and officials, as well as the Pittsburgh police. Many of the City partnerships and projects involved public safety. In 2002, we worked to get two pedestrian footbridges over the railroad tracks at 10th and 15th Streets replaced with Core ten steel, adding safety lighting three years later. We also had safety lighting installed under the railroad underpasses on 18th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 26th and 27th Streets.
Another big focus was, and still is, beautification. We began gateway garden developmental by partnering with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC). We built gardens along Josephine Street at Greeley and Barry Streets in 2000. More gardens followed along 18th Street, then Brosville and continue to be created throughout the Slopes. There were thousands of cleanups over the years that continue today. Thousands of discarded tires have been removed, as well as tons of trash and recyclables.
What was our most successful, hair‐brained idea? StepTrek. While other neighborhoods had home tours, we knew that the Slopes was unique and should be showcased differently. Author Bob Regan and photographer Tim Fabian were collaborating on a book (The Steps of Pittsburgh: Portrait of a City) about the public stairways throughout the City – which would create some buzz about the steps. Slopes residents Ed Jacob and Mike Milberger brought an idea to the board that the City steps should be celebrated. The fledgling board decided to give it a try, and StepTrek was a go. In 2000, we held the first StepTrek. Hundreds of people paid money to walk miles of steps – for a good cause. We got the City to repair steps and clean up the routes each year prior to the event. We changed the routes every year to keep up maintenance on all of our stairways. Now in its 18th year, StepTrek has enabled thousands of people to experience the amazing views that we get to see every day.
It has been an amazing journey. It is hard to imagine 20 years ago how much would be accomplished. The loss of homes to the fire in 1998 was terrible, but from that tragedy came a community focused on safety, advocacy and continuous improvement. Since 1998, the SSSNA board has had dozens of amazing neighbors who have served and added to the energy and progress of this community. Thank you to all who served, partnered, volunteered, cleaned, photographed, documented, shared, trekked and donated. The success of SSSNA and the neighborhood is because of you! Cheers to the next 20 years!