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Squirrel Hill Nonprofit Works To Tighten Community Bonds, Improve Quality Of Life

Marien Lien
Brian Cook
90.5 WESA
Marien Lien is the executive director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. SHUC has spent the last four decades working to improve quality of life in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Marian Lien says Squirrel Hill’s strength is its people.

Lien is executive director of Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition and, according to her, this culturally rich, relatively quiet section of Pittsburgh is close-knit, diverse, and forward thinking in its approach to making the neighborhood a great place to live.


"The Realtors of America had voted Squirrel Hill as the most livable neighborhood in the United States,” Lien said. “That in itself says something about telling us that we're doing something right."


Celebrating 45 years, the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition is a nonprofit organization, serving as a public platform for neighborhood residents to come together and talk about the issues of the day.


“And I can tell you the ‘something right’ is listening. Listening to those who live here,” Lien said. “Listening to the residents, listening to the business owners. Listening to those who are visiting.”


Part of the Coalition’s mission, according to Lien, is improving the neighborhood’s quality of life by—among other things—expanding the shopping district, providing bus shelters, planting trees, installing new street lights and securing walkways. Some of those projects are undertaken by volunteers and partially paid for through grant funding.


“The neighborhood is looking at the ratio in composition of housing to parking to marketability that we have,” Lien said. “It is making sure that it is a walkable neighborhood, making sure that the sidewalks are going to be in place particularly crosswalks if they are in existence. Making sure that the markings are painted visibly for our for example of our senior citizens as well.”


Tucked away in the old Wightman School Community Building on Solway Street—now known as the Carriage House—the building houses various programs for families, including child care.


On Oct. 27 of this year, the Squirrel Hill community’s strength was tested when a gunman opened fire inside the Tree of Life synagogue. That shooting left 11 dead and others wounded. Members of the city’s Jewish community, which makes up a large portion of Squirrel Hill’s population, were intentionally targeted, according to law enforcement.


According to the Anti-Defamation League, the attack was the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history. Lien says the neighborhood has taken the attack very personally.


“The scar that this will have left on our psyche is deep,” Lien said. “Will it take time for the healing? Absolutely. They are our friends, they were neighbors, they were our doctor, they were our dentist, they were our colleagues.”


But she says, through it all, Squirrel Hill’s resiliency has shown through.


“This community loves one another and there are those who have quietly tried to help healing without fanfare; without the limelight,” Lien said.


And she says the outpouring of support goes back to her original point about the source of Squirrel Hill's strength; the neighborhood's greatest asset is its people. 


“Because what has happened is a violation of a sort that is so painful, but we also know that we're stronger than that," Lien said. "And that with -- if there is to be any good that comes out of this terrible horrific experience, it is that we will come out of it, to know that we have the know-how to build an even stronger safety net around us.”



Brian Cook is an award-winning multimedia journalist.