As Zaheen Hussain walked through the garden at the Millvale Community Library, he pointed to a small instrument mounted on the library's outer wall.
"You can see the air quality monitor on the outside. We also have monitors inside, so we can see what the difference in particle levels is," said Hussain.
Hussain is Millvale's sustainability coordinator, a position funded through the library. In the course of his job, he deals with a wide range issues in the borough, including food, water, energy, air quality, mobility, and equity.
Those are areas of increasing importance to the community. Since it’s at the bottom of a watershed, Millvale has been hit hard by floods in the past, especially during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
“We need to think through and plan around storm water infrastructure and be advocating for a watershed-wide storm water management plan, so that we can reduce the flood impact in the future,” said Hussain.
One area where the borough has already made some progress is energy. Millvale has solar panels both at the library and the community center, where Hussain helped to complete an installation this spring.
As that installation was being finalized, 10 local students were sponsored to attend a series of workshops through the Millvale Teen Solar Fellowship, learning about the solar industry and shadowing the installers as they finished putting up the solar panels.
“We want people to know that these are the kinds of jobs that require all types of educational backgrounds and skills and interests," said Hussain.
Jim Machajewski is president of the Millvale Borough Council and a firefighter in the borough’s volunteer-run department. He said that in recent years, Millvale has seen economic growth, in part because it’s right across the Allegheny River from booming areas like Lawrenceville.
But he also stressed that it’s important for that growth not to be lopsided.
“Sometimes when you start to change and start to grow, you miss out on some of these more important aspects that really affect the quality of life of the residents and the business owners here,” said Machajewski, adding that Hussain’s efforts have helped maintain the right balance in growth.
As Hussain has spent more time there, he has become deeply integrated into the Millvale community. He recently joined Machajewski as a volunteer at the fire department.
“I felt that in order to be effective at my job I can't just stay on some high minded, sustainability high horse. I really had to get down and understand what people go through in order to function properly for my job,” said Hussain.
Janet Zipf owns Back To The Earth Healing Center in Millvale and has lived in the borough for over 40 years. She said Hussain has been able to make a place in the community because his approach is genuine and inclusive.
“He has a way of making everybody understand, you know, how we’re gonna do this,” said Zipf.
One of Hussein’s longer-range goals deals with mobility. He wants the community to push Port Authority for a bus line that goes over the 40th Street Bridge to the East End. It’s a connection, he hopes, that will spur further growth in Millvale.