Whether it's the middle of the day—or the middle of the night—Pittsburgh’s South Side is bustling with activity in and around its coffee shops, bars, shops and restaurants. The South Side Community Council is a volunteer group that acts as the glue that holds together the neighborhood’s homeowners and businesses and advocates on behalf of its residents.
“It helps us better understand what's happening here on the South Side it relates to parking, as it relates to crime, as it relates to Carson Street activity,” says Barbara Rudiak, president of the SSCC. “It's an opportunity for residents to come to speak about some of the issues that they've had difficulty having remedied.”
Rudiak says she and other board members engage community members about problems in the area, then form strategic plans to address them.
“One in particular, parking is a significant issue on the South Side,” she says. “Many residents will be upset if a car is parked in front of a fire hydrant or somewhere that is dangerous when you're thinking about fire trucks getting by or emergency vehicles.”
In addition to planning for the South Side’s future, Rudiak says it is also important to preserve the neighborhood’s past. That is something the council has set out to do with a recorded oral history series called “South Side Voices.”
"With every passing day we lose history told by the people who have lived it,” she says. “And what we started to do last year was record the stories of residents and, within those stories, we heard a lot about the churches they may have gone to or their family experiences. But it gave us an opportunity to capture some of our history and it's something that we'll continue doing."
SSCC Board Member Frank Vitali echoes Rudiak’s sentiment about the importance of retaining the neighborhood’s history.
"In the 40s, 50s, 60s, community was created organically by the ethnic group that you were born into and how that group interacted with all the other ethnic groups down here,” Vitali says.
But as the region’s economy has changed, so has the nature of forming and maintaining a sense of community on the South Side. Vitali sees the SSCC acting as a means of filling that void.
“When the mills closed in the late 70s, early 80s all that went away,” Vitali says. “What I see the community council doing—in an unspoken way—is creating community by the very fact that you are bringing people together. People who wouldn't necessarily know each other or would have met each other down here, now are friends.”
Barbara Rudiak says the work of the South Side Community Council—the beautification of parks and streets, the upkeep of homes and businesses—is never-ending. But the reward of a closer community is well worth the work.
“As we continue with the work of the community council we want you to be safe and have a good quality of life."