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Phipps Celebrates Sustainability At Age 126

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Phipps Conservatory's summer flower show Van Gogh in Bloom reimagines the famous painter's dramatic landscapes into natural media.

On today's program: Phipps Conservatory keeps its plants in one of the world's most sustainable buildings; a local organization helps video game enthusiasts find community IRL; the legacy of redlining, segregation and the war on drugs in Homewood; and high school and college STEM students get an up-close look at research at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. 

Phipps Conservatory ushers in a new era of sustainability

The new Exhibit Staging Center at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was unveiled in May, with a design that incorporates efficient energy use and connections to the local wetlands to meet criteria set under the Living Building Challenge. According to Phipps president and CEO Richard Piacentini, it's one of the greenest buildings in the world, and with the nearby Center for Sustainable Landscapes, exemplifies the garden's larger mission: sustainability. 

“I think what we’re doing is a really great contrast to the way the city used to be viewed,” says Piacentini. “The city’s a lot better than it was a long time ago. We still have, you know, air pollution issues that we have to address, but we’re moving in the right direction in most areas. And I think Phipps is a good example of what we can be and what we can become.”

As part of the Living Building Challenge, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes is zero-energy, zero-water and built with sustainable materials. 

“When we started our building, we really tried to understand, 'How can we make sure that whatever we do is going to be beneficial to all the other species that we share our ecosystem with?' he says. "And that’s really been the thing that’s driven us forward.”

In June, the conservatory received a 2019 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Award, commemorating its 125th anniversary.

Gamers gather at Brookline Boulevard social group

A storefront on Brookline Boulevard hosts Looking For Group, a gaming organization aimed at bringing video game enthusiasts together in person. The founders of the group sought to bring some of the missing social face-to-face interaction back to the video game world. Members and visitors can play and interact in person with the people they’re playing against. 90.5 WESA's Brian Cook spoke with the group's co-founder, John Lange. 

Homewood Bound: A neighborhood changed by mass incarceration

Homewood was originally built in the 19th century as a quiet retreat for some of the city's richest, but it has seen many demographic changes. Its transition over time from wealth to poverty was shaped by policies like redlining and the national war on drugs, which disproportionately affected the area’s black community.

In the first installment of WESA's series “Homewood Bound,” WESA's Katie Blackley takes a look at the history of Pittsburgh's Homewood neighborhood.

Credit UPMC Hillman Cancer Center
William Wang was among 75 or so high school and college students in Pittsburgh last summer working side-by-side with researchers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Students dive into cancer research

About 75 high school and undergraduate students are spending the summer in the lab as part of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy. The mentorship program gives students interested in STEM the chance to work with faculty, researchers and doctors at the Hillman Cancer Center and five other sites on campus over the course of the 8-week intensive. At the end of the summer, students present a poster and presentation about the project they helped with.

“For students who are passionate about research, we want to give them an authentic experience in this field,” program coordinator Solomon Livshits says. “Aside from it all being related to cancer, there’s no single topic that we teach the students. Because every student is in a different lab, almost every student has a different project.”

The program began in 2009 and originally encompassed just five students. With the help of funds from the National Cancer Institute CURE Grant and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, it has expanded to this year’s class of 75 and offers stipends to students from underrepresented minorities. Students have to be at least 15 years old to work in computational “dry labs” and 16 to work in a “wet lab” handling samples.

This year’s class was selected from a pool of around 450 applicants. Most of the students come from Allegheny County, but some have traveled from across the country to work with the program.

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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