Skip to main content

"Point Park is not just researching the community – we are part of the community, so these partnerships and this work really means so much to us and our students. We want to continue to support efforts to make Downtown Pittsburgh a great place to live, work and learn."

Heather Starr Fiedler, Ph.D.

The latest study out of Point Park University's Department of Community Engagement & Leadership in the Rowland School of Business offers a plan for transforming Downtown Pittsburgh's alleyways into inspiring spaces that add beauty and value to the city. 

Kelly Wilding, M.A., a part-time faculty member in the School of Communication and student in the Ph.D. in Community Engagement program, collaborated with Heather Starr Fiedler, Ph.D, professor and department chair, to author, “Taking out the Trash: Reimagining Pittsburgh’s Alleyways,” a study that examines the need, demand, costs, barriers and feasibility of reimagining alleyways in Pittsburgh’s Central Business District.

“When we envision a safe and clean Downtown, we have to consider alleys,” Fiedler said. “Downtown Pittsburgh is home to so many events, festivals, and bike trails, in and around alleyways. Rather than be a source of odor, crime or rodents, alleys can be home to art projects, outdoor seating and other creative concepts if kept safe and clean.”

Pictured is the cover of the study, "Taking Out the Trash." Submitted photo.“Taking out the Trash” examines the root causes of alleyway misuse, waste management options and the alternative use of alleyways as art and greenspace. Researchers interviewed key Downtown stakeholders including at the Department of Public Works, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Pittsburgh Downtown Neighbors Alliance, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and community members. Additionally, the researchers reviewed existing research and best practices from other U.S. cities.

The study proposes:

  • Installing public restrooms in Downtown Pittsburgh.
  • Adding more public waste and recycling receptacles.
  • Installing alley lighting and cameras.
  • Installing trash compactors in specific alleys.
  • Requiring businesses to secure their dumpsters with locks or consider a lid-closing program or ordinance.
  • Encouraging a dumpster-sharing program for smaller businesses.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) and the City of Pittsburgh are reviewing the University’s findings, and Fiedler is hopeful that in working together, Downtown stakeholders will help move the needle to a safer, cleaner and more vibrant Downtown. 

In the Q&A below, Wilding and Fiedler share insights from their experience working on the study. 

Pictured is Kelly Wilding. Submitted photo.Kelly Wilding, M.A.

What inspired you to pursue this project?

When asked to participate in this research project, I first thought about all of the really interesting and inspiring alleyway spaces I have seen in my travels, especially in Europe where I have dined in alleyways. I thought that we would focus on reimagining the alleys with art and making them creative spaces. I did not think I would be researching options for managing trash, or that dumpsters could be fascinating research, particularly from a sustainability lens.

What were some of the surprising things you learned from the experience?

The key takeaway for me was just how many organizations are invested stakeholders in a thriving downtown. When we researched benchmarks for other cities' approaches to viable alleyways, for a smaller city, Pittsburgh is doing some great work. We have more work to do, and I feel confident that the City of Pittsburgh has support for alleyway rehabilitation from its downtown community.

How has this enriched your experience in Point Park’s Ph.D. program?

This experience gave me firsthand experience working in a community to research viable solutions based on stakeholder input and benchmarking other cities. Our research included observation, intercept interviews (with people who work, live and visit downtown) and stakeholder interviews. I feel more confident moving into my dissertation research after conducting the research for this project. 

Why would you recommend the Ph.D. program to prospective students?

For anyone interested in pursuing a career in community engagement or broadening their current skills, this program is designed with many hands-on experiences supported by courses on theory and research. As I look toward finishing my degree, I am seeing many career opportunities available to me.

Pictured is Heather Starr Fielder. Photo by Randall Coleman.Heather Starr Fiedler, Ph.D.

How does this project exemplify the Department of Community Engagement’s ethos and approach to learning?

Our department is focused on leadership for social good. We encourage and support our students in community-based research and projects whenever possible. We want to actually engage with the community and help be a part of positive change.

What did you find most interesting about this project?

After spending last summer studying public restrooms, it was almost comical that we would spend this summer studying garbage. Community work is not always glamorous, but it is definitely interesting. We found the research and best practices on dumpster management around the country to be so fascinating.

Describe some of the other outreach efforts conducted by the Department of Community Engagement. 

Our department focuses both on external partnerships that help encourage our students to be civically engaged while supporting nonprofit, civic and government organizations, like our Bonner Leaders program and Wood Street Communications initiative, as well as internal student engagement and basic needs support like our efforts to end college student food insecurity through the Pioneer Pantry

How do you see this study catalyzing future projects for the department?

We hope to continue to work on research and projects with stakeholders in our community including the Mayor’s Office, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Downtown Neighbors Alliance and BOMA. Point Park is not just researching the community – we are part of the community, so these partnerships and this work really mean so much to us and our students. We want to continue to support efforts to make Downtown Pittsburgh a great place to live, work and learn.

Read more about the Department of Community Engagement & Leadership in the stories linked below:


More About: Pittsburgh, faculty, Downtown Pittsburgh, Rowland School of Business, research, Ph.D. in community engagement, School of Communication, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, faculty research