In 2005, Scott Wolovich helped co-found New Sun Rising, a Millvale-based nonprofit organization that works to address social challenges and create economic opportunity. The organization was launched in the aftermath of hurricanes Ivan and Katrina which led to flooding in places like Millvale, damaging the neighborhood’s already struggling economy. More than a decade later Wolovich continues to serve as New Sun Rising’s executive director and from the organization’s Millvale hub, he’s had a first hand look at how the neighborhood has grown.
Millvale has seen a lot of positive developments over the past decade, but what challenges are still present in the community?
There are still the challenges that come with poverty and disinvestment. For a long time, Millvale was under resourced and disinvested so there’s issues around educational attainment and unemployment. Like a lot of places in Western Pennsylvania, the opioid crisis has made an impact on Millvale as well.
And now, like a lot of neighborhoods that get some attention, we’re dealing with maintaining housing and commercial real estate affordability. We want to bring more properties under local ownership and combat the displacement of residents by capping sale prices.
In 2012, Millvale began developing an EcoDistrict plan that has served to guide economic redevelopment in the community. What projects have come out of that plan?
We’ve joined with a few other pillar organizations to really be a driving force behind this EcoDistrict plan that’s really helped the community be more strategic about it’s growth and it’s development. It’s a community planning process that looks at community development through the lens of sustainability. We did a lot of listening and educating with residents, business owners and stakeholders in the community to really understand what the development priorities were. Through that process the plan took on six focus areas: food, energy, water, air, mobility and equity.
There’s a number of projects that have come out of that plan. There have been projects to address the challenge of food access. There are two buildings that have been repurposed for projects related to food systems. Tazza D’Oro offers fresh food options that weren’t there before. The Millvale Moose building is being repurposed by New Sun Rising to be a food hub, in partnership with 412 Food Rescue.
There are soon to be three large solar installations in the community, so there’s a commitment to clean energy that’s taken root. There’s been a lot of work on bike and pedestrian right of ways and lanes. There’s a group of residents that lead growing efforts in community gardens and downtown Millvale.The plan has been really effective at bringing people together toward their goals.
What makes Millvale a great place to live and work and how has it changed?
There are a lot more resources in the community now that people are connected to through places like the library. There are more gathering spaces in the community where people are building relationships with their neighbors.
But Millvale is still a very traditional Western Pennsylvania town. It definitely still has that blue collar mentality. People are very much themselves; no one is trying to be someone they’re not. So it’s a very authentic place.
It’s walkable. So people are out, they’re connected, they’re talking. There’s a strong social fabric in Millvale that’s been there a long time. So the people and their connections is what makes Millvale such a great place. The business district now has such a great diversity of shops. It’s a great balance of a nostalgic, traditional Western Pennsylvania business district and new businesses, which gives it a really nice mix.