Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition Communication Strategy

Established in 1972, the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition is a non-profit community organization dedicated to preserving, improving and celebrating the quality of life in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Volunteer-supported committees provide leadership to our community by studying, debating, and advocating positions on issues affecting our neighborhood’s vitality. Our mission is implemented through a long-range planning process, fostering community-based initiatives in the areas of education, public safety, transportation, parks and open spaces, plus commercial, institutional and residential development.

Objectives of SHUC Communications

The objectives of SHUC communications are to inform the Squirrel Hill community and establish a basis for gaining public input on:

  • What SHUC is and the work it does in the community
  • Issues being addressed by SHUC and activities in the community that SHUC is undertaking
  • Decisions and initiatives that SHUC will be undertaking
  • Upcoming meetings that SHUC is organizing and conducting
  • Significant results of SHUC meetings
  • Reports produced by SHUC about topics relevant to SHUC’s mission. These often occur as a result of studies (which include significant public input) that SHUC has conducted or is conducting

Priority Targets for Communication

As stated, the overall Squirrel Hill community can be considered the subject of the communications plan. It is also useful to consider subsets of the community when crafting the communications plan.

Accordingly, the primary targets for communication can be considered the following:

  • Community members
  • Institutions serving the community
  • Businesses/property owners
  • Board
  • Volunteers
  • Donors
  • Government
  • Partner agencies

Community members are the public we serve including residents, employees, visitors, etc. In addition to community members, two other groups that are important customers of SHUC are local institutions and businesses/property owners.

Communication with businesses of Squirrel Hill is greatly facilitated because the organization “Uncover Squirrel Hill” represents the businesses; and SHUC and “Uncover” are in regular contact. It should be noted that an “Uncover” member is on the SHUC Board and SHUC’s Executive Director is on Uncover Squirrel Hill’s board.

Volunteers are critical to the Coalition’s mission because volunteers comprise the membership of SHUC committees; and the committees have a major role in SHUC’s public review and decision-making processes.

Based on information published by the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning, a community organization such as SHUC can be expected to conduct activities in the following areas:

  • Information about development plans and meetings regarding economic development
  • Fundraising
  • Organizational information (e.g., finances, policies)
  • Research, “big picture”
  • Community perspectives

The following table provides a cross-reference between these activities and the eight “targets” of the information listed above:

Audience Information about Development Plans and Meetings Fundraising Organizational Info (e.g. finances, policies) Research, “Big picture” Community Perspectives
Community members: X X   X X
Institutions: X X   X X
Businesses: X X      
Board: X X X X X
Volunteers (SHUC Committees): X X X X X
Donors:   X   X X
Government: X       X
Partner agencies: X     X X

Responsibility for Implementing SHUC Communications

SHUC’s Executive Director, along with the Board President and the Committee Chairs, are responsible for implementing the communications strategies and methods. We work with all the groups listed above; the focus on particular groups varies over time depending on which issues are being addressed at particular times.

Emphases of SHUC Communications

Most of the work of the Coalition is undertaken at the committee level. The committees undertake studies and identify issues that need to be addressed. Efforts to address the issues often result in specific projects. Gaining public input is one of the main ways that SHUC identifies neighborhood issues that we address, and well as identifies the projects and initiatives that will address these issues.

SHUC has a very active committee system that is integral to the organization’s decision-making and community involvement processes. The following are SHUC’s committees:

Commercial Development and Residential Quality

Development (organizational)

Education

Finance

Gateway

Litter Patrol

Magazine

Master Plan

Parks and Open Space

Pedestrian-Bicycle

Treasure Awards

Under the leadership of the SHUC Board, the committees undertake public involvement, identify issues, and discuss projects and initiatives that are considered for implementation in Squirrel Hill. (Note: Projects and initiatives that are generated by others are also considered by SHUC committees.) Accordingly, SHUC’s key message to its customers and stakeholders is, how can you contribute to generating ideas in the areas of commercial and residential development, education, Gateway District improvements, pedestrian-bicycle, etc., and how can SHUC support the public in these efforts?

The work of the various committees is inter-related. For example, the Master Plan of 1990 (updated in 2010-2011 by the Master Plan committee with additional studies done in 2009, 2014 and 2017) generated two dozen projects that have, overall, been successfully implemented in the ensuing almost 30 years. These projects have over time come before other committees such as Commercial Development and Residential Quality, Gateway, Parks and Open Space, and Pedestrian-Bicycle.

Despite progress on the great majority of the initiatives, a couple of projects had not made the desired progress over the years. One such group of projects are the physical, safety and beautification efforts that are needed in lower Squirrel Hill (Forward-Murray area). The lack of progress led SHUC to complete, with public input and led by the Gateway Committee, the Gateway Plan of 2009. Proceeding in accordance with the plan, since 2009 there have been many successful initiatives under the leadership of the Gateway Committee that have led to projects such as the Squirrel Hill welcome sign, post-office parklet, Remembered Garden at the I-376 ramp, new lighting, murals, etc. New buildings have been constructed in the area. As of summer of 2019, the newest improvement, the new green space at the corner of Forward and Murray, is under construction.

In summary, there are a number of committees playing a major role on behalf of SHUC, and each committee encourages the public to be involved in the deliberations in appropriate and effective manners.

Review of Demographic Information Can Inform the Communications Plan

See Appendix 1 for a presentation of demographic factors in Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh. SHUC will continue to take demographics into account as it carries out the Communications Plan on an ongoing basis.

Methods of Communication Deployed by SHUC

The methods used by SHUC must consider how the public is communicating today. Thus it is necessary to utilize new social-media methods of communication as well as traditional approaches.

The methods of communication used by SHUC include the following:

Squirrel Hill Magazine – Quarterly publication of SHUC with a circulation in and around Squirrel Hill of 15,000 copies per issue. The magazine provides information about SHUC board meetings, committee meetings and community events. It also provides articles covering issues of interest in the neighborhood and elsewhere.

Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition Website

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

Email mailing lists – Information is posted on “Nextdoor” Squirrel Hill North and Squirrel Hill South email lists as well as the DennistonStreet15217 Yahoo-group. These mailing lists have a wide reach.

SHUC-generated email lists – SHUC’s general email list, which has been compiled over a number of years, includes persons representing various ethnic and religious groupings in Squirrel Hill. The following is a sampling of categories of persons represented on our email lists:

  • Architects
  • Banks
  • Block representatives
  • Business owners in Squirrel Hill
  • City council representatives and staff
  • City economic development experts
  • City Mayor’s office
  • City office of community affairs
  • City planners
  • County council representatives
  • Developers (profit and non-profit)
  • Economic Development entities
  • Education activists
  • Engineers
  • Foundations
  • Neighborhood activists
  • News media
  • Pedestrian-bicycle activists
  • Pittsburgh Community Relations Group
  • Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
  • Planners
  • Port Authority
  • Property owners in Squirrel Hill
  • Real estate experts including realtors
  • SHUC board members
  • SHUC former Board members
  • Squirrel Hill Asian community
  • Squirrel Hill Historical Society
  • Squirrel Hill Jewish community
  • Squirrel Hill library
  • Squirrel Hill residents
  • Squirrel Hill workers
  • State representatives and staff
  • State senators and staff
  • Traffic experts

Knocking on doors – This method is deployed when there are geographically-specific issues on the table, such as proposed development projects that are being reviewed by the Commercial Development and Residential Quality Committee. This method of communication is relatively labor-intensive, but it has the additional benefit of providing an opportunity for in-depth conversation with SHUC customers in their homes or places of business.

News media ads – This method is deployed when an area-wide or neighborhood-wide event is being held. SHUC’s Annual Meeting, in which we engage in information-sharing with our constituencies about what SHUC’s committees (and SHUC overall) are involved in, is advertised using news media ads. Local printed media include Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Print newspaper (covering Squirrel Hill an nearby neighborhoods), and the Jewish Chronicle. (As indicated in the list above, the Pittsburgh Asian and Jewish community organizations exchange information with SHUC via emails and telephone contact.)

Flyers – Flyers are deployed as part of door-knocking communications campaigns and are posted in the business district.

SHUC’s annual meeting – Typically held every September/October, this meeting provides an opportunity for the public to gather and hear about projects and initiatives that are happening in and around Squirrel Hill. The meeting typically features short updates by the two city councilpersons representing Squirrel Hill; and the 11 chairs of the SHUC committees invite the public to circulate to display-tables for one-on-one conversations on comments and suggestions for Squirrel Hill and for SHUC. These meetings have been very useful; as an example, the Pedestrian-Bicycle Committee got its start based on ideas emanating from the 2015 SHUC annual meeting.

SHUC participation at community events – SHUC along with its community partner Uncover Squirrel Hill, sponsors three Night Markets every year, each of which has thousands of participants who have an opportunity to interact with SHUC staff and board members. SHUC also participates in at least two meet-and-greets every year. SHUC has a table at the approximately dozen events every year entitled Bach Beethoven and Brunch, where staff and board members interact with attendees. There are also a number of Farmer’s Markets in Squirrel Hill, and SHUC participates at these events. Altogether, there are more than 30 such opportunities each year for SHUC to interact with its customers.

Timing of SHUC Communications

As indicated, a matter coming before SHUC typically is reviewed by one of SHUC’s 11 committees. This provides for a two-level process of public review because the public is involved in the committee’s deliberations of the matter(s) before it, and the public is also welcome to make comments at SHUC board meetings.

The following provides an example of the impact on timing of having this two-level process. The Commercial Development and Residential Quality Committee reviews, provides comments, and makes recommendations to the SHUC Board regarding economic development projects that are proposed by the public or private sectors. It typically takes two weeks to schedule a Committee meeting during which time preliminary materials are reviewed. Once the Committee meets, there is often a public meeting scheduled to provide a chance for the public to provide comment on the development proposal. This public meeting would be scheduled within two weeks. It then takes about two weeks for the Committee to sift through public comments and prepare a recommendation to the SHUC Board. As a result, the above describes a six-week process that includes one or two Committee meetings, a public meeting, and a Board meeting.

Projecting the Communications Plan into 2020

The City Planning Department asks RCO applicants to present a snapshot of what the communications plan might look like based on a projection of projects and communications initiatives that are expected to take place next year. This projection should consider how various communications techniques may be deployed in 2020.

The projection for SHUC is found in the table that comprises Appendix 2. It includes seven projects/initiatives which SHUC plans to undertake, and highlights the lead SHUC committee(s) along with targeted stakeholder groups, the communications formats that are likely to be deployed, and the factors that will help to determine success of the communications plan.

(The project/initiatives are not in a particular order.)

The first project listed is a study of a proposed extension to Squirrel Hill and Greenfield of the Eliza Furnace pedestrian-bicycle trail. The communications tools for this project include newspaper ads, which are typically deployed for significant new initiatives.

The next project is the Annual Spring Cleanup, which uses modern as well as traditional communications techniques and which typically draws a wide range of ages of participants.

The Development Activities Meeting(s) deploy door-knocking as a means of information dissemination. This technique is typically used when neighbors of a project might be impacted.

The annual Squirrel Hill Treasure Awards dinner is SHUC’s major fundraiser. As it is somewhat of a formal event, written letters are deployed as part of the efforts to solicit participation.

Ongoing Communications of SHUC-related information are concerned with the overall Squirrel Hill community and all methods of communications are deployed in order to reach a diverse audience.

Fundraising/Membership is the regular ongoing communication with contributors and SHUC participants in order to maintain interest and solicit contributions. It is a form of Ongoing Communications, focused on accomplishments and encouraging contributions to SHUC.

The last SHUC initiative listed on the table is the Annual Meeting, which is organized according to all of the SHUC committees in order to give members of the public the opportunity to comment on all subject areas that are being addressed by SHUC.

Communicating Our Strategy

The SHUC Board meets monthly, except for July, on the third Tuesday of the month. Meetings start at 6:30pm and are held at The Children’s Institute, 1405 Shady Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15217.

The annual schedule for the Board meetings is set at the beginning of each calendar year and is publicized via web site, emails, and Squirrel Hill magazine.

SHUC will post the communications strategy on its web site, and will place information in Squirrel Hill magazine about the public availability of this strategy. SHUC will also email its general mailing list that persons can access SHUC’s communications strategy via the SHUC web site.

Tracking the Effectiveness of the Strategy

It is proposed to use the following parameters to track the effectiveness of our communications strategy:

  • Number of attendees at meetings
  • Scheduling of meetings in a timely manner
  • Qualitative assessment of the comprehensiveness of public comments received on various issues
  • Survey of attendees at SHUC’s annual meeting
  • Periodic web surveys of the community
  • Ability of SHUC to provide comments to appropriate City agencies such as the Planning Commission, etc.