Where should Pittsburgh environmental groups focus to combat the city’s racist legacies?

When Betty Foster-Pinkley’s mom passed away in 2010, she took over responsibility for the family house in the East Hills. 

The house she and her six siblings grew up in is at the very bottom of Dornbush Street. With a slope of 32 degrees, Dornbush is the second steepest street in Pittsburgh and the eighth steepest in the entire country.

During Pittsburgh’s record rainfalls in 2018 and 2019, rainwater flooded Foster-Pinkley’s basement. Her water heater, furnace, air conditioners and some mementos from her children and grandchildren were damaged. She had to pay about $3,000 for replacements and repairs out of her own pocket because it was a natural flood, not a broken pipe that her home insurance would cover. 

The flooding was so bad, she said, it flooded a nearby apartment building and knocked over a wall. The flooding seems worse than when she was a kid, she said. “I remember it flooding, but not as bad as it’s been flooding.”

Dornbush Street is twice as long as the country’s steepest street, Canton Avenue in Beechview.

“It’s a white water rapid when it rains there,” said Michael Hiller, the assistant director of Upstream*, an environmental nonprofit that used to be called The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. 

The view from the bottom of Dornbush Street in the East Hills. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki/PublicSource)

Later this summer, Upstream is planning to start construction on a large rain garden in the empty lots across the street from Foster-Pinkley’s home. The $190,000 project will capture a half million gallons of rain per year and limit the flooding in front of her house. Hiller said Upstream only has the resources to take on about two of these big projects every year, with the money it gets from grants, donors and its paid work. 

And it wasn’t a coincidence that it chose Dornbush.

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