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'Sustainability Stroll' highlights New Kensington's past, new businesses

BRIAN C. RITTMEYER| Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 2:22 p.m.

With the help of a quick scan of a QR code, a stroll down New Kensington’s Fifth Avenue can offer a glimpse of the city’s past along with its present.

Signs for a “Sustainability Stroll” recently went up along Fifth Avenue from The Corner at Seventh Street to Westmoreland County Community College just past 11th Street. Many may see them for the first time if they come to this month’s Fridays on Fifth, scheduled for 5 to 9 p.m. Friday on Fifth between 9th and 11th streets.

The stroll is a project of Penn State New Kensington, the Tri-City Historical Society, the City of New Kensington and the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund.

It was funded as part of a $75,000 grant received in 2018 from the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy fund, said Ruth Ann Herstek, associate director of advising at Penn State New Kensington.

“We’ve been waiting on all the pieces to come together and the city to be able to get the signs in the ground,” she said. “We’ve been working on it pretty much for three years.”

The covid pandemic paused work on the project, which turned out to be a good thing.

“In that 9-to-12-month time period, New Kensington has just exploded with new businesses,” Herstek said.

There’s a sign on each block with a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone. Scanning it brings up a website unique to that block and the participating businesses on it, Herstek said.

About 30 businesses are participating. They’ll be marked on a map, which can be clicked on to bring up information about the existing business and any available historical information about the location.

“You can go block by block and pull up and read through the information, see photos. Also included in that is the sustainability goals that business identifies with,” Herstek said. “If you’re not familiar with New Kensington or if you need to reacquaint yourself with what’s new in New Kensington, the stroll would be a good way to do that.”

There are 17 sustainability goals identified by the United Nations. They are displayed on the signs.

“It applies to New Kensington in the way that New Kensington is reinventing itself,” Herstek said. “In a way, sustainability is also about resiliency. New Kensington is showing the resilience in what it is doing, and also a lot of the new businesses are greatly aware of the sustainable efforts and how they improve their business practice.”

New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said the stroll is a great addition as part of the revitalization happening in the city.

“The sustainability signs will serve several purposes. They provide a nice history for those who are either new to town or haven’t been to downtown recently. For those who have been in New Kensington for a long time, it provides reference points, memories and shows how these buildings have sustained and become new and flourishing businesses,” he said.

“I am certain that people will be interested in seeing what businesses were originally in the buildings, how the buildings have been used in other businesses in the recent past and how they have been transformed into the businesses they are currently,” Guzzo said. “The interactive signs will show how New Kensington has transformed into what it is becoming by reutilizing these buildings.”

Herstek said businesses are being added to the stroll every week, and it’s not too late for them to get involved. They hope to extend it to Fourth Avenue and include the businesses there.

The signs make the area good for student field trips, she said.

“The tour is not static. It will continue to evolve and change as the city continues to revitalize,” she said. “Hopefully it will grow along with the city.”

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