evolveEA Community Engagement on Penn Avenue

Penn Green

evolveEA, as part of the Geek Art/Green Innovators Festival, took the opportunity to envision businesses that might emerge as the earth warms. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Pittsburgh is projected to receive up to 6 more inches of rain per year and surface temperatures will rise 1 to 2 degrees, while countries like the Maldives will be completely submerged and the US southern tier will dry out. In the scenario we imagined, temperatures are continuing to rise, the world’s populations are feeling the heat, and migrants from across the world pour into Pittsburgh for its amenable climate and abundance of resources.

During the festival we retrofitted three storefronts along Pittsburgh’s Penn Avenue corridor to contain new businesses that might serve this new climate future: a real estate office catering to new residents, a retail urban farm supplier, and a state-of-the-art gym that generates energy to feed the power grid. The goal was to engage the festival participants in re-thinking the issue of climate change by experiencing the seemingly surreal, yet feasible emerging businesses. Reactions varied from “Where can I buy that?” to “Why doesn’t this exist already!”


Social engagement is critical to changing individual and community mindsets. evolveEA’s Penn Green project explored ways to create a cultural shift that would help people to suspend disbelief and think beyond their current environment. Based on the goals of existing development plans, the installation was a playful yet informative way to encourage discussion about the future economy and jobs and how they might affect our neighborhood design.

evolveEA found three storefronts and created temporary “businesses” that one might find in the year 2020. Signs and displays were convincingly mocked up for the one night festival, including conceptualizing the businesses, branding, and communications. We even created a faux newspaper for advance distribution and to promote the event in the neighborhood.

Three enterprises were created. The hypothetical real estate company, Climate Migration Services, assisted people moving to Pittsburgh’s favorable climate as they looked for temporary and permanent housing. CMS counseled and educated the newcomers about their new culture, new physical environment and connected people with resources to upgrade the efficiency of their housing. Urban Agrifitters was part farmer’s market, part tool and seed supply, and part local resource and hangout for urban growers. Touted as part of the new “green seam” in Pittsburgh, it was envisioned as a critical part of a neighborhood dedicated to environmental causes and community development. The third storefront was Body Power, a gym where members could actually generate energy from an unexpected source—their own work out activity. All of Body Power’s stationary bikes, treadmills and weight machines were tied to the electric grid and generate energy in direct proportion to the intensity of the members’ workouts.

Great change still occurs one step at a time. evolveEA received great satisfaction in seeing these vacant properties given new life soon after our installations. The CMS storefront is currently under development; a fitness training workshop moved into the Body Power storefront just months after our exhibit. We look forward to helping these and all the Penn Avenue businesses imagine their next vision for sustainability in the region.

Evolve EA