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An Interview with Maya Haptas, Senior Consultant, Main Streets

In February, Maya Haptas brought her two decades of experience in planning and economic development to Fourth Economy when she stepped into the role of Senior Consultant for Main Streets. As an accomplished community builder in both her professional and personal life, Maya has fostered neighborhood economies across Allegheny County and personally founded Shred Your Fears, which brings people together around skateboarding. Additionally, Maya has served as a board member for community-based arts organizations like the Union Project and The Maxo Vanka Murals in Millvale.

We asked Maya a few questions about her role, how it builds on her past professional experiences, and what she’s excited to accomplish at Fourth Economy. We also learned more about Shred Your Fears–how it originated, and how it gets women, trans, and/or nonbinary Pittsburghers onto skateboards for the first time.

You are Fourth Economy’s new Senior Consultant for Main Streets! What does that entail? What does your work look like on any given day?

My primary responsibility is to oversee Allegheny Together, a program that provides strategic planning and technical support for traditional business districts throughout Allegheny County. The program is supported by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Allegheny County Economic Development (ACED). We are currently providing technical assistance in the communities of Clairton, Pitcairn, Mt. Oliver Borough, Braddock, East Pittsburgh, and North Braddock. On any day, I’m pivoting between providing direct assistance to communities, connecting small businesses to resources, and doing day-to-day management work on the project overall, which has several moving parts. I like to wear many hats, so this project is a great fit for me.

One of your past jobs was working for the Lawrenceville Corporation, where you oversaw two designated Main Street business districts in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. What lessons did you learn in that job that you find yourself still using in your work with Fourth Economy?

This is where I discovered my love of working in communities and with small business owners–it was some of the most fulfilling and exciting work I have done. At the time, I appreciated the opportunities the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh gave us as Main Street managers to network with other commercial business districts in neighborhoods across the City of Pittsburgh. When I was faced with a challenge it helped to see that other communities were facing similar struggles or had creative solutions to share. It’s exciting to have experienced that benefit and be able to deploy it to other communities through Allegheny Together.

You also worked for the City of Pittsburgh as the Nighttime Economy Manager. What advice do you have for communities trying to grow this sector as part of their Main Streets or economic development strategy?

Having hospitality-based businesses and other ways for people to socialize is an essential part of a thriving business district. The service industry is a critical employer, particularly in Main Street districts. Having a mix of day- and nighttime-serving businesses is a sign of a healthy business district. Because many Main Street business districts were designed to support typical daytime-serving businesses such as hardware stores, as the business mix grows to include hospitality-based businesses, it is important to plan for such a transition. Addressing mitigating factors while also supporting those businesses’ success through infrastructures, such as lighting and other improvements, is vital.

What do you hope to accomplish with Fourth Economy this year?

I’m excited about the work we are doing with Allegheny Together to welcome a new cohort of communities in the fall. While every community is different, our focus this year is to highlight the shared challenges and identify resources and opportunities to address them. We are also working on data benchmarking for Main Street corridors all over Allegheny County to support ACED's work and help them identify new areas of opportunity.

Having hospitality-based businesses and other ways for people to socialize is an essential part of a thriving business district. The service industry is a critical employer, particularly in Main Street districts.

You are the founder of Shred Your Fears, a skateboarding workshop in Pittsburgh for women, trans, and/or nonbinary people to feel strong and comfortable in their bodies. What inspired you to take up skateboarding, and what has been the best thing to come out of running Shred Your Fears?

I learned to skateboard in 2018 with my son, who was six at the time. I took some group lessons with friends and quickly realized that there were people like me who had always wanted to skate, but had never had the chance, and would be excited to learn later in life. We’ve taught 357 people ages 11-72 to skateboard since we started in November 2018.

The best thing to come from SYF is the community. While it’s been tough to maintain through the pandemic, I hadn’t realized how isolated becoming a mother had made me back when SYF started. Hanging out at the skatepark with other parents and adults like me who love skateboarding has become a special part of my life. People who come to SYF often come on their own, but it's all cheers and high-fives by the end of the workshop. Everyone is so supportive of each other. I didn’t set out to create that environment explicitly, but it’s happened organically, and that’s the power of doing something fun and letting go of your fear.


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