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Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.



(page 3 of 9)

OUTDOORS: Rethinking public spaces.

Mellon Square’s $10 million restoration was very personal for Jim Griffin. “It has a special place in my heart,” he says of the 1-acre Mid-Century Modern terrace built atop an underground garage. “I pulled up the concrete there. I scraped the dead pigeons out of the drains.”

For four years he managed the project for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and improving city parks. Now as director of Pittsburgh’s Citiparks department, Griffin is determined to protect his work by encouraging the public to come and enjoy it. The park has a full schedule: movies on Monday, games on Tuesday, tai chi and other exercise on Wednesday, lunch concerts on Thursday, and on Friday, a farmer’s market. Pigeon-feeding, smoking and homeless encampments are not welcome. To enforce the rules, park rangers have begun patrolling Mellon Square and other urban park areas.

With more people looking at Downtown as a place to be, rather than just to work, parks and public spaces are reaping the rewards. When the iconic fountain gushed again three years ago after lengthy repairs at Point State Park, it signaled a renewed tempo reclamation — one championed by Riverlife, a public-private initiative that aims to guide the redevelopment of city waterfronts. New plans include landscaping the bank from Heinz Field past the West End Bridge into a naturalistic wetland habitat for birds and fish, and extending the park on the Allegheny shoreline upstream past residential developments planned in the Strip District. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these parks also act as arteries for pedestrians and cyclists.

Public areas with less scenic pedigrees are getting more attention as well. At narrow Strawberry Way, “The Two Andys” above Wiener World have been joined by a new mural — this on the street itself, now closed to automobiles. Councilman Daniel Lavelle is shepherding plans to build a fenced parklet along Fort Duquesne Boulevard where off-leash dogs can frolic safely. He also is scouting places to put an urban garden, possibly on a rooftop.

Downtown also needs a public playground, dog parks and basketball courts, “the things that make a neighborhood a true neighborhood,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “Right now residents of Downtown are going elsewhere for those types of things. That’s something we as a city can do better, and it’s not a huge lift.”

To stake a claim on another underused public outdoor space, Citiparks this year began offering free ping-pong tournaments Thursdays in the massive portico of the City-County Building. “We declared it a park zone with no smoking,” Griffin says. “So you can play 10-minute games to 7 [points], and we pick up the balls.” —Mark Houser
 

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