A Glimpse at Pittsburgh’s troubled past | Three River Park
Just 30 Years back, the city of Pittsburgh was, by all looks and appearances, a decaying city beckoning to the days of its industrial past when coal mining and steel manufacturing were what built the city. The cost of this unchecked industrialization was the conversion of the city’s riverfront into an inaccessible wasteland with highways on both sides, along with steel mills and rail lines blocking most of the public’s access to the water body. By 1999 a riverfront advocacy group called River life got heavily involved in the construction and planning for the city’s two new stadiums and a convention centre along the riverfront. NBBJ was formally brought on board to prepare a riverfront revitalization master plan which includes the Three River Park.
Three River Park: A city Transformed
In 2001, the ambitious plan for a 13-mile interconnected park system was presented for the city’s riverfront NBBJ. This plan went on to win the prestigious 2002 AIA Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design. The vision for a greener and more walkable city saw 65 acres of green space lining Pittsburgh’s downtown riverfront to be made entirely accessible to the public. The layout also incorporated important waterfront developments with public function, which activated the entire strip, creating a more active engagement with the city’s downtown.
A diverse set of programs creates vitality in space by bringing forth a whole range of users and activation of space at different times of the day. Urban Vitality was particularly important in Pittsburgh, where historically, the Riverfront had a notorious reputation for being unsafe, with parents warning their children to avoid the river areas. Now, the Riverfront has a dedicated entertainment district in the North Shore area, complete with sports stadiums, casinos, and a science centre. The South shore hosts a convention centre, and the whole park is intersected by various ramps, trails, and landscape features which create better cross-programming throughout the strip. A multitude of programs activate the site at different times of the day and brings in a diverse user base, and this leads to a greater perceived sense of security.
The park’s boundaries are defined by the city’s historic bridges like the West End Bridge on the Ohio River, the Hot Metal Bridge on the Monongahela River, and the 31st Street Bridge on the Allegheny River. The use of urban design features like tiered promenades, designed water features, paved pathways, and stepped seating coupled with soft landscaping all create an engaging design. It’s important to note that the design of public spaces is well integrated with the programming along the riverfront with public access passageways provided every 600-800 feet.
The Impact of the Riverfront Park System 10 years on | Three River Park
A loop of riverfront space has grown to include 15 miles and 1055 acres worth of parks, trails, and open spaces. Though the loop is 85% connected, the process of creating further connections through new neighbourhoods and community partners is something the city remains committed to. The major themes for the master plan were transforming brownfield sites into future green spaces, revitalizing old bridges, and creating new ones that cater to various modes of transport but place greater emphasis on the pedestrian experience. Illumination of these access points through creative means was also key. Neighbourhoods had to eventually be reoriented towards the river to create this interface.
The major components of the master plan are the Allegheny Riverfront Park, Boulevard and Land, the North Shore Riverfront Park and trail, the Existing Point State Park Revitalization, and the South Shore Riverfront trails and development. A heritage trail runs through the heart of the three river park system and is a 24-mile regional trail that connects pedestrians, joggers, and cyclists to other trails like the Great Alleghany Passageway. Newer additions along the riverfront development, like the Mon Wharf Landing, incorporate flood-resistant infrastructure while native vegetation along the river is prioritized. The whole development is speckled with pedestrian bridges, ADA-compliant ramps, and public art murals that enliven the space.
NBBJ developed the Masterplan to allow flexibility whilst providing certain guiding principles for the riverfront development, like the mix of programming, prioritization of public access through design, and greater environmental protection through the provision of riparian buffers and indigenous vegetation zones. The project beckons to the general principles of the firm’s urban design unit, which has strongly advocated for greener and more walkable cities. NBBJ’s Alex Krieger was the project lead who was responsible for carrying out several community engagement meetings that brought in the valued input of the stakeholders. In the case of Pittsburgh’s industrial waterfront, there was a need to shift the very negative public sentiment towards the polluted waterfront. The Three River Park has become the city’s most significant open space and hosts its public festivities through several new shoreline parks and entertainment venues.
The Waterfront revitalization of Pittsburgh has successfully balanced the concerns of economic mobility with those of environmental justice. This is all in part to NBBJ’s and River Life’s advocacy partnership and continued commitment to inclusive planning and sustainable development.
Sieniewicz. T (2019). To Get to Net Zero, Cities Need to Think Wider than Buildings [online]. Available at: www.nbbj.com/ideas/urban-waterfronts-should-be-designed-to-protect-our-communities
NBBJ (2012). Pittsburgh Riverfront Masterplan. Available at: www.nbbj.com/work/pittsburgh-riverfront-master-plan
Tierney. T (2014). How Green Riverfronts Transformed Pittsburgh. Available at: www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/11/how-green-riverfronts-transformed-pittsburgh/382928/
Riverlife (2022). Pittsburgh’s riverfront parks and trails: the Downtown loop. Available at: https://riverlifepgh.org/riverfront-guide/