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Going to the Edge
With the linear Allegheny Riverfront Park, Pittsburgh starts weaving together its downtown and rivers.
By Allen Freeman

Pittsburgh is blessed with three rivers, one of which is spanned by the Three Sisters. The rivers are the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio; the sisters are three pale yellow but brawny cable-suspension bridges that cross the Allegheny and carry traffic into downtown. There, at the bridges’ south ends, the new Allegheny Riverfront Park is a bold step in reconnecting a part of the city long severed from the water.

Annie O'Neill

The park, completed two years ago and recognized last year by ASLA with a design honor award, was conceived, commissioned, and brought to a protracted birth by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a nonprofit founded in 1984. The trust’s core mission is to convert 14 contiguous blocks of the red-light district into the city’s Cultural District by restoring and rehabilitating old buildings into performing-arts venues and filling in with new buildings, parks, and plazas. Creating the Cultural District is part of a nearly 60-year effort to turn the former soot and grime capital of southwestern Pennsylvania into an attractive and active downtown.

Allegheny Riverfront Park, approximately 4,000 feet long, consists of two parallel strips of land: one a narrow, landscaped path at water’s edge, the other, elevated 25 feet higher to the level of downtown, edging Fort Duquesne Boulevard. Landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates designed the park with artist collaborators Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil. It was constructed in two stages: Using federal, state, city, and private funds, the Cultural Trust spent $8.5 million on the lower part of the park, turning a linear parking lot at river’s edge into a 30-foot-wide walkway. The lower tier opened in 1998. For $5.7 million, also from a combination of sources, the upper-tier park transforms Fort Duquesne Boulevard—formerly a stark four-lane highway with a series of 50-foot-wide concrete medians—into a place friendly to pedestrians. Together, the two tiers make up only about three blocks along the city’s long waterfront, but they set high design standards for future development.

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