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.
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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