Allegheny Riverfront Park is a landscape that refuses to be forgotten. These words kept ringing through my head last week as I listened to the veritable titans who keep the legacy of the park burning bright.
During the latest installment of Riverlife Headwaters Coffee Chat series, hosted by our Headwaters Circle major donors, I had the tremendous opportunity to chat with renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, who designed the park in the 1990s in collaboration with artists Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil, and his client Carol Brown, who spearheaded the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust at the time and was the driving force to connect the city’s Cultural District to the Allegheny River.
Carol and Michael led a team from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) that took a desolate stretch of concrete along the Allegheny and a six-lane highway and turned them into a miraculous experience for Downtown riverfront users. Allegheny Riverfront Park’s upper and lower portions are defined by dense croppings of trees and boulders and connected by a graceful pedestrian ramp with sculptural railings and vine-covered walls. The park not only set the bar for Pittsburgh’s modern riverfront reclamation and paved the way for the creation of Riverlife, but also influenced the contemporary parks movement that took off in cities around the world in the 1990s.
Allegheny Riverfront Park’s design was so intuitive that over the years it began to feel like it had been there forever. As Pittsburgh’s riverfront network of parks and trails grew, people began to take the trailblazing landscape for granted. Heavy vehicles cracked the bluestone pavers. Landscaping was untended. Maintenance was deferred.
When a park is used annually by hundreds of thousands of people and is a highly-visible defining feature of the northern edge of Downtown, we can’t allow it to recede into the background. Everyone who visits Allegheny Riverfront Park–or any part of Pittsburgh’s riverfront network, for that matter–deserves a world-class experience. That can only be achieved through long-term care and resources for these spaces. Riverlife is committed to solving the ongoing challenges around maintenance of riverfront open spaces like Allegheny Riverfront Park, and now is a particularly exciting time for this conversation.
For the past two years, Riverlife has been working on a community-driven vision for the Downtown riverfronts we call “Completing the Loop.” Not only does this plan call for building new neighborhood connections to the riverfronts and filling important missing links in the 15-mile river park and trail network between the West End, Hot Metal and 31st Street Bridges; it also proposes the restoration of legacy projects like Allegheny Riverfront Park and looks at mechanisms to fund their care and maintenance throughout the entire “loop” footprint.
Allegheny Riverfront Park is a core part of the “Completing the Loop” vision. Repositioning the park for a new era requires Riverlife’s focus and the heft of partnerships with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the City of Pittsburgh, and other Downtown stakeholders who see the importance of not just restoring and caring for the park, but also activating it in ways that will make it feel alive year-round and deter vandalism and neglect.
Our early plans for the restoration of the upper level of the park made the news last week. We’re grateful that the regional spotlight is on this space and our work, and I know that Michael and Carol share my pleasure in the renewed attention and love Allegheny Riverfront Park is receiving.
Some heavy lifting awaits us. I hope that you will remain close as we move this effort forward. Allegheny Riverfront Park’s role in Pittsburgh’s riverfront experience is more than just distant memories. This is a cultural landscape that can’t be ignored.
Matthew Galluzzo is president and CEO of Riverlife.
As Riverlife implements plans for “Completing the Loop” and fundraises for riverfront capital improvements and maintenance funding, it’s essential to have the support of community members like you. Your individual donation powers our work, helping us create thriving, world-class riverfronts that are essential to our region and belong to everyone. Thank you!