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Riverlife works every day with developers, land owners, and neighborhood groups on issues of riverfront design, access, amenities and programming in Pittsburgh and the region.


The Vision Plan for Pittsburgh’s Riverfronts prepared by Riverlife in 2001 set a goal of “an accessible, beautiful, (largely) green riverfront, becoming the city’s principal public realm.” The riverfronts are to be complimented by housing, employment opportunities, and everyday activities for Pittsburgh residents.

This vision has been achieved to date through the establishment of design standards and a formal design review process for riverfront projects.

To continue to advance this vibrant vision, Riverlife routinely comments on riverfront projects at the City of Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings and actively participates on the City’s Contextual Design Advisory Panel (CDAP).

Riverlife’s Riverfront Design Committee

To best inform Riverlife’s comments and testimony, Riverlife’s Riverfront Design Committee, consisting of design professionals, meets with riverfront project proponents early in their project development process to ensure that riverfront development objectives are understood and incorporated.

Typical riverfront projects reviewed by the Riverfront Design Committee have included the following:

  • Residential, commercial or industrial buildings
  • Facilities of public accommodation, such as hotels, motels, sports facilities, cultural institutions, restaurants and cafés
  • Educational and/or research and development facilities
  • Marinas and boat docks
  • Riverfront parks, trails, open space, and related public amenities
  • Public art, memorials, interpretive signage
  • Other built structures

Riverfront Design Goals

The Riverfront Design Committee reviews riverfront projects to ensure consistency with the following goals:

HIGH-QUALITY DESIGN: Strive for civic beautification by designing and constructing riverfront properties with high-quality materials and well-designed spaces.

CONNECTIONS: Connect adjacent neighborhoods as well as traditionally underserved neighborhoods to the riverfronts by limiting physical and/or visual obstacles to and from the rivers. Provide visual connections to the rivers by maintaining clear sight-lines to the riverfronts. Ensure accessible ground floor connections to the riverfront and prominent riverfront entrances within buildings.

SUSTAINABILITY: Integrate environmental sustainability into the design, operation, and maintenance of riverfront properties. Support healthy environments along the rivers by repairing and enhancing the natural environment, managing storm water on-site, and incorporating measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen air pollution.

ACTIVATION: Activate riverfronts for the use and enjoyment of the public with public amenities (for example: trails, open spaces, walkways, kayak launches, water taxi docks, benches, lighting, bike racks, bike repair stations, bike share stations, public art, water fountains, dog runs, phone charging stations, etc.) and programming. Maintain transparency of ground floors.

ACCESSIBILITY: Promote use and enjoyment of the ground floor of riverfront properties by providing facilities of public accommodation (for example: cafes, restaurants, retail spaces) as well as provide ground floor public amenities (for example: bike storage, kayak storage, public restrooms, lobby seating). Incorporate wayfinding signage for public access to the riverfront.

For a more in-depth look at planning and executing a waterfront project, download a free printable PDF of our Guide to Riverfront Development.

Guide to Riverfront Development (PDF download)

The Design Review Process

To assist project proponents, Riverlife’s Riverfront Design Committee often meets with proponents in advance of project design to discuss riverfront opportunities for the project site.

Following an initial meeting, once a proponent has a proposed schematic design, the Riverfront Design Committee can meet with the project team to review the draft plans, review goals for successful riverfront development, and discuss opportunities of the proposed project.

If appropriate, the Riverfront Design Committee will document the project’s review process and present comments at applicable zoning and planning commission meetings.

To schedule a meeting with Riverlife’s Riverfront Design Committee, please email for more information.

RELATED: Pennsylvania Waterfront Development Tax Credit (Senate Bill 282, House Bill 457)

The PA Waterfront Development Tax Credit for Fiscal Year 2017-2018 encourages private investment in properties that create public access to the waterfront. The benefits to the public include job creation, increased property values, more recreation areas, and a chance to clean up blight or areas with ecological issues. Find out if your waterfront project in a Pennsylvania city or town is eligible.