In 1911, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. planned a park system to border the Allegheny River. Unfortunately, his plan was never realized during his lifetime; a series of highways were built in the park system’s place. In the 1990s, however, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust spearheaded the effort to transform the narrow, leftover urban spaces between the Allegheny River and expressways into a linear park system. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates were hired as the primary landscape architecture firm to work on the design.
The ribbon-like park has been well received by the landscape architecture community which awarded the park a 2002 EDRA/Places Place-Making Award as well as a 2002 ASLA Design Honor Award. The park is split into two parts: an upper, more refined and urban level and a lower level with tall bushy grasses and plantings. I visited Allegheny Riverfront Park two separate times: once on a normal weekday with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation’s ‘Bridges & River Shores Walking Tour,’ and the second when a winning Pittsburgh Panthers game let out, flooding the Riverfront with fans.
The linear park helped reintroduce the city of Pittsburgh to its riverfront and has spurred renewed economic investment in the area, such as the convention center and a new hotel.
Since Allegheny Riverfront Park connects with the 21-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail, I began by walking westward along the riverbank trail from The Strip District. Moving westward towards the Heinz Field Stadium, the linear spaces slowly begin to morph from a wilder, forested appearance to an increasingly formal and structured experience.
Recreation opportunities are plentiful along the park. Kayakers push off from the park edge and bicyclists come down in droves down the multi-use path. Cyclists are everywhere in Pittsburgh; on the day of the Panthers game, I probably heard a bike bell about every 60 seconds.
It was also amazing to see people walking beneath the bridges. Underpasses are often abandoned in cities and filled with unsightly debris and graffiti, but in Pittsburgh, these spaces are used as transportation corridors.