January 22, 2013 | Vol. 73 No. 26

Open space, zipline and charter schools discussed on Mount

At its first regular forum meeting of the year, the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) formally welcomed its new executive director, Jason Kambitsis, and hosted two guest speakers with plans for moving Pittsburgh forward.

First to take the floor was Andrew Dash, from the City of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning, who presented information on OpenSpacePGH, the second of 12 prongs in the city’s PLANPGH initiative.

Mr. Dash explained OpenSpacePGH is a “plan for the city’s parks, recreation spaces and open and vacant lots.”

Like many other PLANPGH projects, OpenSpacePGH is a 25-year plan, projecting what residents need and want to see in Pittsburgh over the next 25 years, Mr. Dash noted.

Specific projects will begin this spring, on a prioritized basis.

Getting to this stage in the plan has taken the OpenSpacePGH team approximately two years, said Mr. Dash, who visited the MWCDC in 2011 to garner community interest and solicit feedback.

During those two years, the team researched, assessed, and analyzed each of the city’s 146 public parks, as well as numerous open, vacant and distressed properties, to determine what could be done to improve citizens’ enjoyment of natural and recreational assets. Crucial to this analysis, Mr. Dash stated, was the input of approximately 2,700 city residents who participated in OpenSpacePGH’s various public outreaches throughout 2011.

According to Mr. Dash, what the team learned from its outreaches is 90 percent of city residents use parks that are close to their homes and there is a popular desire to get more use out of open outdoor spaces—such as trails—and a desire to keep them in clean condition and good repair.

Taking what residents said into consideration, the team looked at various factors including local access and walksheds to parks; the quality of the parks and the variety of experiences each provides; and, the economic benefit of the park to neighboring property owners.

Analyzing these factors, the team made determinations regarding creating new parks, returning existing parks to nature and amending existing parks with renovated facilities and greenspace areas.

Another goal of the team, Mr. Dash mentioned, is to implement activation programs, such as enhancing the events and outdoor programs in public parks and to better steward resources by reinstituting a park ranger program.

“Eleven percent of city property is in parks,” Mr. Dash commented. “Most of them have a 1960s mentality and do not accommodate the modern trends of our mobile population.”

Citing other stats, Mr. Dash said 18 percent of property in the city is either vacant, distressed or tax delinquent. To have these types of open spaces better serve resident interests and needs, the team looked at certain areas to determine the feasibility of things like urban farms. It is also working on streamlining the process by which citizens could request open space uses, Mr. Dash furthered.

When asked for examples of areas where parks might be returned to nature, Mr. Dash referenced Devlin Park in Arlington Heights, noting the space does not serve the neighborhood because there no longer is a neighborhood to serve. He said this particular park gets very limited use and sits alone in an area where properties have been abandoned and demolished, which makes it a likely candidate to return to nature.

Possible recommendations for Devlin Park, as well as for the bulk of other city parks, will be presented to City Council in a hearing next month, and will be open to public meetings and comment in March and April.

Following Mr. Dash’s presentation, Adam Young took the floor. Mr. Young is a Carnegie resident and U.S. Steel employee who had a “really cool idea” one afternoon, when taking in the view from the Duquesne Incline.

“How cool would it be to plummet across the river?” he asked himself that day, and asked those in attendance at Thursday night’s meeting.

Mr. Young presented his plans to bring a zipline to Pittsburgh, stretching from Mount Washington to the North Shore.

A zipline, Mr. Young described, is a thrill-seeking, extreme sport ride, where an individual is harnessed into an apparatus and launched on a corded-track. Ziplines can be found in various ski resorts across the globe, and in U.S. states including Utah and Alaska.

“It’s a 420-foot drop (from Mount Washington to the North Shore),” Mr. Young reported. “It’d be a half-mile ride at 50 miles per hour.”

Mr. Young’s proposed business would feature a launch site located on Grandview Avenue, between Isabella’s on Grandview and the Georgetown Inn, and a landing site somewhere on the North Shore, tentatively near the Carnegie Science Center. Rides would cost around $30 a pop, he said, and free shuttle service would be provided from launch site to landing site (or vice versa).

Hoping to get the zipline zipping in the next year or so, Mr. Young asked the audience for feedback and questions. The majority of people at the meeting expressed interest in, and support for, the impending business.

Concerns, however, were raised, namely over skyline/view interference, noise pollution and safety.

As far as infringing on the viewshed, Mr. Young showed GPS slides suggesting minimal obstruction against the cityscape. Noise pollution, he said, would be mostly an issue at the landing site, which he proposes to be expansive enough to absorb excess sound.

To address safety issues, Mr. Young clarified that the system would be equipped with a “Zip Rescue” harness to rescue patrons trapped on the line. He also said he is considering equipping the apparatus with flotation devises.

For updates on Mr. Young’s progress with this business proposal, check out www.zippitt.com.

Before adjourning, the meeting was opened to public discussion. Mount Washington resident Patricia Ward stepped up to speak about the grassroots effort she is involved with to bring a K-8 charter school to the former St. Mary of the Mount school building.

Ms. Ward said her group has written a comprehensive curriculum and created a unique financial package for the school.

“Now all we need is community support,” she stressed.

Explaining her group recently responded to recommendations from its public hearing and panel interview with Pittsburgh Public Schools, Ms. Ward said the school’s application is now at the stage where the panel will decide if the group has met its criteria and will make its final recommendation to the Pennsylvania Board of Education.

“Anyone interested in helping us meet our goal of bringing the best charter school in the state to Mount Washington should email, call or write the Board of Education and show your support.”

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