Over the past two weeks, agents from the Department of City Planning and its project partners visited various locations throughout the city to update citizens on its progress with a pair of projects and solicit feedback. The Mount Washington Senior Center was one of the stops on their tour.
The particular projects presented were the ARTPGH and DESIGNPGH prongs of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s PLANPGH initiative, a comprehensive 25-year plan to modernize Pittsburgh and transform it into a progressive, cutting edge destination to live, work and play.
Progress on these two prongs was presented in an open-house format, where city residents were invited to stop by during a three-hour window during which they could explore presentation boards and maps and speak with project representatives.
As to why the two prongs were presented together, Barbara Goldstein, of the creative placemaking and public art planning firm Barbara Goldstein & Associates, said, “Art and design go hand in hand. Both involve creating a cohesive, inviting atmosphere that looks toward cultural enrichment and preserving what is Pittsburgh.”
Based out of California, Ms. Goldstein is a well-established expert in her field and is the author of what many have called the definitive text on creating and funding public art community projects. She was hired by the city as an independent consultant and has worked closely with the Department of City Planning.
“We tell her what we want, and she tells us how to get it,” said Morton Brown, public art manager with the department. “Her expertise has been an incredible asset to our project(s).”
The things the project team looked at included design elements such as landscaping strategies; public elements (e.g., lights, trashcans and benches); parks, squares and plazas; and view topologies of open vistas, iconic structures and signage, and roof space.
Building elements, such as entranceways and awnings, and building materials were also studied, as were the topography of city space and the scaling of buildings.
Art elements that were analyzed included art in buildings and infrastructure (like the Carnegie Science Center); art that reinforces neighborhood character (such as the Steelworkers sculpture near the 18th Street boat launch in South Side); and interactive and temporary art (like Robert Repair and Conflict Kitchen).
“When we went into a city area, we looked at what was already there, determined any defining characteristics and thought about ways we could enhance the area by placing art or making design recommendations for new property owners who want to build there, or for existing property owners who want to update their structures,” Ms. Goldstein said, tying the goals of each project together.
“The common thread has been to reinforce local neighborhoods.”
Yet, while there is overlap in the research methodologies and goals of the two projects, each also seeks its own distinct outcomes.
In addition to seeking to reinforce local neighborhoods, and among other things, ARTPGH seeks to encourage the integration of art into buildings, highlight local artists, and preserve and build public awareness of the city’s artistic legacy.
And, of course, there is the issue of money.
Relying on Ms. Goldstein’s expert advice, ARTPGH has the goal of strengthening funding for public art, which Ms. Goldstein said could be accomplished in numerous ways, including public-private partnerships, grants and “adopt a sculpture” arrangements.
Mr. Brown noted funding is needed both for new art and for the maintenance of existing art. When asked where he’d like to see more public art placed, Mr. Brown said, “Anywhere on this side of the bridge,” referring to the southwestern region of city confines.
“If you look at the distribution of public art throughout the city,” he furthered, “you see a heavy concentration in the east end and the north side. We definitely need to see some art pop up in those areas where it’s otherwise lacking.”
As Ms. Goldstein is working on ways to generate funding for new and existing art, Design Center is working on compiling its design recommendations into a Design Manual, which is anticipated to be released in Oct. 2013 and will offer guidance to builders/owners based on the design elements discussed above.
According to Kate Rakus, senior planner with the Department of City Planning, the manual will break up its contents according to building scale, thereafter delineating the specifications mandated by local zoning laws and making design recommendations based on existing structures and plots in the area.
“It will be a one-stop reference guide,” Ms. Rakus stated, “a resource (builders/owners) can turn to, to get ideas on how to make their building not only adhere to zoning laws but also ‘fit in’ in the neighborhood and into the city at large.”
Mr. Brown explained a large part of DESIGNPGH research involved looking at specific sectors in the city, finding what, if any, planning regimes were already in place, and importing both progressive and time-honored goals from those plans into the DESIGNPGH project.
During the open house at the senior center, which was held last Tuesday, maps of Sectors 6 and 7 were on display, with text describing existing design plans and the strengths, weaknesses and design visions of the Mt. Washington/Hilltop West and South Side/Hilltop East neighborhoods, respectively.
“We learned about the strengths and weaknesses of each area by going out to community meetings and forums to ask residents what they thought,” commented Mr. Brown. “When it came to plan visions, we consulted with the original planners (of existing plans) whenever possible and had them come out to the meetings too.
“But nobody knows a community better than the people who live there,” Mr. Brown asserted. “And that’s why we’re here today—to let residents know what we’ve come up with and ask them if we got it right.”
Residents, and other interested parties, were invited to offer feedback via direct questions to the representatives on hand or by making annotations to the boards and maps.
Among those scribbling on the presentation materials was Jason Kambitsis, executive director of the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, who spent a great deal of time hunched over different tables, penning park space on the maps and adding his own words to the lists of Sector 6’s strengths and weaknesses.
Pertaining to Sector 6, the listed weaknesses, or target areas residents would like DESIGNPGH plans to tackle, included dangerous conditions, such as the lack of sidewalks along Route 51 and the general condition of McArdle Roadway, and concerns of neglect regarding litter and vacant lots.
Sector 7 weaknesses included complaints of poor lighting, lack of zoning enforcement and deteriorating infrastructures.
“A gateway is how a neighborhood is introduced to its visitors,” she remarked. “There are many exciting ways art placement and landscaping design can work together to make that introduction a welcoming one.”
Art can also be expected to come into play in visions for the Mt. Washington/Hilltop West sector, which include the goals of incorporating artist-designed neighborhood signage, increasing the visibility of Shiloh Street businesses and reinventing Beltzhoover and Arlington avenues to attract new residents.
Striking a balance between nightlife and family-friendliness, opening up more green space and finding solutions to parking problems were some of the design visions listed for the South Side/Hilltop East sector.
Community feedback from Tuesday’s open house, and from open houses held in other necks of the woods, will be taken into consideration as the DESIGNPGH and ARTPGH projects move forward. Check back with The South Pittsburgh Reporter for upcoming public meetings, where additional information and opportunities for feedback will be provided.