Open Streets Hazelwood Green

I was confused when Open Streets Pittsburgh announced that it was closing the streets in Hazelwood Green to cars and opening them to bicycles, roller skates, walkers, etc. Unlike the other locations they’ve done, not many cars use these streets and there aren’t any businesses on the site that people would come back to patronize after the festival.

However, it worked as a vehicle to increase awareness of the bike trail, plaza, and repurposed industrial buildings on the site. People who never or rarely come to Hazelwood, but come to Open Streets, came and participated. There were far more people than I’ve seen congregated in a single location since the beginning of the pandemic, which is also an exponential increase in the number of people I’ve seen in Hazelwood Green either pre-, post-, or during pandemic.

It was great to see the new plaza put to one of its intended uses as a concert venue with vendors on the paved portion. I arrived in time to grab some lunch from the tent for C&D’s Kitchen, a local Hazelwood restaurant, before finding a good seat to enjoy Jimmy Adler’s Blues Band and people watch. A young girl unconsciously stopped in her tracks to swing her hips to the music (not having the muscle coordination yet to do both). Across the green, a man kicked off his shoes to boogie on the grass.

I hope to enjoy many more such sights at events in this plaza.


It’s the classic story of industry moving on to greener pastures at the same time that suburban flight takes off.  Pittsburgh politicians and notables tried everything they could think of to keep the loss of jobs and residents from increasing.  Despite their efforts, the city’s population plummeted over the next several decades.

Today, planners and officials often cringe at the mention of the “Urban Renewal” of the 1950s and ’60s.  The “bad” judgement applied by their earlier counterparts in efforts to keep the city attractive is an easy scapegoat for the problems of the intervening decades.  The people in charge today are doing “good” work by erasing the “mistakes” of the past: tearing down the crime-ridden high rises and replacing them with newly constructed mid-rises and townhomes, returning one-way ring roads to two-way traffic, rebuilding a neighborhood torn down for the sake of a grand civic project only partially deployed, etc.

This rhetoric is seductive.  “Urban renewal was evil” is a catchy phrase.  It is easy to point the finger and blame what is visible for the effects caused by complicated invisible factors.  Yet underneath all this rhetoric and finger pointing there are examples of Urban Renewal success stories in Pittsburgh.

ALCOA is one of Pittsburgh’s highly successful homegrown industrial companies.  When it threatened to move its headquarters to New York City in the 1950s, Richard King Mellon and the Mellon Foundation instigated the creation of a package that kept ALCOA in town.  ALCOA finally moved its “headquarters” to NYC in 2006, but 11 years later it returned to Pittsburgh.  In fact, this was only the executive headquarters with less than 100 staff.  ALCOA still continued to have operational headquarters in Pittsburgh throughout that time.

The 1950s package deal that induced ALCOA to stay was a new office building, garage, and public plaza known as Mellon Square.  Not only did this succeed in persuading the company to stay, thereby retaining jobs in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, but the plaza recently underwent a $10 million refresh.

Today, Mellon Square is a gem as an outdoor lunchtime retreat downtown.  Unlike Market Square and Mellon Park, it is usually possible even during peak lunchtime to find a seat in Mellon Square, either in the shade of trees or buildings or basking in the sun.  Seats near the centerpiece fountain may be wet, especially if it’s a particularly windy day, but there are also seats in more hidden away areas.  On different days of the week, there might be a Farmers Market, yoga or other outdoor exercise, or live music to enjoy as well.

When enjoying the ambiance on top, it is easy to forget that there is a parking garage underneath.  This garage continues to serve downtown visitors and workers.  As the parking levels go down below ground instead of stacking up into the air, it brings less blight to the urban landscape than most other downtown garages.  During the 1950s when the idea of car as king was being imprinted in the city’s design through its new ring roads and new Zoning Code, it is amazing to me that Mellon’s team had the insight to say let’s hide the cars out of the way, underground.

Growing Parks

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In a recent post, I complained about the lack of engaging outdoor spaces in Pittsburgh.  I recently realized that I was perhaps a little harsh in that assessment.  One of the things that attracted me to Pittsburgh in the first place was the abundance of parks and welcoming open spaces.  Now, as a naturalized Pittsburgher, I may take these places too much for granted.

Pittsburgh is home to five large city parks: Emerald View Park, Frick Park, Highland Park, Riverview Park, and Schenley Park.  In addition, there are Point State Park, neighborhood parks and playgrounds, and parklets and green spaces.

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Downtown has a welcoming outdoor space within a 5 minute walk of almost every office building.  Come noon, the most popular ones are out of seats.  Some have programming on different days.  Market Square and Mellon Square regularly host farmers’ markets, live music, interactive art, and activities.

Yet, these oases are not spread out evenly across the Pittsburgh.  East Liberty used to be considered Pittsburgh’s second downtown and was the third largest economic engine in the state.  After decades of suburban flight and decay, this neighborhood is experiencing a resurgence that is recapturing much of its former dominance.  Yet, when I worked in East Liberty, there were no welcoming outdoor places for me to reasonably get to in my lunch hour.  I ended up eating everyday in the office, which meant the only time I left the office between starting and quitting times was when there was an off-site meeting.

It’s not just East Liberty that is missing out on these outdoor pockets and treasures.  Much of the city’s riverfronts are still dominated by industry or freeways.  Many neighborhood don’t have parks or the ones that are they have not been maintained.

Pittsburgh does have good outdoor spaces, but it could have better.  The riverfront is a visible place to expand upon the earlier successes such as Point State Park and the Watersteps.  The adult-friendly, public swings which spurred my previous post Engaging Riverfronts is one way to expand upon that.  I look forward to more ideas and implementations across the city.