Oakland Bridges: The Hollows

Oakland is a cluster of Pittsburgh neighborhoods east of downtown. It has the highest concentration of institutions and cultural amenities in the city. It is home to Carlow College, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), multiple UPMC hospitals, the Phipps Conservatory (Phipps), Schenley Park (the second largest city park), and the Carnegie Institute complex (housing the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the main Carnegie Library, and the Carnegie Music Hall). Most of these as well as much of the commercial and residential parts of Oakland were built on a shelf. The hospitals, part of Pitt, and some houses climb the slope toward the Hill District. Some houses also spill over the edge of the shelf, down into the hollows.

Several bridges span the Junction and Panther hollows in Oakland. The Forbes Avenue bridge connects CMU to the Carnegie Institute complex and one of the commercial districts. The Schenley Bridge connects Pitt and the Carnegie Institute complex to the Phipps and Schenley Park. The Panther Hollow Bridge spans a second hollow to connect the Phipps with the rest of Schenley Park. The Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge carries the Blvd of the Allies over Junction Hollow. A fifth bridge without pedestrian access carries 376 over the hollow. This bridge can be partially glimpsed from the Anderson Bridge, but its presence can be clearly marked by the traffic’s rushing whoosh that carries up the hollow.

By the Forbes Ave and Schenley bridges, Junction Hollow has an industrial feel. The railroad is mostly exposed at these points (further down it is surrounded by trees, shrubs, and other overgrowth). There are also several parking lots and CMU houses some of its facilities functions along the hollow. By the Schenley Bridge, a massive electrical substation was recently constructed across from the historic (and active) steam factory.

The Panther Hollow Bridge provides a completely different feel as its hollow is 100% park. It is the only one of these bridges that does not cross over the railroad and is therefore the only one without a cage. A small lake with walking trail is visible on one side (with the railroad beyond a row of weeds). The other side overlooks a forested hillside and valley floor. Hawks and/or falcons can often be seen gliding over this hollow.

The Anderson Bridge overlooks Junction Hollow at its most parklike point, but it has a less peaceful feel than the Panther Bridge. A combination of the almost-highway Blvd of the Allies, the bridge’s height above the hollow, and its pedestrian fence make the bridge feel isolated from nature when walking across.

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.