Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

The CAP is a project in Pittsburgh “fixing the mistakes” of Urban Renewal. The Crosstown Blvd was built in the 1960s creating a freeway in a canyon dividing the Lower Hill neighborhood from downtown. The Lower Hill neighborhood, formerly predominantly poor and black, had already been demolished by this point to make way for the Civic Arena and other cultural amenities that were never built.

The CAP is a park on a bridge being built over the Crosstown Blvd and is intended to reconnect downtown and the Lower Hill, while the Lower Hill is being rebuilt by the Penguins hockey team. Construction began in June 2019 and is expected to complete in November 2021.

This blog post is part of an on-going photographic series to watch the development and usage patterns of the CAP. Periodically, approximately once every six months, I return to the site to take new photographs. In addition, I include links to articles about the project that I’ve encountered since the previous post in the series. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.



The CAP in the News:

WPXI and the Post-Gazette both shared an update on the project in March noting that construction had progressed far enough for the outlines of a park to begin to be recognizable.


Previous Posts in the Series:

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: May 2021

The Lower Hill is a notorious site in Pittsburgh, a scar on the city from the height of Urban Renewal. A vibrant (but poor and predominately Black) neighborhood was demolished in the 1950s so the City could build a cultural mecca centered on a Civic Arena, most of which ended up not being built and was left as parking lots.

Now that the arena has been demolished and replaced adjacent to the former location, the Penguins hockey team has the development rights to rebuild the Lower Hill, stitching back together the fabric of the city and reconnecting the remainder of the Hill District neighborhoods with downtown.

However, grand language describing the wonderful benefits to a city are part and parcel of any major development project, including the 1950’s Urban Renewal of the Lower Hill. Fifty years later, the Urban Renewal of the Lower Hill is rarely, if ever described as a good thing. In fact the current redevelopment is sometimes described as undoing the mistakes of that project. However, can the negative financial, social, and emotional repercussions of the original demolition and decades of disconnect be undone simply by reinstating (most of) the former street grid?

This blog post is part of an on-going photographic series to watch the redevelopment of the Lower Hill. Periodically, approximately once every six months, I return to the site to take new photographs. In addition, I include links to articles about the project that I’ve encountered since the previous post in the series. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.

Lower Hill in the News:

A deep look at the Penguins development in anticipation of ground breaking later this year (January 13, 2021, The Undefeated)

Is the project moving too fast to make sure it is done right for the community? (March 15, 2021, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Community questions if the first building is being rushed at the community’s expense (March 16, 2021, WESA)

Pittsburgh’s Equal Opportunity Commission approved the Penguins’ MWBE participation plan (March 18, 2021, Pittsburgh Business Times)

Penguins updated the community on progress of MWBE inclusion as ground breaking approaches (April 1, 2021, Pittsburgh Business Times)

The census line is moved to undo the Urban Renewal inclusion of the Lower Hill in the downtown census tract, but will this divert needed funds from the rest of the Hill District? (April 7, 2021, Public Source)

A major Black church was demolished as part of Urban Renewal while a nearby White church was saved from the wrecking ball, are reparations now possible? (April 14, 2021, Public Source)

Penguins propose a $5 million Opportunity Zone fund (April 16, 2021, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The final plan presented to Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission for the new FNB Tower proposes not finishing the last block to reconnect Wylie Ave to downtown. This is a change from the guiding redevelopment plan and technically requires an amendment that the developer says will take too long. (April 20, 2021, Pittsburgh Business Times)


Previous posts in series:

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jan. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Apr. 2021

“@#$%&!” slipped out of my mouth when I was several blocks away from the former Penn Plaza site and I saw a hulking behemoth of a building looming high above the surrounding neighborhood. In it’s current state, the new development appears to be as tall as the Daniel Burnham apartment building on Highland Ave opposite East Liberty Presbyterian Church, which is much taller than any other structure remaining in the neighborhood besides the church. While I had seen the early drawings of the proposed development when I worked at the City, I was bowled over by seeing the actual size and how it has no relation to the surrounding neighborhood.

This has promoted me to look back at the process of how this project got approval from the city. What I have found so far has only prompted more questions. When a developer proposes a project that is in compliance with the zoning code regulations, there is not much the city can do besides ask “pretty please.” I had assumed that was what the story was here, but so far I don’t see how this project was in compliance with the zoning requirements. I’ll continue digging through the past records to try and wrap my head around the zoning approval for this project. In the meantime, below are photos of the current building progress and some news articles about the development since my last post.


Penn Plaza in the News

In a November 23, 2020, article WESA explores what the Mayor’s Office really knew before the eviction notices. WESA also produced a podcast on Land & Power to explore what happened and how in this East Liberty site.

Former Penn Plaza Residents are being given an opportunity to return to the neighborhood in the new Mellon Orchard Development as reported by ELDI (December 15, 2020) and the Post-Gazette (February 17, 2021).


Previous Posts in the Series

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Nov. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Aug. 2020

Greenfield Bridge

The Greenfield Bridge, formerly known as the Beechwood Boulevard Bridge, was originally built in 1922, demolished in 2015, rebuilt in 2017, and repaired in 2020. It was a classic case of waiting until the bridge was falling down before replacing it. To increase the lifespan of the original bridge, a second bridge was built underneath, and a net installed as early as the late 1980s to protect cars on the freeway below from the falling debris.

Yet it remained in that deteriorating condition for decades before being imploded in a grand ceremony between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2015. The freeway was covered with tons of dirt, the bridge dropped onto this pile, and the debris cleared away before the highway was needed again for regular commuting. Many people (myself and my family included) stationed themselves on either hillside to watch. We picked a distant vantage point in Schenley Park where we had a great view of the dust cloud that resulted from the demolition.

Another grand ribbon cutting ceremony took place when the new bridge reopened in 2017. A part of the reason for celebration was that, similar to the rebuilding of Heth’s Run Bridge, the historical decorative elements of the bridge were restored or reinstated. The new fencing on the bridge also aimed for a more decorative feel compared to the previous cage-like fencing.

After all the ceremonies and splash around the new bridge, I was surprised to receive a press release three years later announcing that the bridge would be closed for a month to undergo repaving and other repairs. On the one hand, it was nice to see that a bridge was undergoing maintenance instead of being left to fall to pieces before being replaced, but three years seemed early to need this kind of maintenance. According to the Post-Gazette, the repairs were for issues identified in the final inspection before the 2017 reopening. These issues threatened to significantly shorten the projected 50-year life span if unaddressed. Now that those issues have been resolved, I assume it will be at least 50 years before the next press release about repair or renovation for this bridge.

London Bridge (and others) are Falling Down

As if there weren’t already enough crises, London’s bridges were “falling down” in 2020. Three were closed for vital repairs. Hammersmith Bridge remains suspended in limbo while the other two, London Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, reopened after months of work. Yet, none are totally in the clear. London Bridge’s reopening included significant daytime traffic restrictions. Traffic restrictions may be implemented for Vauxhall Bridge, if money cannot be found for more repairs. Financial straits threaten Hammersmith Bridge as well. It was first closed to vehicular traffic in April 2019 and closed to all traffic, pedestrian and bicycles over and boat traffic under, in August 2020 due to widened cracks feared to portend imminent collapse. The estimate to repair this bridge is £140 million and nearly seven years of work.

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down,

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair Lady.

In my experiences walking bridges, it seems common to wait until a bridge is almost falling down to invest in it. It appears politically unappealing to direct funds to maintaining bridges, so we live in a world with a dire refrain of our collapsing infrastructure.

Build it up with bricks and mortar,

Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar,

Build it up with bricks and mortar,

My fair Lady.

Bricks and mortar will not stay,

Will not stay, will not stay,

Bricks and mortar will not stay,

My fair Lady.

In Pittsburgh, bridges are often left to run the course of their lives without regular maintenance, then are replaced with a new bridge. The resulting demolition ceremonies and ribbon cuttings  make splashy political news stories. The river bridges are an exception. Probably because of their character and contribution to the city’s photogenetic downtown, they are occasionally partially or completely closed for maintenance.

Build it up with iron and steel,

Iron and steel, iron and steel,

Build it up with iron and steel,

My fair Lady.

Iron and steel will bend and bow,

Bend and bow, bend and bow,

Iron and steel will bend and bow,

My fair Lady.

London’s river bridges have more history and, sometimes, more character than Pittsburgh’s bridges. Hammersmith Bridge is one of the city’s unique and historical bridges. The steep price tag to repair this bridge, perhaps the result of mounting deferred maintenance, begs the question of at what point in the decades of non-investment is the threshold crossed beyond which repair is no longer an option.

Build it up with silver and gold,

Silver and gold, silver and gold,

Build it up with silver and gold,

My fair Lady.

Silver and gold will be stolen away,

Stolen away, stolen away,

Silver and gold will be stolen away,

My fair Lady.

The decades of neglect in Pittsburgh and London overlooks bridges’ frequent role as practical infrastructure built to assist in crossing an obstacle. Even temporary closings can cause extreme headaches and delays to those who rely on the bridge. Hammersmith Bridge was left to deteriorate so long, it had to be closed before a plan was in place. As funds and a repair approach are sought, the residents and businesses of Hammersmith continue to be seriously inconvenienced by not being able to cross the river close to home.


Note: Lyrics to “London Bridge is Falling Down” were taken from https://allnurseryrhymes.com/london-bridge-is-falling-down/.

Chicago Waterfront II

After my disappointment in trying to reach the lakefront at Grant Park, I had given up on reaching the shore on that trip. The weather had been perfect (being August instead of April), but it seemed I was fated to not wade in the lake.

However, after exploring the former site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair in Jackson Park (post pending), I was making my way to a bus stop to return to my hotel and found myself on a path to the 63rd Street Beach. Lake Shore Drive still continued along the lake’s shore, but it was not an obstacle here as it bridged over the pedestrian trail.

While mounting frustration had turned me back from the lake in Grant Park, the ease of following Jackson Park’s meandering trail turned me away from my original goal to add a stop at the lake beach. The beach house suggested days of better maintenance and greater usage, but the beach and adjoining greenspace appeared to be a pleasant amenity for local traffic.* While tourists may have found their way there in 1893, I seemed to be the only one when I visited.

*My tendency to take photos of things rather than people presented a missed opportunity when picking photos for this post. There were several small groups of people on the beach and more carloads of people enjoying picnics on the other side of the beach house. Yet, none of the photos I took that day included any of these people.

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Dec. 2020

Lower Hill in the News:

URA board votes in favor of FNB Tower (Pittsburgh Business Times, May 21, 2020)

FNB tower will be among first post-pandemic buildings (Pittsburgh Business Times, May 22, 2020)

The Penguins and FNB Corp provide funds for tech center in the Hill District (Pittsburgh Business Times, August 27, 2020)

FNB and Penguins establish partnership (Pittsburgh Business Times, September 10, 2020)

Funding secured for FNB tower in Lower Hill (Pittsburgh Business Times, October 8, 2020)

Penguins miss deadline; URA considering next moves (Pittsburgh Business Times, November 12, 2020)

Lower Hill commercial redeveloper, Mayor Peduto, and Councilman Lavelle announce partnership (Mayor’s Press Release, November 19, 2020)

New Lower Hill partnership could move project forward (Public Source, November 19, 2020)

Lower Hill redeveloper establishes downtown office and announces local firms and personnel added to team (Pittsburgh Business Times, November 19, 2020)

Previous posts in series:

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jan. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020


The CAP in the News:

Project on schedule despite pandemic (Tribune Review, July 29, 2020)

Project continues on schedule (WESA, October 5, 2020)


Previous Posts in the Series:

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Nov. 2020

Uptown in the News & on the Web:

President Trump tweets about BRT grant award (Post-Gazette, May 29, 2020)

Locust/Miltenberger Development Website

51-unit apartment proposed in 1700 block of Fifth Avenue (Pittsburgh Business Times, June 1, 2020)

$99.95 million awarded for BRT (Next Pittsburgh, June 2, 2020)

Funding awarded for proposed mixed-use with affordable housing project (Pittsburgh Business Times, August 18, 2020)

BRT service may start in 2023 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 21, 2020)

Solidarity murals coming to the city (Next Pittsburgh, September 27, 2020)

Gentrification concerns raised for proposed tech development (Pittsburgh Business Times, September 30, 2020)

Interview with developer of proposed Uptown mixed-use project (Pittsburgh Business Times, October 5, 2020)

Partner pulls out of Fifth and Dinwiddie project (Pittsburgh Business Times, October 26, 2020)

Planning Commission approves Uptown tech development (Public Source – Develop PGH Bulletins, October 27, 2020)

Commercial portion presented for Fifth and Dinwiddie project (Pittsburgh Business Times, November 10, 2020)


Previous posts in series:

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: May 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Nov. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction