Exploring a city for the first time can feel like making your way through a party.
There are all those new people around you, yes. That’s an easy comparison to draw. And the senses — smells of cooking foods, seeing new faces and places, noise and music.
What I’m talking about is the less obvious ways we experience these new settings: The excitement of being somewhere unfamiliar; feeling welcomed or lonely; sensing that you’re a stranger in a strange place or like you’re somewhere you belong.
Listening to a recent TED talk by Amanda Burden, New York City’s chief city planner, I remembered that I often forget that so much of a city’s experience has been designed (much like a party). The way one feels in a city — welcomed, hurried, gritty, safe, what have you — is shaped by the hands of those who created that space.
Pittsburgh is not New York. New York is not Pittsburgh. But listening to that TED talk, all I could think about was how one wonderfully designed Downtown space fit into so much of what she said.
“When I think about cities, I think about people. Where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work. So, even more important than the buildings in city is the public spaces in between them.”
How could she not be talking about a space like Mellon Square? Amidst four walls of skyscrapers, this public greenspace’s roof reaches to the sky, yet is cozy enough to be called “an elegant outdoor living room” by the architectural historian James van Trump. An elegant outdoor living room that is loved and used by so many people year after year, at that.
Mellon Park’s timeless and welcoming design makes it a true treasure in Downtown Pittsburgh, and a place to recharge and appreciate. Currently, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is putting the finishing touches on a complete renovation, giving this public space the attention it deserves. Amidst Ms. Burden’s stories of creating New York’s High Line and Battery Parks, she throws the audience a pearl of wisdom: “Public spaces always need vigilant champions, not only to claim them at the outset for public use, but to design them for the people that use them, then to maintain them to ensure that they are for everyone, that they are not violated, invaded, abandoned or ignored.” The Parks Conservancy’s renovation of Mellon Square will be completed next month — the continued maintenance of that space will keep it shining for years to come.
Ms. Burden finished out her talk with a fantastic point that I’d like to echo. She says, “I believe that a successful city is like a fabulous party. People stay because they are having a great time.” People definitely want to stay in successful cities like Pittsburgh. Successful cities also warrant fabulous parties. Next month, we invite you to join us for the rededication of Mellon Square on May 29th. We’ll be celebrating our successful city and the rebirth of an iconic public space.
Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy