Awash With Opportunity: Let’s Create a Better Stormwater Plan for Pittsburgh

Pittsburghers, opportunity is just around the river bend.

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Nine Mile Run in Frick Park, a favorite spot of park visitors, is also often flooded by combined sewers.

For older cities such as ours, stormwater poses a serious challenge to our archaic sewer system. Every major rain event results in combined sewer overflow (CSO) and unclean rivers.

This isn’t a new problem. Groups all across the region have been making strides to address this issue through green infrastructure (e.g. rain gardens and bioswales), more conscientious development, and investments in our parks and green spaces. These efforts have the two-fold benefit of making our communities better while quelling stormwater.

Pittsburghers are ready to take these efforts to the next level. Fortunately for us, there’s a multi-billion-dollar opportunity at our fingertips. Recently, however, an uninspired plan to use this money would mean not only a missed opportunity, but would actually negatively impact the assets that we’ve all worked for years to gain. This plan, revealed by the Clean Rivers Campaign of Pittsburgh United last week, would mean an investment in over a dozen “drop shafts,” or underground tunnels, disrupting some of the most well-loved spots in Pittsburgh: our riverfront parks.

There are better, proven solutions. Wise partnerships, expert planning, an active and informed community, and the will to work together for a healthier and more vibrant city is a very powerful force for change that benefits us all. Proof of this is in the parks:

McKinley Park
After years of inattention, this 79-acre community park underwent a $250,000 makeover. The completed project includes an entrance area parking lot surfaced with porous asphalt that allows storm water to be absorbed into the ground; rain gardens; and accessible walkways from the street to the playground and the basketball court. A stone wall dating from the 1930s at the entrance of the park was also carefully restored to historic detail.

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Porous pavement, rain gardens, and accessible entrance at McKinley Park.

Panther Hollow
For more than a decade, we’ve been working alongside ALCOSAN, PWSA, and the City of Pittsburgh to heal this ecologically important area. This long-term project includes planting trees; addressing erosion; installing meadows, rain gardens, infiltration trenches, and other green infrastructure; and collaborating on sustainable projects at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course. Most recently, the $2.5 million restoration of the Westinghouse Memorial ties together historic restoration with stormwater management.

Iconic Panther Hollow in Schenley Park, the focus of years of restoration projects.

Frick Environmental Center
Among many exciting aspects of this project, the state-of-the-art Center will be net-zero water, meaning stormwater must be captured on site and the building won’t depend wholly on municipal water. Built in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh, the Center will capture water from the roof and in a 15,000-gallon underground cistern to be used within the building and on the grounds, eventually replenishing park streams.

The new Center, October 20, 2015.

There is an abundance of parkland for critical, large-scale and strategically placed green infrastructure; these spaces can and should play a vital role in water quality and stormwater management. Green efforts are already working in and for our communities. Let’s pursue an integrated approach that includes parks, rights of way, transportation, and residents’ input.

Let’s keep Pittsburgh on the path of world-renowned green innovation.

 

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5 Outdoor Summer Concert Spots

Stifling humidity. 90 degree days. Not a rain cloud in sight.

Step in to the parks, feel the temperature drop. Spread out a blanket or unfold a lawn chair, kick off your shoes. During these dog days of summer, de-stress and cool down at free concerts in the parks.

Mellon Park

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Sundays in Mellon Park are classy and classical. The popular Bach, Beethoven and Brunch series serves up some tasty live music with a side of brunch every week from 10:30am until noon, courtesy of Citiparks. Enter your entree in the “Best Brunch” competition, or take it easy and order up from the Bagel Factory food truck on site.

Find the Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch concert details here.

Highland Park

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After a brunch-induced food coma, make your way over to Highland Park for a change in tune at the Reservoir of Jazz. Setting Pittsburgh’s local talent center stage, Reservoir of Jazz is the best way to close out the weekend. Keep your feet tapping (and really, your whole body moving) afterwards at Summer Soul Line Dancing immediately following the show.

Find the Reservoir of Jazz concert details here.

Riverview Park

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Elevated on Observatory Hill with the Allegheny Observatory and area jazz musicians, you’re a little closer to the stars at the Stars at Riverview concert series. Park your lawn chair for your fill of live music, then stick around for Cinema in the Park afterwards. Shows are every Saturday, now through the end of August.

Find the Stars at Riverview concert details here.

Mellon Square

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Need a break in the workday? Want to get some fresh air and out of the office? Grab a lunch and make a midday outing to Mellon Square for Wednesday Acoustic Music with Bobby V and Thursday Summer Concert Series.

Find the Mellon Square concert details here.

Schenley Plaza

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With its emerald lawn, delicious dining and central location, Schenley Plaza is a fantastic venue for concertgoers, impromptu musicians, and summer shows. The lawn fills up fast, so make sure to stake out your spot for the monthly WYEP Final Fridays, and don’t miss First Thursdays with Calliope.

Find the Schenley Plaza concert details here.

Celebrating Earth Day in Pittsburgh’s Parks

This week’s post is from our “Let’s Talk About Parks” series. Posted bimonthly in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Let’s Talk About Parks” is designed to encourage exploration and discovery of Pittsburgh’s urban parks. See the complete series here.

Every year, people around the world celebrate Earth Day on April 22. It’s a time to recognize the importance of protecting our natural world, to take note of human actions that are hurting our environment and to learn about actions that each of us can take to help make our world cleaner and healthier.

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Schenley Park tree planting, 1923. Photo credit: Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

The first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970, but before that people did not pay as much attention to the condition of land, waterways and air. The success of a city was measured by how much its factories produced, how many businesses and jobs it had, and how fast it was growing. But over time, as cities and neighborhoods grew and trees and green spaces were replaced with buildings and parking lots and roads, people began to see that there were consequences when you didn’t pay attention to nature. They saw that rivers and streams were being polluted, smog and smoke in the air was making people sick, and species of birds and animals were starting to disappear. They saw that a place that was good for working also needed to be clean and beautiful, or else, in the end, no one would want to live there.

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Two girls plant a tree in Highland Park.

Pittsburgh is special because many years ago city and community leaders had the wisdom to set aside hundreds of acres of woodlands as parks for everyone to enjoy. Today, thousands of trees in our urban parks help clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide, they help protect our waterways by capturing rainwater that would otherwise wash into our sewer systems, and they act as home to countless species of plants and wildlife. About 15 years ago, Pittsburgh’s first Earth Day in our city parks involved dozens of volunteers planting trees on Clayton Hill in Frick Park. Even though it poured rain participants had fun and kept planting, showing that Pittsburghers will celebrate our parks in any weather.

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Will you be joining us for our annual Earth Day in Frick Park? From April 17 – 19 the park is the place to be, with free family-friendly activities like a community campfire, volunteer event, and a full day of naturalist-led hikes. Find the full schedule of events here. 

The first ever Pittsburgh Earth Day will also be taking place on April 22. With scheduled activities and events all over the city, there’s something for everyone. And be sure to swing by Market Square for the Everpower Earth Day Festival. Proceeds from the festival benefit the Parks Conservancy! See the full schedule of Pittsburgh Earth Day events here.

Spring Happiness in the Neighborhood

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

-Mister Rogers

Neighbor, could you use some happy in your life? Today is the most delightful junction of three mood-lifting occasions: The first day of Spring, Mister Rogers’ birthday, and the International Day of Happiness! To celebrate, here are some parks photos that are sure to put a smile on your face:

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The Pirate Parrot goes for a ride on the Blue Slide in Frick Park during a volunteer day. Photo: John Altdorfer.

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Spring buds finally surfacing. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

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Spring crocuses burst through the leaves with style. Photo: Chandler Sims via Instagram.

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Professional puddle jumper in Frick Park. Photo: @Autumn928 via Instagram.

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One of our all-time favorite photos, a happy little turtle out for a walk with his pet balloon in Schenley Plaza. Photo: Scott Roller.

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Cloudy grin. Photo: Teri Clark via our 2014 photo contest.

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Paper flowers spring up outside of Carnegie Library — South Side. Photo: Lauryn Stalter. 

Spread the happiness! Share your smile-inducing photos on our Facebook and Twitter pages, or email them to media@pittsburghparks.org. And keep the happy going by signing up here to be a great neighbor as a parks volunteer.

Here’s hoping that your Spring is as happy as a crayfish high five!

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Crayfish high five! Photo: Renee Rosensteel.

Arsenal and Leslie Parks Master Plan Nearing Completion

Lawrenceville, there are big plans for your parks.

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Community members and organizers on a site walk through Arsenal Park in summer.

Started May 2014, the Arsenal and Leslie Parks Master Plan is nearing completion, an exciting next step for these two greenspaces seeped in local history. A collaborative effort shared by the City, the Parks Conservancy, Lawrenceville United, Lawrenceville Corporation, Friends of Arsenal Park, and the Leslie Park Collective, this revitalization road map is slated to be finished this spring.

Enmeshed in the community for generations, Arsenal and Leslie Parks’ rich histories and roles in the neighborhood are tangible:

If you also love Arsenal and Leslie Parks, we welcome you to give your two cents on the developing plan through this MindMixer site and at these upcoming public meetings:

Thursday, Februrary 26th
6 – 8pm
Stephen Foster Community Center (286 Main Street)

Saturday, Februrary 28th
10am – noon
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (279 Fisk Street)

We look forward to hearing what you have to say, and stay tuned for the completed Master Plan!

Did you know? In addition to four of Pittsburgh’s RAD parks — Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley — the Parks Conservancy in recent years has begun to work alongside community groups in neighborhood parks. Our work in these parks allows us to join Pittsburghers in bringing the benefits of healthy green space to even more communities.

Spotlight on Mary Schenley

An estranged daughter. An international love affair. An heiress disinherited.

Before turning twenty, Mary Schenley’s life read like many a juicy soap opera. And it’s exactly this flair for the dramatic that has us telling her story more than 150 years later.

Recently, 90.5 WESA featured the story of Mary Schenley in a pithy piece featuring our Parks Curator Susan Rademacher. Listen to the full story here, and read below for a piece written by Susan about Mary and the making of Pittsburgh’s civic park.


Mary Schenley and the Making of Our Park System

By Susan M. Rademacher, Parks Curator, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Originally published in
Squirrel Hill Magazine

Only two of our city’s four historic regional parks bear a family name. Frick Park is named in tribute to Henry Clay Frick who, upon his death in 1919, gave 150 acres and an endowment to develop and care for a new park. Frick Park is also a symbol of a father’s Iove for his daughter — Frick’s daughter Helen is reputed to have asked her father for the park property as a gift to the children of Pittsburgh. This story is perhaps the better known of the two family-named parks, because the Frick home and museums at Clayton remain to embody the family’s presence and impact on Pittsburgh.

Mary E. Schenley

Schenley Park, on the other hand, wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the forgiveness of a father in restoring his estranged daughter to her inheritance. In what became the scandal of the day, Mary Elizabeth Croghan eloped at age 15 from her Long island boarding school with the headmistress’s 43-year-old brother-in-law, Captain Edward Schenley. The newlyweds settled in London and Mary was promptly disinherited. Her father, William Croghan Jr., couldn’t bear the break for long, visiting the young couple and the first of many grandchildren in London a year later in 1843. His forgiveness is especially understandable, given that Mary was the widower’s only surviving child.

William Croghan Jr., father of Mary Schenley

Croghan was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, at the fabled country seat Locust Grove. His father was the Revolutionary War Quartermaster General William Croghan, married to the sister of General George Rogers Clark. After the steamboat allowed passage upriver, Pittsburgh became a favored destination of Louisvillians. It was on such an outing that William Croghan Jr. met the prosperous O’Hara family, marrying daughter Mary O’Hara in 1821. The couple started their family in Louisville with son William and daughter Mary Elizabeth born at Locust Grove on April 27, 1826. That same year, William Croghan Jr. wrote his brother-in-law, “I am sick & tired of farming, incessant toil and anxiety & no profit….I am now firmly resolved so soon as my difficulties will allow to make arrangements for moving to Pittsburgh.” Sadly, he would make that move as a widower, his wife Mary having died 1827. In an 1828 letter from William’s sister Ann Croghan Jesup to her sister Eliza Croghan Hancock, Ann writes “Mr. Baldwin in Pittsburgh says Will Croghan is the finest boy he ever saw & Mary is a lovely child it did me good to hear him speak of those poor little children. Mary has quite recovered I sat up with her for two nights she was dangerously ill with Quinsy and inflammation on the Lungs.”  Young Will died only a month later.

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Father and daughter Mary Elizabeth soon moved to Pittsburgh to make a new life. There, William Croghan Jr. was admitted to the Allegheny Bar. And in August of 1833, Mary writes to her Aunty Lucy Jesup, “Next year Papa is to build his cottage.” This fine Greek Revival-style home atop Stanton Heights was named Picnic House, and contained 22 rooms. Croghan died at Picnic in 1850, but his will preserved the home and furnishings for the use of Mary and her children until 1931, when Mary’s daughter Hermione, Lady Ellenborough, sold the furnishings. The house was demolished in 1955, and its grand ballroom and foyer were transplanted to the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning where they remain a major attraction.

Mary’s inheritance of O’Hara properties from her mother’s estate made her the largest property owner in Allegheny County. Her Pittsburgh landholdings included slums at the “Point” and she was severely criticized as an absentee landlord and exploiter of the wretched by Pittsburgh’s Labor Tribune and the Chicago Daily Tribune in the late 1880s. Her redemption came in philanthropic form. Significant gifts to several important institutions helped shape the cultural, social, and physical landscape of Pittsburgh as we know it today.

Among her major gifts were:

  • Land for building the West Penn Hospital;
  • Property for the Western Penn Institute for the Blind;
  • A large lot for the Newsboys Home;
  • A $10,000 subscription toward the purchase of land for Riverview Park; and
  • The gift of the Old Block House and adjoining property, (the original Fort Duquesne) to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

While the City of Pittsburgh had been attempting to buy or take Schenley properties for an Oakland park since 1869, it wasn’t until 1889, after Captain Schenley died, that the land for Schenley Park was finally acquired. It was through the enterprising efforts of the “Father of Pittsburgh Parks,” Edward Manning Bigelow (1850-1916), that Mary was persuaded to donate 300 acres, giving an option to buy another 100 acres. Bigelow, named the first director of the new Department of Public Works, envisioned a park system for the city. When he heard that a developer was heading to London to broker a deal with Mrs. Schenley, he promptly dispatched an attorney to get there first and secure a donation. Mary had just two conditions: that the land be used for a park named after her and that it could never be sold. The City soon purchased an additional 144 acres, including the present-day Schenley Plaza and part of the Carnegie Library for much less than its tax value.

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Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain

Sculpted by Victor David Brenner, with the granite base by architect H. Van Magonigle, the memorial was entitled A Song to Nature and dedicated on Labor Day, September 2, 1918. The memorial was restored and lit in 2008 by the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Her invaluable gift is memorialized in the Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain at Schenley Plaza.

When she died in 1903, the New York Times observed, “The death of Mrs. Mary E. Schenley, which occurred at her home in Hyde Park, London, was made known in Pittsburg [sic] to-day. Mrs. Schenley has been Pittsburg’s benefactress for many years… Mrs. Schenley was the heroine, sixty years ago, of the greatest romance in Pittsburg’s early history… The affair created an immense social sensation at the time, and the house was preserved for many years in precisely the shape that it was in at the date of the elopement.”

Mary returned only once to Pittsburgh before her father’s death in 1850, and rarely after that. As an asthmatic, the smoky city was not a healthy environment for her. How fitting that our park system was created, in part, to improve the health of our people while changing the image of the city from gray to green. Schenley Park, along with all the parks and greenspaces of Pittsburgh, has more than fulfilled that early promise, thanks in no small part to the spirited benefactress Mary E. Schenley.

Sources:
A century and a half of Pittsburg and her people, by John Newton Boucher; illustrated. Vol. 2.
Frick Fine Arts Library: Schenley Plaza, Schenley Park &Environs, Library Guide Series, No. 11.
Grove Gazette, Winter 2011.   Historic Locust Grove, Louisville, Kentucky.
“Fountain of Forgetting: Mary E. Schenley (1827-1903),” by Don Simpson, University of Pittsburgh.
Mandy Dick, “The Storyteller,” Clarksville, Indiana, 502-500-8899.
The New York Times, November 6, 1903.
The History of Pittsburgh: Its Rise and Progress, by Sarah Hutchins Killikelly.  B. C. & Gordon Montgomery Co., 1906: Pittsburgh, PA.

You Asked for It, You Got It: Parks Conservancy in Allegheny Commons

Going to the park to promenade in a hoop skirt or top hat, as one does, is an exquisite way to spend a weekend afternoon. When one’s week has been spent in the steel mills or in the city that some may call “hell with the lid off,” just load up the buggy and head to the neighborhood park.

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View from Picturesque America, 1872” Photo courtesy University of Pittsburgh, Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

In the same year that our capital expanded suffrage to African American men and antiseptic surgery became a thing, the citizens of the then City of Allegheny transformed a plot of free grazing land into a park. And what a delightful place it became. It was here that Alleghenians could shake off the dust of the day and see their neighbors out for a stroll.

The first thing we want is breathing places accessible to our overworked people. As these grounds develop in beauty, and new works of art are introduced, our citizens can resort thither to spend a holiday or leisure hour, instead of being compelled to stay indoors, or to frequent places of questionable propriety, for recreation or pastime. (Parks Commission Second Annual Report, 1870)

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Pittsburgh’s earliest park, Allegheny Commons is comparable to the historic Regional Parks in nearly every dimension except for scale. It’s been a part of a world that has changed completely in 150 years. The truest testament to this being the thousand or so trees of one hundred different species that grow there, some of which are thought to date back to the original 1800’s plantings. The Commons are an invaluable cultural landscape for Northsiders and Pittsburghers of all stripes.

Keeping Allegheny Commons lovely is no small feat, as outlined by Allegheny Commons Master Plan of 2002, a comprehensive guide to improving and maintaining this 80-acre space. Spearheaded by the Allegheny Commons Initiative, and more broadly supported by the Northside Leadership Conference, the community has already completed two of its planned phases, and is now moving on to the third. It’s in this third phase that we at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are thrilled to become an ally in this exciting project.

The importance of historic preservation, the park’s vital role in community development, and the need for ongoing stewardship are the basis of this collaborative effort.

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Rendering of the restored northeast fountain. Rendering by Carlos Peterson.

In this next phase of the Master Plan, the Parks Conservancy will oversee the design and construction of the $2.5 million restoration of one of the park’s four spectacular fountains and surrounding areas in the North Commons at the intersection of Cedar Avenue and North Avenue. The Allegheny Commons Northeast Fountain Restoration, which comprises approximately one city block, includes reconstruction of the historic fountain (now a planting bed) and surrounding gardens, as well as restoration of the promenade and other walk ways, plus installation of new signage, benches, lighting, and other amenities.

The northeast fountain, original to the park’s 1869 design, was filled and shut down due to city budget and staffing constraints years ago. This well-used corner of the park is within walking distance of more than 7,000 people and is practically the front yard for Allegheny General Hospital, Allegheny Center Alliance Church, and Martin Luther King School. Northside landscape architecture firm Pashek Associates is finalizing work on the design for the restored fountain and surrounding areas.

In addition to this Capital Project, the Parks Conservancy is also spearheading a detailed stormwater management plan for Allegheny Commons, to be completed in 2015.

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Lake Elizabeth. Photo courtesy Allegheny Commons Initiative.

The Parks Conservancy is diving head first into this project and is very excited to be working in Allegheny Commons. Stay tuned for more information on volunteering in the park, and how our collaborative efforts will become a formal partnership alliance for years to come.