What Dreams May Come: Cliffside Artwork Makes Dreams Reality

One of Pittsburgh’s parks will soon make children’s dreams a reality.

Taking inspiration from Cliffside Park’s unique vantage and the dreams of little ones from the community, local artist Leslie Ansley is creating a new art piece to be installed in the renovated park.

art project 5

art project 2

Ms. Ansley has developed designs that celebrate flight and soaring visions – peregrine falcons, kites, butterflies, dandelion fluff, and the like. On a recent Saturday, children from the Hill District put pencil to paper to share their own soaring thoughts and creativity at an open workshop; their contributions will be incorporated into this new piece of art.

art project 4

The work, to be applied to the park’s entry walkway and an adjacent retaining wall, will also reflect the dreams and aspirations of Amon Cashmere Harris, son of community leader and resident Tyian Battle, who died suddenly at a young age. His dreams of traveling to Paris to see the iconic city were the inspiration for the art deco inspired designs that Ms. Ansley has created, which are also evocative of the design vocabulary of the Hill District in its heyday.

Cliffside Park itself is a reality dreamt up by the community, the entire restoration having been driven and informed by neighbors in the Hill. Like art on a fridge, this art piece will give a sense of home to this community space.

Stay tuned for more information on this exciting project. Cliffside Park and play areas are currently under construction and will open in Summer 2016.

art project 3

Projects Underway: Schenley, Cliffside and Frick Park Updates

The parks as you know them are getting even better.

With four Parks Conservancy Capital Projects currently in the works, areas that you know and love (and maybe some that you don’t!) are undergoing exciting changes. Get the scoop on what’s going on with these projects:

Project: Westinghouse Memorial and Pond

Westinghouse rendering

Rendering of the restored Westinghouse Memorial and Pond.

What’s happening: 
Nearly 85 years after its original dedication in Schenley Park, restoration of the Westinghouse Memorial and the surrounding landscape are underway. The $2.5 million plan includes aesthetic and structural improvements to the monument, Lily Pond restoration and aeration system installation, and stormwater projects to better the overall health of the Panther Hollow Watershed.


Parks Conservancy President/CEO Meg Cheever and Mayor Bill Peduto unveil the Westinghouse Memorial rendering at the groundbreaking ceremony.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Panther Hollow Watershed

What’s happening:
For more than a decade, we’ve been working to restore the health and ecological function of the Panther Hollow Watershed in Schenley Park. Most recently, we’ve been working with the community and designers to reduce stormwater runoff along Schenley Drive. The Schenley Drive Green Street Project aims to improve the health and function of the park by curbing stormwater and creating a safe transportation corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Cliffside Park


Rendering of the revitalized Cliffside Park.

What’s happening:
We’re proud to be partnering with a coalition of Hill District partners on a comprehensive plan for green space in the neighborhood. Called the Greenprint for the Hill District, this plan includes a renovation of Cliffside Park, a beloved community playground. This month, community kids are helping shape this project by contributing to a children’s art piece to be displayed at the park.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Project: Frick Environmental Center


The new Frick Environmental Center, reaching for the sky.

What’s happening:

Currently in the first phase of construction, the Frick Environmental Center will serve as a welcome facility and a gateway to the woodlands of Frick Park where educators use the parks as classrooms. The new Center is quickly taking shape. Designed to meet the Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum standards for energy efficiency, each feature of this unique building is more exciting than the last. Most recently, a 15,000-gallon rainwater harvesting cistern was brought to the site!


Our Zone Gardener Rosie stands beside the rainwater cistern for scale.

How to learn more/stay involved:

Get updates on these and other exciting projects and programs in the parks by signing up for email updates here!

Urban EcoSteward Crew Leader Training with our new Greenprint Park Steward

Urban EcoSteward Crew Leader Training

Unlike most trips I make to REI Southside, I wasn’t here this morning to get a new piece of gear, although I’ll admit I did look. I was here for the Urban EcoSteward Crew Leader Training. This wasn’t my first time learning to lead crews. In fact, my crew leading experience began right here in Pittsburgh three years ago when I attended the 2010 Urban EcoSteward Crew Leader Training and became a crew leader that summer. I enjoyed working with volunteer crews so much that I soon journeyed to Southern California to lead volunteers in trail maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail. It wasn’t long before I was off on my next adventure leading crews of college students throughout the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Wyoming.

Now, I’m happy to be back in the City of Pittsburgh where it all started, working as the new Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Greenprint Park Steward. The Greenprint is a comprehensive plan that aims to build on the natural landscapes throughout the Hill District. These greening projects will add value to the neighborhood by raising property values, providing community gathering spaces, and improving air quality.

Cliffside Park

Even with my extensive crew leading background, I gained a lot from the Urban EcoSteward Crew Leader Training session. It’s important to review all of the responsibilities and techniques that go into being a crew leader to keep both you and your volunteer’s safe throughout the project. Parks Conservancy education program coordinator, Taiji Nelson, covered how to properly use, carry, and store tools. Joe Divack, Allegheny CleanWays DumpBuster Coordinator, explained how to lead crews through garbage clean-ups and how to handle worksites on steep slopes. Allegheny CleanWays project coordinator Leah Thill wrapped up the day by running us through some real life volunteer day scenarios. This gave us the chance to practice our public speaking and to test some of the skills we had learned throughout the day.

Taiji and Joe showing our current and future crew leaders proper ways to handle tools and worksites.

Taiji and Joe showing our current and future crew leaders proper ways to handle tools and worksites.

All of these skills will be helpful in providing a safe, productive, and fun experience for our Hill District greening projects. We are looking for more leaders to help us implement the projects outlined in the Greenprint for the Hill! If you are interested in becoming a leader, or being involved as a volunteer in the Hill District, please contact Jake Baechle at jbaechle@pittsburghparks.org. You can also stay tuned to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy website for future trainings and volunteer days.

The Urban EcoSteward program is a collaboration between  Pittsburgh Parks ConservancyMount Washington Community Development CorporationFrick Environmental Center, Allegheny CleanwaysAllegheny Land Trust, and Nine Mile Run Watershed. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit our Urban EcoSteward webpage.



Jake Baechle is the new Greenprint Park Steward for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. In his role, Jake will lead volunteer coordination and community outreach in the Hill District focusing on Cliffside Park and other Greenprint priorities.

Parks Tour – What We’ve Been Up To…

Let’s take a tour.

When I sat nervously in my now boss’ office to interview for my job a little over a year ago, I told him with heartfelt sincerity that I wanted to work for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy because the organization had in one way or another touched the lives of everyone in this city. I touted my connections to various Conservancy projects – I lived in Highland Park as a teenager when the reflecting pool and fountain was filled in with dirt and drab shrubbery. I saw the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center with its patina of cracked paint and vending machines standing where flower beds now lay. As a Pitt student I watched an Oakland parking lot’s metamorphosis into Schenley Plaza. Last year I was married in the newly restored Walled Garden in Mellon Park.     

Many Pittsburghers are familiar with the Conservancy’s numerous projects in our parks in partnership with the City or are connected to our volunteer and educational programs. What is remarkable to me in my three hundred and however-many-days with this organization is how the Conservancy’s reach continues to grow. Every once in a while, our office staff has the opportunity to power down our computers and go out into the parks to see the progress first hand. With the expertise of our Parks Curator Susan Rademacher, Parks Maintenance and Management Director Phil Gruzska, and Director of Education Marijke Hecht in tow, we get to discover new park spaces and connect to our current projects and the people they impact.

Since you and I have become such good friends, I thought it might be nice for you to come along as well to see what we’re working on…

McKinley Park

The historic stone wall and stairs at Delmont Ave. will be restored

I must admit that I’d never been to McKinley Park before this visit, but I could see immediately why it is so beloved by the Beltzhoover, Bon Air, and Knoxville neighborhoods that frame this lush green space. Once part of Melchoir Beltzhoover’s farm, the future park became a popular picnic spot with early German settlers. It was first known as “Butchers Grove” following an oxen roast held there by butchers and slaughterhouse employees on July 4, 1875. In that same year, the developers Benjamin McLain and Thomas Maple purchased the Beltzhoover Farm and began laying out neighborhood streets and housing lots. Soon, the land reserved for green space was dubbed Maple Park for Thomas Maple. In 1898, the historically German borough of Beltzhoover was annexed by the City of Pittsburgh, which also bought Maple Park from McLain and Maple. The park was given its current name following the assassination of President McKinley in 1901.     

Rendering of the proposed restoration of the Delmont Ave. entrance, by Carlos Peterson

For the past 16 years, the Parks Conservancy has focused its work in Pittsburgh’s four historic Regional Parks – Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley while also working in other parks as our resources allow. Our current improvement plan for McKinley is a first step into this very special neighborhood park. The project will be focused at the park’s Delmont Avenue entrance serving the community center, playground, and basketball court. There we will repair the historic stone entry wall and steps. The project will also feature a first in Pittsburgh when we repave the parking lot using special porous asphalt which will absorb storm water, eliminating the need for piping and halting soil erosion. Strategically placed rain gardens will assist, as well as provide beautiful landscaping for the entry. Work in McKinley is currently slated to begin in September 2012.       

Mellon Square

On June 13, 2011, we broke ground on one of the Conservancy’s most ambitious capital projects to date – the total restoration of downtown Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square. In 1955 this 1.37-acre modern garden rooftop plaza was the first of its kind to be built in conjunction with a new parking garage. The Square was designed by the esteemed landscape architecture firm of Simonds and Simonds in collaboration with the architects Mitchell and Ritchey. Today the Square is a favorite gathering place for downtown residents and employees, but its shine has dulled significantly over decades of use. 

Terrace construction

We are in the process of restoring all aspects of the Square including the custom triangular graphic paving known as Rustic Venetian Terazzo, the planters and landscaping, both the Central Fountain and the Cascade Fountain, and lighting. Additionally, we are converting a former planter into a new Terrace above the shops along Smithfield Street creating 15% more useable space in the Square. This idea was included in one of the early design concepts from 1950 and we saw it as an excellent solution to a problem space. The new Terrace will also provide views of the dramatic Cascade Fountain not previously possible. 

The Central Fountain demolished

I hadn’t been inside the Square since our groundbreaking ceremony over a year ago and I was taken aback by the size of the vacant space that had once been occupied by the Central Fountain. This beautiful feature of the Square is being completely rebuilt, complete with its lightshow. The restoration of the fountain’s huge bronze bowls is safely in the hands of their creators at Matthews International. The complexity of the construction is also remarkable, with access to some of the Square’s plumbing as far as three levels deep into the underground parking garage.

Rendering of the completed Mellon Square by Robert Bowden

Final completion dates are directly tied to the moving target that construction often becomes. Currently the Terrace is slated to be complete in mid-August and the Cascade Fountain in mid-September, with total completion anticipated in the spring of 2013. We appreciate the patience and support of Mellon Square’s dedicated users as we complete this important project to benefit downtown Pittsburgh. You can watch our progress via flickr.

Cliffside Park    

Cliffside Park’s current play space

The aptly named Cliffside Park descends from Cassatt Street in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood to overlook the Allegheny River. The space beams with potential for gorgeous views and a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city above. A favorite community space for birthday parties, quilting clubs, and family gatherings, the park has fallen into an unfortunate state of disrepair. Limited accessibility through a single steep park entrance, overgrown plants, and deteriorated equipment have all marginalized a space that should be a part of the Hill District’s outstanding regeneration. 

Rendering of proposed restoration of Cliffside Park, by Carlos Peterson

The Parks Conservancy became involved at Cliffside as a result of our partnership with the Hill House Association in producing the Greenprint plan for the Hill. Current design plans for Cliffside include making the entire park universally accessible, managing storm water through a runnel and rain gardens to prevent further erosion of the hillside, redesigning the play equipment to take advantage of the landscape’s natural slope, constructing a half-size basketball court, landscaping, and establishing an Overlook by removing the overgrowth of invasive plant species and pruning trees. With additional funding we also hope to include a pop-up fountain similar to the ones found in PPG Place and the South Side Works, but on a smaller scale.

Plans are currently being finalized with enthusiastic community support.  We anticipate that we will be able to break ground on this exciting project early in 2013.

The Environmental Center at Frick Park

Located off Beechwood Blvd in Squirrel Hill

Frick Park has long been Pittsburgh’s premier natural classroom. In the 1930s, Helen Clay Frick funded the first Frick Nature Center. Its educational program earned national recognition as one of the most outstanding conducted by a park system in the country. The program moved from its original site in an old home along Beechwood Boulevard into a new building near the historic gatehouses in 1979.   

For decades, the program continued to thrive in its new home. Unfortunately, that building was burned by arsonists in 2002. For the past 10 years, a dedicated team of Citiparks educators have continued work out of the gatehouses and trailers to provide programming that puts kids in touch with nature. We believe the people of Pittsburgh deserve better.             

The current Frick Park Environmental Center workspace

The new Environmental Center at Frick Park will include both indoor and outdoor learning spaces, expanded staff, programming, and improved public access. The construction of the main building will take on the remarkable Living Building Challenge which requires (among many other things) that the building generate all energy and capture all rain water right on site.  We also plan to restore the two historic gatehouses and the landscape designed by Innocenti and Webel in 1927, including the circular fountain which is currently being used as a planter. Alongside the main building, amphitheater seating will be built into the natural slope of the hill to provide space for relaxing, classes, and performances. The parking area will be reconfigured with trellises which will shade cars while overhead solar panels simultaneously capture the energy needed to operate the Center.

Rendering of the proposed Environmental Center with amphitheater and wetlands, by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Most importantly, the new Environmental Center will continue the long tradition of outdoor education in Frick Park. The current program serves approximately 3,000 visitors annually. Our hope is that we can increase this number to 20,000 by the fifth year of operation in the new Center.  We will all benefit from this greater impact because these young people will establish meaningful connections with nature which encourages them to become citizens who conduct their lives with thoughtful consideration for their impact on the natural world.

We are currently in the final stages of design which reflects several years of community input through workshops and meetings. We hope to break ground on this vital project sometime in 2013, once final funding is secured and construction plans are completed. We are also working on an operating agreement with the City. You can see more images of the Environmental Center design by the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson here.


Kathleen Gaines is a Development Associate at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Please visit our website to make a donation to any of these important park projects. Be sure to designate your gift to the project you choose, or become a member to provide vital operating funds. To learn more about our work in Pittsburgh’s Parks check out our 15th Anniversary Magazine.   


Design Firms Needed!

Frick Environmental Center

Environmental Center interior image by Alexander Denmarsh

Calling all design/architecture firms: we’re releasing two RFPs/RFQs this morning, one for a new design of the Frick Environmental Center in Frick Park, and one for a project management plan for Cliffside Park in the Hill District and McKinley Park in Beltzhoover.  A link to the requests and supporting documents for each project is below.

Frick Environmental Center
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is seeking a consultant(s) to develop designs for a new Environmental Center at Frick Park. This project is a joint endeavor between the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. It will include the development of concept designs, schematic drawings, and construction documents for a new environmental education facility and associated landscape restoration in Frick Park, Pittsburgh, PA. It will involve substantial community engagement and outreach to a diverse group of current and potential users of the new Center.

The deadline for submission is January 12, 2011.

Download the RFQ document and find existing site information here.

Cliffside Park

Cliffside Park

Cliffside and McKinley Parks
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is seeking a consulting team to comprehensively manage a project of improvements to Cliffside and McKinley Parks, including design services, procurement, construction management, and grant compliance.  The consultant will be responsible for complying with Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) – Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of General Services procurement standards, document retention, and audit compliance responsibilities. 

Professional services should include: landscape architecture, engineering (civil, geotechnical, mechanical), lighting design, fountain design, arboriculture, and planting design.  The Consultant will implement this project in coordination with Parks Conservancy staff and partners, including the City of Pittsburgh.   The project is funded through Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) in the amount of $500,000, plus matching funds being raised by the Parks Conservancy.

The deadline for submission is December 17, 2010.

Download the RFP document and find existing site information here.

A Match for the Community

For our first ten years, the Parks Conservancy focused our work exclusively on the four regional parks of Pittsburgh–Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley.  But when Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked us to broaden our reach to the rest of Pittsburgh’s parks system as time and resources permitted, we were thrilled with the opportunity to spend time in some of the 170+ other beautiful parks in the city.  With one project complete in Shadyside’s Mellon Park and another set to begin in downtown’s Mellon Square, we now have several exciting projects in the works in both the Hill District and Beltzhoover.  And the best part?

Now through October 1, every gift to these projects is matched 100% by Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funds.

Thanks to support from State Representative Jake Wheatley, the Parks Conservancy was awarded $500,000 in state funding for work in Beltzhoover’s McKinley Park and the Hill District’s Cliffside Park.  But in order to access these funds, we must raise half of the required match–$250,000–by October 1.  To do that, we need your help.

You can donate through our website at www.pittsburghparks.org/donate.  Just choose either Cliffside Park or McKinley Park from the Designation menu and your gift will automatically be matched 100%.  It’s that simple!

More information about these parks is below.  To see photo galleries of the parks, click here.

Cliffside Park
Cliffside ParkThis playground on Cliff Street features a striking view of the Allegheny River and the Strip District that has been compromised by lack of maintenance.  Restoring the play space as well as the surrounding area will take advantage of the location’s potential and reintegrate it into the rich outdoor life of the neighborhood.  Cliffside Park is envisioned as a community gathering space that encourages young children’s physical and social development and strengthens their connection to nature.

The project in Cliffside Park will also continue an already-ongoing effort to add vegetation to surrounding streets like Cliff St., Monaca Place, and Bedford Avenue, reinforcing the park’s connection to the wooded areas of the Hill.  A new entrance wall would incorporate lighting and plantings.  Views both into the park and from its vantage point would be improved through removal of debris and invasive species, selective pruning, installation of properly sized slope plantings, and refurbishment of fencing.

McKinley Park
McKinley ParkThis 63-acre community park spanning the Beltzhoover neighborhood offers recreational fields, a skate park, and a system of wooded trails.  Historic stone entryways that once welcomed visitors to McKinley Park are deteriorating, and residents from surrounding neighborhoods are seeking to re-establish connections throughout the park.  A pilot project is expected to restore one of the stone entryways, including the stairs, surrounding landscaping, and a nearby trail segment.   

We’re excited to work with the City of Pittsburgh, Representative Wheatley, and City Council members Bruce Kraus, Daniel Lavelle, and Natalia Rudiak to bring much-needed funds to these vital community parks.  Make your gift today and take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to double your contribution at www.pittsburghparks.org/donate.

A Village in the Woods

For the past several years, the Parks Conservancy has been working with the Find the Rivers! consortium and the Hill District community to develop a “greenprint” for the Hill.  This new way of seeing the Hill District was widely celebrated with the release of the completed Greenprint plan in mid-June.  The Greenprint’s goal is to establish the Hill as a healthy place where ecology and development can work hand-in-hand, creating “the Village in the Woods.” 

Village in the Woods

The Village in the Woods plan is unveiled.

The plan’s June 15 rollout was a daylong demonstration of key ideas.  The project team, residents, and interns moved through the Hill, leaving traces behind to stimulate people’s awareness.  They tied yellow cloths to trees to mark the future Coal Seam Trail, cleared overgrowth from the Chauncey Street Steps, and stenciled historic business names along Centre Avenue.  The day closed with a sidewalk gallery of Greenprint drawings and plans.

What is the Greenprint?
The Greenprint project re-connects both the Hill District to its specific landscape and community members to the greater Pittsburgh area.  It also strengthens social ties through linkages to adjacent neighborhoods.  Fulfilling the plan is expected to attract outside visitors, encourage outdoor activity, provide new venues for public visual and performing arts, increase property value, and attract economic development. 

The Greenprint has three core goals:

  • Establish a healthy place with urban development that works in concert with the natural ecology;
  • Identify projects and opportunities for leadership and innovation in a local economy; and
  • Reframe the identity of the Hill District as A Village in the Woods – an example of urban beauty.
Coal Seam Trail

Tying yellow ribbons to mark a future section of the Coal Seam Trail.

The term “greenprint” adapts “blueprint” to denote the plan’s focus – land use and the identification of a network of public green spaces, overlooks, parks, streets, and trails that connect to key locations in the overall neighborhood and to sites in surrounding neighborhoods.  It has been produced by analyzing green assets and engaging residents in planning ecologically sound development that will promote economic and public health benefits. 

As an ecological framework to guide future development, the Greenprint defines three distinct regions:

  •  The Woods, the Hill’s outer edge, wraps the community with dense vegetation. 
  • The Village is a collection of diverse neighborhoods at the geographic center of the Hill. 
  • Conveyance is the system that moves people, water, and wildlife through the Hill, highlighting historic stream paths. 

A set of project initiatives have been designed to:

  • Expand the web of trees and green space that encircles the Hill District and extend it into the Village core;
  • Construct and improve strategically located steps and nearby pathways that are vital links for  walking routes in the Hill; and
  • Recognize and enliven five blocks of Centre Avenue as the Hill’s core public space, to attract and support community use.

The Greenprint builds upon the Hill’s existing landscape resources to provide a framework for the Hill to retain its identity and capitalize on its geography.  Historically, the community has been plagued by disinvestment and abandonment. That situation raises the question: “If the value of middle-to upper-class communities is directly related to their landscape context, why can’t urban neighborhoods take advantage of their unique landscapes?”  That question is particularly relevant now that densities are reduced and industries have been removed from these natural settings. 

Currently there is great interest in the Hill because of its proximity to downtown, Oakland, and the University.  City government owns large parcels of land. Gentrification is real threat.  How can urban communities, like the Hill, retain their identity and capitalize on their geography?  The Greenprint builds upon the Hill’s existing landscape resources to provide a framework for wrestling with these huge challenges.

Read the Greenprint!
The Greenprint conceptual plan is now online.  You can download a PDF here.  (Please save to your desktop–it’s a large file!)  To learn more about the project and see a timeline at a glance, visit our website.

Cliffside Park
Cliffside Park One of the first priorities in the Hill District Greenprint is the renovation of Cliffside Park, a playground on Cliff Street.  Planning for the project has already begun, with a goal of re-establishing the playground as a gathering place with a stunning view of the Allegheny River.  The project will add vegetation to the surrounding streets to reinforce the connection to the Woods, and will improve recreational and programmed space within the park. 

You can help get this project off the ground!  The Parks Conservancy has been awarded $500,000 in state funding through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP).  To access these funds, we must raise an additional $500,000.  So when you donate to Cliffside Park, your gift will be matched 100%.  Visit www.pittsburghparks.org/donate and choose Cliffside Park as your designation to take advantage of this great opportunity to double your gift.

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