At the first of four planned community engagement meetings on March 2, Northside residents told architectural firm IKM and Civil & Environmental Consultants what they thought was good, bad, and had potential when it came to the Grand Avenue Riverview Park entrance of Riverview Park.
Story and photos by Janine Faust
The members of Friends of Riverview Park (FORP) are in agreement—their park’s Grand Avenue entrance could be, well, grander.
FORP, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC), hosted a community meeting on March 2 at Providence Connections in the Northside neighborhood of Marshall-Shadeland. About 55 Northside residents came out to share their thoughts on the current state of Riverview Park’s Grand Avenue entrance and Killbuck Valley section with volunteer consultants from architectural firm* IKM and Civil & Environmental Consultants (CEC).
FORP chair Mark Masterson began the meeting by discussing the project’s history, which can be traced back to about three years ago, when volunteers began examining how to revitalize the park. Residents have long been concerned about the management of Riverview Park, which currently suffers from sewage overflows, an overpopulation of deer, trail landslides, and the presence of several invasive plant and animal species.
Initiatives were started to address these issues, but FORP found another common theme while considering past assessments of Riverview Park—the park is not connected to surrounding neighborhoods and its entrances are hard to notice.
“If you’re driving by the park, you don’t know that you’re next to it. If you’re in the park, you’re not sure if this is a park or if this is just a vacant lot somewhere,” Masterson said. “So we’re trying to change that by strengthening those connections.”
FORP is currently working with the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) on stormwater management in an effort to improve the Woods Run entrance. The state also recently committed funding to support a bike and pedestrian bridge to connect the park with Brighton Heights.
Now, the City of Pittsburgh has made plans to design a new facility near the 31st Street Bridge to replace the Department of Public Works’ (DPW) Divisions 1 Depot, a building residents have long desired to see moved out of the park.
“Now we’ve got to figure out what to do, what that [Grand Avenue] entrance is going to look like, and what kind of things people want to see that actually use the park,” Masterson said.
Tom Paulin, superintendent of Public Works, clarified at the meeting that the Street Maintenance part of Division 1 will definitely move out, while the Northern Park Maintenance Division will still remain in Riverview Park in a yet-to-be-determined spot. Samantha Smelko, a project architect with IKM, discussed the four-meeting, “human-centered” process that the volunteer consultants for the Grand Avenue project are carrying out.
The first meeting was held to understand what members of the community want, the second will focus on “exploring” the physical area, the third will be about generating ideas and establishing priorities, and the final meeting will focus on finalizing decisions.
“The purpose of these meetings is to build different things. We want to build empathy between each other, we want to trust each other, respect each other, and collaborate together,” Smelko said.
Tim Nuttle, a senior ecologist with CEC, told residents that CEC’s aim is to improve residents’ connection with nature, as Pittsburgh is a member of the Biophilic Cities network. He cited how the underground pipe system in Riverview Park could be a source for future streams and how the deer infestation and invasive species are causing an “ecological meltdown.”
“As we do things, we have to think about how the park behaves as a system. We’re a part of that system; we can help steer in the direction of being more sustainable in the long-term and providing better resources for all of us, or we can maybe invest in other approaches that are less self-healing,” he said.
After the consultants finished providing community members with context about the process and the site, Smelko initiated an engagement exercise called “Rose, Bud, Thorn,” where community members categorized aspects of the park. Positive aspects, or “roses,” were written on pink Post-It notes, while negative aspects, or “thorns,” were written on blue Post-It notes. Opportunities for change, or “buds,” were written on green Post-It notes.
Community members were placed in nine groups before the meeting began and were given time to think of ideas, discuss them, and separate them into categories. Afterward, the groups took turns presenting what members thought was especially important to highlight.
A few groups noted Riverview’s extensive trail system and natural views as positives. Negatives included the landslides, deer presence, invasive species, lack of bathrooms, and presence of trucks. Some groups listed limiting car access and installing portable toilets as possibilities.
Other “buds”—many of which were thought of by more than one group—included better signage at the entrance and on trails, improving pedestrian access, creating a parking lot, and making a wetlands area with ADA-compliant boardwalks. Groups were also in favor of creating an art space, a community garden, a skate park, and a welcome center. Several were in favor of sprucing up the Valley Refuge Shelter.
Following the open forum, Smelko thanked everyone for sharing their ideas and said IKM and CEC would collect the Post-It notes from the groups, document everything that was written, and use it to tool the next exercises.
Nathan Lavalla, a resident of Brighton Heights who attended the March 2 meeting, said Riverview Park is one of the reasons he and his wife moved to the Northside. He approved of the way IKM engaged with residents during the first meeting and enjoyed the large turnout.
“As far as most of the community park meetings I go to, this is definitely one of the most attended,” he said. “I plan on coming to the next meeting; I think most people here will.”
*Editor’s note 4/17/2020: This article was updated to clarify that Civil & Environmental Consultants (CEC) is not an architectural firm. We regret the error.