Northsiders praise and protest proposed park

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An architect, an artist and Children’s Museum officials presented their designs for a new park in Allegheny Center at the Children’s Museum to a modest audience Sept. 21.

The proposed park would replace the concrete square that currently occupies the space across from the Children’s Museum. The museum is spearheading the redevelopment as part of the Charm Bracelet Project, and the design will go before the city’s Art Commission for final review in February.

The design for the park includes a walk-in fog sculpture and stone walls scattered about an open meadow. The Art Commission reviews and approves “the urban design and architectural and landscape features of structures” built on city-owned land, including parks and bridges.

At the end of the presentation, the 20 or so attendees asked questions and gave their opinions.

Diana Nelson-Jones, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter and Northside resident, asked if any thought had been given to keeping the current design and fixing it.

Children’s Museum Director Jane Werner said they had, but that they rejected the idea.

Because of all the concrete, “It’s so hot in the summer, and so cold in the winter that there’s never a good time to hang out there,” said Werner, who has worked in Allegheny Center since the 1980s.

Another attendee asked who would be in charge of maintaining the park, and where maintenance money would come from.

Werner said part of the project’s $6 million budget included half a million for maintenance, but that she expected the city to pick up the trash and do the day-to-day operations. Money raised so far has come from fund raising efforts and grants.

Someone also asked what would happen to the large, blue Sylvester Damianos sculpture called “Cubed Tension” that sits in the middle of the sidewalk outside the concrete plaza.

Werner the sculpture belonged to the city, so city officials would be the ones deciding the sculpture’s fate.

Along the same lines, Nick Kyriazi, who is opposed to redeveloping the area, asked why the museum can’t build the park in the northwest corner of the Commons, where the Children’s Museum parking lots are. He said that Allegheny Center Mall has a parking lot already, and that museum’s parking lots used to be open field.

Werner said she’d love to see all of her patrons bike, walk or ride the bus, but that it was impractical.

“Everybody comes in their minivan with three kids and a stroller,” she said.

Asking families to walk from the Allegheny Center Mall parking lot to the museum would be too much, she said, and it is not open every day of the week. She cited attendance numbers from July and August (30,000 visitors each month) as proof they need two lots.

Dennis McAndrew of the Central Northside, whose humor was a welcomed respite to the conversation, offered some praise after the criticisms.

“I can hardly wait, at my 65 years, to run through [the fog sculpture],” he said.

During the presentation, California landscape architect Andrea Cochran explained that the balconies and walls around the current design, and the fact that it’s sunken, make it feel unsafe, and that her new design will be completely open and level. The meadow will be planted with low-maintenance, native plants.

“We’re trying to teach by example,” Cochran said. “Plants that are indigenous to this area take less care because they’re meant to grow here.”

The various types of stone and concrete to be used in the design will be acquired from mostly local sources to cut down on cost and pollution associated with transportation. The park will also feature LED floor lights as well as efficient street lamps along its main pathway.

Three constellations built into the park’s main path will mark the center, where in Victorian times a fountain stood. The North Star, part of the Little Dipper, will be dead center, and the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia will be off to the right and left, respectively. At night, the constellations will light up.

Ned Kahn, the Californian artist who also designed the wind sculpture on the main building of the museum, explained his design for a walk-in fog sculpture and showed photographs of his previous work.

A grid of flexible poles will sit in the eastern side of the park. Fog nozzles pointing at an angle will create a slowly rotating sphere of mist in the center, which will have a cooling effect on the park in the summer. In the winter the water will be heated.

Kahn said he imagined the poles as a sort of forest, and anticipates a vivid interplay between light and shadow in the mist when the sun hits the poles directly.

Chris Siefert, the museum’s deputy director, said he expects the project to take between nine and 10 months to build, depending on the weather. At the latest, the park would be dedicated in mid-2012 if the city approves the project this winter.

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