Photo courtesy of Matthew Craig
By Alexandria Stryker
Imagine a Pittsburgh more connected to its own community, both present and past — picture your city with more pedestrian engagement and with a more revitalized landscape. At a special presentation during the Northside’s OpenStreetsPGH event on July 31st, this dream will be painted into reality before your eyes.
The Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh is taking charge in a unique project: creating awareness and action for the restoration of the century old Allegheny Commons Pedestrian Bridge that has been out of commission for over 15 years. This landmark was added to the organization’s “Top Ten” list in 2014, marking it as a high priority project. The association’s mission statement involves using “community engagement and education to advocate for the preservation of historic sites and structures in the Greater Pittsburgh region,” making OpenStreetsPGH the perfect opportunity to promote this venture to the Northside and larger Pittsburgh communities.
According to the YPA website, the bridge was built in 1906 over railroad tracks running through the park. The structure served as a connection for park visitors between West Commons and Brighton Avenue. However, the bridge fell into disrepair as the years passed, and the city closed access in 1999, citing safety concerns. The arch and deck of the bridge were demolished in 2013 in accordance with new railway regulations, leaving only the abutments that stand on both sides of the track today.
According to Matthew Craig, the executive director of YPA, the nonprofit is partnering with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the Allegheny Commons Initiative for this project. The bridge is originally part of the Conservancy’s Master Plan, a restoration framework for parks across the Pittsburgh area, but the YPA’s efforts have prioritized this particular undertaking.
“This is their work, and we’re just trying to help them with it,” Craig said. The Conservancy and the Commons Initiative manage the park, and the nonprofit is lending assistance with this “very large piece.”
OpenStreetsPGH, Pittsburgh’s division of the nationwide OpenStreets organization, provides the perfect setting for community engagement on this project. The movement’s philosophy encourages healthy living and community interaction independent of motor vehicle usage, a value set in line with the pedestrian bridge restoration.
According to Craig, the nonprofit was approached by Kristin Saunders, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in the city’s planning department, to supervise one of the busy intersections during the Open Streets event in the Northside, and the assigned area happened to be near the former Commons bridge. The YPA saw the event as an “opportunity for us to shine a spotlight” on the bridge issue, Craig said, organizing an event at the historic structure called “Painting for Preservation” to educate the community and raise awareness about the project.
The nonprofit’s event will include established area artists Robert Huckestein, Cory Bonnet, and Ryan Ian McCormick who will be using their skills to create an image of the possibilities for the structure. These professionals will be placed around the sides of the bridge’s remnants and a paint live picture of what the structure might look like after restoration.
By showing “what the bridge could look like versus the hole it looks like now,” Craig said, the organization hopes people will see past the “decay and neglect…[to] what was there and what could be there again.”
The event will allow people to see what is being done to revitalize their community assets, showing that action is being taken rather than merely being discussed. Live music will also be provided by the Grant Street Grifters, an acoustic duo that will add entertainment to this restoration celebration.
Although Craig said the new design is “making great headway,” reminding people there is still work to be done and encouraging the community to give an “extra push” will only help the project move along.
The YPA wants to “restore the link that the community has lost from itself” through this project, Craig said, emphasizing the importance of historic preservation.
“We’re not just saying, ‘somebody should fix that bridge.’ We’re saying, ‘we’re fixing that bridge,’” Craig said.