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Improve your community and eat fresh through the Urban Farming Initiative

Applications are now being accepted for the second year of the Allegheny Grows Urban Farming Initiative. The program provides financial support, materials, and technical and educational assistance to motivated Community Development Block Grant eligible communities in order to replace vacant lots and blighted properties with gardens to grow fresh food.

The program was created last year by Allegheny County, which contracted with Grow Pittsburgh  and the Western PA Conservancy. In its first year, the initiative helped eight communities start growing locally. This year, funds will be allocated to two communities, and applications are open to any community group or individuals willing to take on a leadership role.

"It's structured differently in each community, and it's really up to the community to decide what structure the garden takes," says Jessica Mooney, assistant manager of business development for Allegheny County. "In Millvale, they decided they had enough community engagement that they wanted to do individual plots. In McKees Rocks it looked a little bit differently, instead of having individual plots, they decided they would rather have a garden that could be taken care of by the community, and then the produce could be distributed through a local food bank."

Regardless of structure, The County will provide the communities with the physical materials and planting supplies necessary, while Grow Pittsburgh provides on site experts who can give helpful advice about how to create the best garden possible, and make sure things go smoothly until the community is ready to run the garden on its own. The Western PA Conservancy brings helpful construction related input, and suggestions about planting schedules.

However your garden grows, the Urban Farming Initiative is a great way to improve your community, teach children about healthy eating habits, better the environment, and eat delicious food.

Applications are due November 18. Those interested in applying can do so online, or by calling 412-350-1198.

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Writer: John Farley
Source: Jessica Mooney, Allegheny County

Image courtesy of Allegheny County

Sustainable cafe coming soon to Point State Park

Construction began this week on Cafe at the Point, a new $567,000 sustainable cafe and patio area in Point State Park. The project, which is part of the ongoing effort to transform the Point into a more attractive destination  for families and visitors, was made possible with a donation from PNC Financial Services, with additional support from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Riverlife.

The cafe will be located off the pathway on the southern side of the park, with a terrace that will provide space for tables, and various design features that will highlight the historical significance of the Point. While the project is a collaborative effort between PNC, Riverlife, and the DCNR, Pfaffmann and Associates handled the design, which all parties expect to receive LEED certification. Construction is being carried out by DiMarco Construction Company.

Cafe at the Point will contain a living roof, as well as plant covered walls. The cafe will make extensive use of natural lighting, high efficiency light fixtures, a storm water control system, local building materials, and feature a large amount of recycled steel and masonry.

The cafe is scheduled for completion by Spring of 2011, and while a concessionaire has yet to be selected, the DCNR says the focus will be on family-friendliness and affordability.

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Writer: John Farley
Source: Christina Novak, DCNR

Image courtesy of Riverlife


How sustainable is architecture? $2 million PITT study will answer the question

Researchers at The University of Pittsburgh have begun a four year, $2 million federally funded study in order to explore more deeply how various sustainable building techniques are actually impacting our environment.

"We're using a scientific base model called life cycle assessment, and what we're doing is we're moving from a kind of a static predictive model to a dynamic model, so we'll be able to track the energy performance," says Melissa Bilec, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, who is leading the study.

Bilec received an Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation grant in Science in Energy and Environmental Design for the study from The National Science Foundation, which will be used to lead her team of PITT and CMU researchers. The importance of this study lies in its intention to recalibrate building life cycle assessments, the process which analyzes a building's prospective impact on the environment over its entire lifetime. Strides in sustainable building over the years have outpaced much of the life cycle assessment criteria. For example, life cycle assessments currently look at the emissions produced when carpeting is manufactured, but not the gases emitted by adhesives in the carpeting in a building over many years. Bilec's team hopes to address these types of gaps in life cycle assessments to create a greener future for building.

The team will look at case studies of current sustainable buildings, and also distribute electronic surveys to professionals in the green building field who frequently use life cycle assessments, in order to find out what's lacking in the current assessment model. Over the next four years, they will use the information they collect to build a digital interface that will predict the potential environmental impact of a given building. Bilec hopes to create a public component of the study as well, as part of the final phase.

"We hope to display that information on an iPad like kiosk, where users can learn about their behaviors, and learn how they will ultimately impact the performance of the building," says Bilec.

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Source: Melissa Bilec, University of Pittsburgh
Writer: John Farley

Restoration of Panther Hollow makes huge progress with $1 million grant

The Richard King Mellon Foundation recently awarded a $1 million grant to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to create a management plan for Panther Hollow watershed. Panther Hollow, located in Schenley Park, has long been plagued by pollution and invasive species, and the grant will be a huge boost in the effort to restore the important body of water, which once featured a boathouse, and was a popular destination for families.

"We'll use professionals, and we will bring in consultants to help us create a longterm management plan that will create permanent change," says Michael Sexauer, director of marketing and membership for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

The first thing the plan needs to address is educating the public about runoff from the hillsides. "One of our biggest challenges is education of the residents who surround Schenley Park, and pressing on them the importance of being aware of how their lifestyle choices impact Panther Hollow watershed," says Sexauer.

Another considerable challenge, which the plan will address, is the replacement of harmful invasive species with plants that will bring stability to Panther Hollow's ecosystem. Additionally, the grant will allow the Parks Conservancy to continue the work they've been doing for years, such as installing catch basins and removing debris.

On September 15, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will present "What's in the Panther Hollow?", a public meeting to address the problems and solutions. Parks Conservancy staff will provide an overview of the Panther Hollow issues, and guest speaker Michele Adams, principal engineer and founder of Meliora Design, will lecture on the importance of sustainable resources engineering and environmentally sensitive site design.

The event is free, and will be located in Botany Hall, adjacent to Phipps Conservatory. Seating is limited, and attendees should RSVP by September 13 through email, or by calling 412-682-7275.

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Source: Michael Sexauer, director of marketing and membership for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Writer: John Farley



Allegheny County Office Building receives a sustainable, beautiful, and educational green roof

On Friday August 13, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato dedicated an 8,400 square foot green roof that's been constructed on top of the Allegheny County Office Building at 542 Forbes Avenue.

"The roof was designed more as an educational model, so our goal is to be able to bring people up there. We want to bring building owners and building operators up to the roof, and talk to them about the benefits of green infrastructure," says Darla Cravotta, County Special Projects Coordinator.

Planning for the roof began last August, when the Allegheny County Office received a $621,400 grant from the Department of Energy. The County selected Cuddy Roofing as the contractor for the project. Eisler Landscapes was responsible for planting the roof, and John Buck of Civil and Environmental Consultants provided monitoring equipment and protocol.

The roof was completed in mid-June, and features four different types of green roofing methods, including mat, tray, intensive, and semi-intensive systems. The roof was also designed with aesthetics in mind, and contains native shrubs, flowers, valleys, and rolling hills that reflect the geography of the region. Four data lockers, a weather station, a non-green control section of the roof, and 90 sensors monitor a number of variables that gauge the effectiveness of the roof, such as amounts of water retention, temperature, humidity, and energy savings.

"One of our largest rains, on July 9th, was an inch rain, and we maintained 60% of that. This is on a roof that is not fully matured, and if we had a fully matured roof, we would have retained 100%. We're seeing energy savings. We have very preliminary data that shows we're saving between six and seven thousand dollars per month already," says Cravotta.

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Source: Darla Cravotta, County Special Projects Coordinator
Writer: John Farley

Photograph copyright John Farley

Wilkinsburg Community Develoment Corporation gets new hire and installs locally designed receptacles

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation is continuing it's mission of greening up its Penn Avenue business district with the installation of 22 new litter receptacles, and the recent hire of new Beautification Coordinator, Michael Yellets.

The 45 gallon litter receptacles were designed by Penn Avenue based Technique Architectural Products founder and CMU alum, Ray Appleby.  Appleby is a notable sculpture artist, who has exhibited in galleries in New York and Pittsburgh, and has been perfecting the design of the receptacles for the WCDC over the course of the last year.

"Appleby has completed the prototype, and he's currently manufacturing 22 receptacles, which should be out on the street in the next four to six weeks," says Tracy Evans, Executive Director of the WCDC. "We will be continuing to seek funds to do make receptacles. We know we probably need between 65 and 75."

In addition, the WCDC recently hired lifetime Wilkinsburger Michael Yellets as its Beautification Coordinator. Yellets will be responsible for hands on cleanup projects in the business district, such as litter and flier removal.

Founded in 2007, The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation has been funded primarily by the Tri-State Capital Bank's Neighborhood Partnership Program, with additional support from local businesses.

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Source: Tracy Evans, Executive Director of WCDC
Writer: John Farley

Image courtesy WCDC.


Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium begins hilltop expansion with vet hospital and Komodo Dragons

The Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium is gearing up for a large three phase expansion, with new facilities that will be located on top of the vacant five acre area above the bear exhibits.

Excavation has already begun on a new vet hospital, which will operate both as an actual medical center for the zoo's animals, as well as a play area for children, which will simulate what it's like to be an animal veterinarian. The current vet hospital was built in 1985, and although an expansion was added in 1993, the zoo has begun to outgrow the building. "We have a vast collection of animals, and if we want to keep bringing in new large animals, we need a new facility," says Henrey Kacprzyk, Curator of Kids Kingdom and Reptiles.

Additionally, the zoo will begin planning for a 10,000 square foot glass reptile house in October. The facility will feature a breeding center for Komodo Dragons, the largest lizard species in the world, of which there are only 5,000 left. Kacprzyk says the zoo also plans to house the endangered Philippine Crocodile, whose numbers are estimated to have dwindled to only 200 in the entire world. Besides the exotic reptiles, the zoo hopes to display a number of amphibians, including some rare local species.

Although plans for phase three are currently in development, they entail the construction of 10 to 12 outdoor mammal exhibits, possibly featuring Orangutans, Snow Leopards, and Jaguars.

Connecting the three facilities will be a series of rustic meandering sylvan pathways, which will allow visitors to take advantage of the scenic surroundings of Highland Park.

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Source: Henry Kacprzyk, Curator of Kids Kingdom and Reptiles
Writer: John Farley

$275,000 in grants to double the size of restored viewing area at Emerald View Park

The Mount Washington Community Development Corporation has received a $200,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and a $75,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation to continue the restoration of Emerald View Park.

Opened in 2005 in Mt. Washington, Emerald View is Pittsburgh's newest park. Since its inception, 1,500 trees have been planted, 1,200 pounds of native grass seed spread, 10,000 pounds of organic fertilizer applied, and half a mile of irrigation has been installed. Currently, many large and invasive species of trees block the public viewing area of the park, which overlooks the City.

"The grants from the Mellon and Colcom Foundations will allow us to continue to work with partners like Civil and Environmental Consultants, Inc. and the City to double the area of restored viewshed to 5.5 acres," says Illyssa Manspeizer, MWCDC Park Manager.

Once the invasive trees are removed, they will be replaced with low lying native trees and vegetation. Beyond opening up the park to more spectacular vantage points, the new plants will help restore the natural ecosystem in the park, and reduce storm water runoff, and reduce erosion of the slopes.

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Source: Illyssa Manspeizer, MWCDC Park Manager
Writer: John Farley

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen.

PLANPGH asks Pittsburghers to fill out surveys to help with Open Space project

The City of Pittsburgh, through the Department of City Planning, is beginning the process of creating OPENSPACEPGH, one of twelve components of PLANPGH, a comprehensive plan for the city's development over the next 25 years. The purpose of OPENSPACEPGH is to determine the best uses for open spaces in the city, and the organizers are asking Pittsburgh residents to fill out an online survey, in order to provide public input into the decision-making process.

"The survey is just one prong of public engagement. The ultimate goal is to try and cast as broad a net as possible, and try to reach as many segments of the population as possible. We will have traditional public meetings, where we will be presenting the plan as we move forward, and we'll be having events in the parks," says Department of City Planning Senior Planner Andrew Dash.

The overall plan for OPENSPACEPGH, along with the other components of PLANPGH, is expected to be completed by mid to late 2011, when it will be adopted by City Council. The initiatives encompassed in the plan will take four to five years to complete.

So far, the ideas for the plan include utilizing vacant land in the city for traditional parks, as well as storm management, energy production, urban forestry, and public gardens.

"All the data and population indicators state that the decline in population is really going away, and as we're starting to turn the corner, it makes a lot of sense for us to start planning for natural areas to be preserved as we move to an era where there will potentially be a population increase," explains Andrew.

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Sources: Andrew Dash, Senior Planner for the Department of City Planning
               Noor Ismail, Director of the Department of City Planning
              Joy Abbot, Deputy Director of the Department of City Planning
Writer: John Farley

YWCA's new green roof contributes to revitalization of the Wood Street corridor

The 42-year-old YWCA building at 305 Wood Street received a $175,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and Eden Hall Foundation to build a new green roof.

The new retro-fitted roof will protect the building envelope from moisture penetration, with a final layer of plantscaping, and is scheduled to be completed by late Fall of this year. Benefits of the new roof will include a longer material lifespan, energy savings, sound insulation, and improved aesthetic appeal and air quality for the neighborhood.

The roof, which the YWCA hopes will contribute to securing LEED certification, will be a landmark for the green revitalization of the Wood Street corridor, and it's coming at a great time. Point Park University's new $244 million state of the art Academic Village is under construction nearby.

"In the spirit of being a good neighbor as Point Park undertakes this effort, we would like to restore and aesthetically enhance our facility to become a part of this transformation, as well as create a more environmentally friendly option that safely houses our programs and services," says Carmelle Nickens Phillips, Vice President of the YWCA's department of Development and Communications.

Following the Richard King Mellon Foundation and Eden Hall grant, several other local foundations stepped up to help provide support for the new roof, including FISA Foundation, The Hillman Foundation, the PNC Foundation, and one anonymous source.

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Writer: John Farley
Sources: Carmelle Nickens Phillips, VP of YWCA department of Development and Communications

Greenprint Projects help remap the Hill District's psychological geography

Walter Hood is a man who literally sees the forest for the trees.

"Part of the history of Pittsburgh is people living within a wooded landscape," says Mr. Hood, the principal of urban landscape and architecture firm Hood Design, and lead consultant for the Hill District Greenprint Initiative. "With the Hill, our argument is that instead of trying to put development back into things that once existed, whether it was industrial or post-industrial, we can create a vocabulary out of this landscape, which basically owes its history to the rivers."

This concept of moving beyond Pittsburgh's industrial past, and instead attempting to better connect the city with its far more historical natural assets has been a major factor in the city's successful revitalization. In the Hill District, where development in the past has sometimes worked against this movement, many members of the community are celebrating the progress of Greenprint, a series of ongoing projects created by a partnership between Hood Design, Find the Rivers!, The Parks Conservancy, and the Hill House Association, which will help put value back into the land upon which the Hill District was built.

Leaders of these organizations announced several plans for upcoming projects at an unveiling ceremony last week, which include creating a walkable entrance to Cliffside Park, along with a new nature playground and performance space. Another project in the works is a trail, which would connect the northern perimeter of the community with its parks and open spaces. A third project entails rebuilding the well-worn staircases that connect pedestrians in the Hill to the rest of the city, as well as the Hill's own landscape.

At the unveiling ceremony, Mr. Hood referred to the Hill as one of the greenest pieces of landscape in Pittsburgh. This statement might raise an eyebrow from those who don't live in the Hill, due to negative outside perceptions of the neighborhood. Community members, however, cheered his belief, and that positive attitude towards revitalization is exactly what is hoped the Greenprint projects will reinforce, beyond merely promoting a sustainable agenda and redevelopment of green spaces.

 "We want to build on the natural and cultural landscape, but also the (Hill District's) psychological landscape," says Mr. Hood.

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Writer: John Farley

Sources: Walter Hood, principal of Hood Design

Construction to begin on Connelley Center project next fall

State Senator Jim Ferlo and the board of Pittsburgh Green Innovators hosted tours of the former Clifford B. Connelley Vocational School last Thursday in the Hill District, in order to explain the progress that has taken place in their project to turn the former high school into a green center for sustainable education.  The Connelley Project will be a major force in Pittsburgh's movement towards green workforce development.

The Connelley project is organized by a partnership between Pittsburgh Green Innovators, and the developer Pittsburgh Gateways Incorporated, who are currently leasing the building from the school district. The school district had to shut it down in 2004 due to funding issues.

"The building purchase will be finalized in August, once the school board has finished moving all of its equipment out," explains Deno de Ciantis, director of the Penn State Center, which plans to be an anchor program in the building.

After the purchase is made, the project will enter phase one of building construction. Both PGI and Green Innovators expect it should be completed by Fall of 2011. They intend to develop approximately 190,000 square feet of the facility's 230,000 square feet.

"Capital fundraising efforts are on track. Upgrades to the building will include deep energy retrofits, the purchase of energy production equipment, and costs associated with LEED certification," says Senator Ferlo.

Although a wide number of organizations have expressed interest in securing space at the building, de Ciantis says that leasing on spaces will not begin until after the purchase has been made. What de Ciantis and Ferlo are certain about, however, is that using the Connelley building to educate and train students and adults with the skills they need to excel in green job fields is critical to the growth of the green economy in Pittsburgh.

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Writer: John Farley

Sources: Deno de Ciantis, Director of the Penn Center
               Senator Jim Ferlo

Photograph Copyright John Farley

Pittsburgh beekeepers create nation's first community apiary in Homewood

Pittsburgh is now home to the U.S.'s first community apiary -- a community garden of sorts, but instead of herbs and veggies being grown, it's bees being kept.

The apiary hosted a ribbon cutting on Friday at its new site on a strip of long-vacant, blighted land along the East Busway and across the street from local microbrewer East End Brewing Company. Beekeeping nonprofit Burgh Bees was granted a free, five-year lease from the URA and the Mayor's office, says co-founder Meredith Meyer Grelli.

"This is going to be a great site for beekeepers and also a great place for the community," says Meyer Grelli. "We wanted to come up with a site that inspires creative reuse of the urban land with an eye toward the environment."

Meyer Grelli says other apiaries around the country are oriented more to demonstration, but Burgh Bees' cooperative apiary is an entirely new model for the U.S. The apiary hosts five hives exclusively for teaching new beekeepers, and also offers space to newly trained beekeepers to keep hives of their own. It also hosts a pollinator garden that is maintained by community volunteers, including residents and students. The apiary itself is funded with donations from individuals and foundations, and by sales from honey.

Burgh Bees had will continue to operate the hives it installed this past year in Mt. Washington at the Pittsburgh Zoo, but will close its hives in Hazelwood and Braddock to focus on the Homewood headquarters.

Burgh Bees has about 400 members, and in the last two years, has trained about 110 Pittsburghers in beekeeping.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Meredith Meyer Grelli, Burgh Bees

Image courtesy of Burgh Bees


Emerald View Park: Pittsburgh's newest park gets new name, $3M trail plan

New park, new name.

Mt. Washington's Grandview Scenic Byway Park is being renamed Emerald View Park, saving Pittsburghers syllables and breath that will just be taken away again once they check out the park's views.

The 235-acre park was created in December 2005 by a unanimous vote of Pittsburgh's City Council, and declared a Regional Park by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in April 2007. The renaming process included a public voting process organized by the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC), co-stewards of the Park with the City of Pittsburgh.

All of the park's anchor parks -- Grandview Park, Olympia Park and Mt. Washington Park -- will retain their own names, but be known as part of the larger Emerald View Park.

"One of the taglines that comes out of this naming process is that Emerald View Park is one wild urban adventure," says Ilyssa Manspeizer with MWCDC. "There's such a sense of wilderness in these woods but you're just a stone's throw away from the city, literally. We have views that amazing of Downtown Pittsburgh, and along the back, you see the West End and I-279 surrounded by lush, green hills. You see this vision of Western Pennsylvania as a very green forested area."

Earlier this May, Councilwoman Theresa Smith submitted legislation to City Council to change the name of Mt. Washington. The public hearing for approval will be held May 25.

MWCDC is currently working with Allegheny Land Trust to raise funds to add 19 acres of privately owned land to Emerald View. MWCDC hopes to raise 10% of the $224,000 through community fundraising, and is already it its 50% mark for that 10% goal.

MWCDC is also in the process of raising $3 million to develop its comprehensive trail plan. MWCDC would like to combine trail development with workforce development -- to work with youth under the age of 25 to provide green job training. The trail plan could also lead to economic development, says Manspeizer with MWCDC. Mt. Washington already has more than a million visitors a year -- Emerald View trails could engage them with the business districts beyond just the view from the Incline.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Ilyssa Manspeizer, MWCDC

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen


From industry to community: Rethinking the Allegheny riverfront

The Allegheny Riverfront Vision plan hosted its final community meeting last week to address development of the 6.5-mile stretch between the Strip District and Highland Park.

Perkins Eastman has been working for more than a year on the still in-progress masterplan, under a $350,000 contract from the URA.

The plan makes suggestions for the City of Pittsburgh and Buncher Co.'s joint strategy to redevelop some 80 acres of riverfront land. The City could combine parcels of its own -- including with Produce Terminal in the Strip -- with industrial properties Buncher owns. Construction could start in the Strip in 2013, with the 40 undeveloped acres behind the Produce Terminal. The City and URA will spend some $20 million in capital funds to remediate the site and prepare it for redevelopment. A 1,000-unit development -- five buildings of 200 units each -- has been proposed.

Perkins Eastman envisions a new way of looking at riverfront parcels, says principal Steve Quick.

"In the past, the riverfront has been seen as a place for industry. We're looking at it now as a community-oriented place with a mixture of uses, including residential and business and low-impact industry, like the robotics and software coming out of the universities," says Quick.

The Perkins Eastman plan aims to maintain the character of the "neighborhoods on the rebound," as URA executive director Rob Stephany described the Strip, Lawrenceville and Morningside at Thursday's meeting.

Quick, with Senator Jim Ferlo, assuaged fears that this redevelopment project is anything like Soffer's SouthSide Works, which Quick calls a "standalone type of development." "We are looking for something that will spur development, something more inborn in the communities," Quick says.

Perkins Eastman suggests to:

- Add parking facilities.
- Restore the natural slope down to the river to get people closer to the water.
- Transform the Allegheny Valley Railroad into a pedestrian-friendly green path.
- Anchor the Produce Terminal with the in-development public market on one end and the Society for Contemporary Craft on the other, with restaurants and professional spaces in between.
- Capture all stormwater for storms of one inch or less (more than half the storms in Pittsburgh) through green roofs, pervious ground surfaces and trees.
- Increase the tree canopy coverage in the Strip District and Lawrenceville to about 40 percent. There are currently only about 200 trees total in the study area.
- Create bike/ped connections.
- Take into account the Allegheny Valley Railroad's planned commuter line between New Kensington and Arnold through Oakmont into Downtown.
- Create a new "Golden Triangle" by connecting Downtown and Lawrenceville, and eventually Oakland, via a trolley system that stretches, initially, between the Convention Center to 40th and Butler Streets, which Quick says needs to be more of a "civic center" than an "auto-oriented corner."

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Steve Quick, principal, Perkins Eastman

Image courtesy Allegheny Riverfront Vision plan

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