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Stay Out: Downtown’s Closed Plazas are an Unwelcome Sign

Thursday, September 30, 2010 11:05 AM
Staff Blogs by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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One of the best features of Pittsburgh’s compact Downtown is its open spaces, plazas and walkways where pedestrians can take a short breather from daily routines without even breaking their stride.

There is something relaxing about strolling past the plants, trees, benches and fountains, and even brief visits to these oases can put a smile on a preoccupied face or help clear a cluttered mind. During the summer’s heat wave, the ponds and water sprays provided relief from the intensity and acted as magnets on office workers out at lunchtime.

That’s why the increasing number of signs, fences and barricades encroaching on these places are a blemish on the countenance of the city. They transform a friendly face that says “Welcome” into that of a grumpy neighbor yelling, “Hey, you kids, get offa my lawn.”

As Post-Gazette architecture critic Patricia Lowry noted in a commentary Wednesday, these urban spaces didn’t happen by accident. The city’s zoning code contains requirements for green space, including guidelines for landscaping, seating, trees and even trash receptacles, and they clearly state that pedestrian access should not be blocked.

It’s true that the walkways through Gateway Center, the EQT Plaza on Liberty Avenue, the Katz Plaza on Penn Avenue and other venues throughout the city are private property, maintained by their owners who are responsible for keeping them in good repair. And the owners certainly are within their rights to deal with miscreants who might damage the shrubs or vandalize the fixtures.

But they don’t have to be exclusionary about it. PPG Plaza, whose fountain in summer and ice rink in winter were a gift from philanthropist Henry Hillman, is completely open and welcoming. Now that’s the face of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633