Children's Museum nears goal for new park

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

childernspark The Children’s Museum announced yesterday that it has $6.3 million toward the $8.5 million it needs to create the Allegheny Public Square Park in the plaza it faces and some indoor renovations.

It’s up to the public to raise the remaining $2.2 million, but since Pittsburgh has been named America’s 15th most charitable city, that should be a breeze.

The photo here is a projection of what part of the space will look like. The centerpiece is the sculpture "Cloud Arbor," which stands in rows of stainless steel tubes with nozzles that create mist.

The new park will replace Allegheny Center Mall’s sunken concrete plaza, now a relic for which designers and officials held a celebratory groundbreaking ceremony in the 1960s.

Since the 1980s, by which time it it had become largely abandoned by the public, it has been a sad reminder of urban renewal, that weapon of  mass destruction which, at the time was said to be a positive effort to reverse the declining status of cities.

I have lived on the North Side for all but a few months of my 21-plus years in Pittsburgh and feel forlorn each time I pass through that ghostly plaza.

Its chunky, uneven surfaces are nicked and pitted, and even where there are no weeds or litter, it looks like a place where you expect to see weeds and litter.

Skateboarding waifs have tried to make sense of it but most of the time it’s just a void, a hulking void of concrete. Some think it is a marvelous period example of public space design, some think it was bad design and some think it’s an eyesore.

At one time it was considered the latest thing.

One day we may decide that concrete is cool and that green space and stormwater management is passe, but for now we’re in a good “best practice” zone. More designers are pushing policy toward the installation of permeable surfaces, native plants and other sustainable public infrastructure.

The museum plans to transform the plaza with 75 new trees, native plants, a bioswale to divert rainwater, a meadow, a cafe plaza, a sculpture that creates clouds and a smoother tie-in to the back portion of Allegheny Center Mall, although it’s hard to know what the front or back is. It’s a forbidding fortress, an entity whose existence I rue everyday to no avail.

But at least through the ‘90s, a bunch of retail doors opened to the back of the mall, including a bank, a guy who fixed shoes, a drug store, a few restaurants and a bar. Now there is nothing.

Maybe a beautiful new park — which may be completed in 2012 — will inspire some retailers to return.

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