Landscape Architecture Project Develops Plans to Improve Parts of Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — Students in the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program at Penn State made the community their classroom by designing a system of restorative and interactive public spaces in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hazelwood. Their project is a collaboration between the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, the College of Arts and Architecture, and most importantly, the Hazelwood community. Residents were encouraged to attend a charrette about the project to make their voices heard concerning changes in civic landscape that would be beneficial to them, as well as protect the rich history of the post-industrial neighborhood.

Pastor Tim Smith
Pastor Tim Smith has worked with Ken Tamminga and Tom Bartnik, director for the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, to help facilitate several Pittsburgh Studios.

Pastor Tim Smith, founder of the Center of Life in Hazelwood, participated in the charrette and said the identity of the community needed to be preserved when looking at redesigning elements of the neighborhood.

“Greater Hazelwood is a diverse community but still struggles with racism on several levels,” Smith said. “The voices, hopes, and dreams of the African American community members must be heard and seen in the designs.”

Madison Borsos is a senior in landscape architecture. She said the process of designing for the people of Hazelwood started with an analysis of the charrette and on-site walks with the residents.

“Some residents did not realize how close they are to the Monongahela River, while others reminisced about the time when Hazelwood Avenue extended all the way to the river. I wanted to reconnect the community to the river, while offering engaging and restorative features along the way,” Borsos said. “The Nature Play Area was inspired by a conversation I had with Pastor Tim when he expressed a community interest for interaction with natural, organic materials. Similarly, the idea to incorporate community art in the Restorative Garden was created because of input from Margaret Baco, founder of the Grounding Lab Studio.”

Kris and Carl DiPietro
Kris and Carl DiPietro standing in front of City Steps overlooking Hazelwood Green.

Kristina DiPietro has lived in Hazelwood for more than 73 years. She participated in the community charrette and said she expressed the importance of making the project something that could be realistically implemented.

“I believe some of this project will be able to move forward. In particular, the part of the project focused on the enhancement of the City Steps from Sylvan Avenue to Gladstone Street. They have long been neglected by the City and the proposal by student Jake Tiernan seemed workable,” DiPietro said. “It has always been interesting and exciting for me to interact with college students as well as young people in general about what they see, feel, and experience in the Hazelwood community.”

Lauren Taylor is also a senior in landscape architecture. She said the Pittsburgh Studio: Hazelwood project was unlike any studio class she had taken before.

“We had the opportunity to actually talk with residents living in Hazelwood and get to understand their concerns and wishes, not through online research — but through their own voices. The residents understand what their community needs and wants, and it was my and my classmate’s job to translate these big-picture ideas into thoughtful design,” Taylor said. “I hope the project we created will help the community of Hazelwood realize the potential of their neighborhood. I hope that when they see these designs, they can imagine parts of them in their community, whether its recreational space along the river or a meditative garden, and really advocate for these features to come to life.”

Ken Tamminga, distinguished professor of landscape architecture at Penn State, created the Pittsburgh Studio course in 2008. He said the goal was to engage student designers with local residents and stakeholders in generating catalytic and place-based ideas. The studio was the inaugural project for the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, which continues to play the role of matchmaker between campus faculty and underserved neighborhoods looking for design assistance. Hazelwood was the focus of a 2013 studio that resulted in a community playground and a rainwater and public garden design. Several other Pittsburgh communities have participated in the studio experience and implemented some of the concepts including Beltzhoover, Larimer, Wilkinsburg and the North Side.

“As an advanced studio, participatory design for regeneration aims to introduce students to design democracy and deepen their understanding of what makes vibrant, inclusive and healthy public places in the city,” Tamminga said. “We collaboratively strive for context-sensitive responses and solutions that inspire reinvestment in the places and the people that inhabit and nurture them, while promoting social and environmental equity.”

While the first half of the studio involved background analysis, the community charrette, and on-site explorations with local partners, students had to finalize their projects virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. But they continued to involve residents by inviting online critique and refinement of emerging concepts, presenting elements of their project back to the community online. Visit the Pittsburgh Studio: Hazelwood to see the entire slate of projects.