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N. Oakland Proposed Trails: Linking People, Nature, Neighborhoods

Neville-Trail-elevated-trail-renderingThroughout Pittsburgh are wild landscapes that could be terrific places for people to get out in nature. These are the hillsides that we often ignore as we pass by, or that we grumble about because they act as barriers between two nearby places.

What if we consider these wild urban landscapes as amenities instead of annoyances? What if we think about them as convenient places to walk the dog, watch birds or just be outside amidst nature?

Neville-Trail-trailhead-Centre&NevilleThis idea became the final project of Pashek Associates staff member Elaine Kramer in her master of landscape Neville-Trail-trailhead-Centre&Nevillearchitecture program at Chatham University. The  project proposes turning the wild urban hillsides of the North Oakland neighborhood into community assets. This builds on a long-term goal in the Oakland Planning and Development Corp.’s 2025 vision plan. Here are two parts of the plan:

  • The hillside between North Oakland and the Hill District could include a rugged trail that enables walkers to reach the fabulous views at Robert Williams Park, the highest spot in Pittsburgh.
  • The hillside between North Oakland and Lawrenceville could accommodate a multi-use trail leading from Centre Neville-Trail-Melwood-Ave-TrailheadAvenue and Neville Street to Herron Avenue Bridge, creating an important link between neighborhoods and existing trails. Part of this trail would be a tree-top elevated boardwalk.

Here are two links for additional information about the North Oakland wild urban trails proposal:

Post-Gazette news story

Oakland Planning and Development Corp newsletter

Off-road and on to Adventure

Northumberland County is on its way to fulfilling the vision of creating a world class off highway vehicle and recreation area.  Off-roading enthusiasts will have a new destination in Pennsylvania when the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) opens in Northumberland County in late fall 2013. The recreation area will welcome all types of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) to trails that provide a range of experiences for riders of different skill levels. The site also will accommodate non-motorized recreation such as horseback riding, bicycling, hiking and rock climbing.

Photo by Jacy Marquette Photography
Photo by Jacy Marquette Photography

AOAA lands, which are owned by the county, run about 13 miles east-to-west and amount to about 6,500 acres. Much of the land encompasses old coal mines, some of which are being reclaimed, and the kinds of landforms that attract people with all-terrain vehicles, off-road vehicles, utility ATVs and off-highway motorcycles. Eventually, the site will include campgrounds, a vehicle washing station, picnic areas and other amenities that will make the adventure area a travel destination for off-roaders from Pennsylvania and beyond.

Pashek Associates created the master plan for the recreation area, working in conjunction with Northumberland County officials, citizens and Pennoni Associates. Northumberland County adopted the plan in 2012, in in January 2013 the Commissioners created a municipal authority to manage and operate the new recreation facility.

The AOAA so far has received these major grants to get the project under way:

  • $1.9 million from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Community Conservation Partnership Program to plan and begin developing the project.
  • $300,000 from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission to construct an access road.
  • $30,000 from vehicle manufacturers for maps and signage and for trail development.
  • $1.2 million from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation to remediate hazards.
The land development planning process is nearly complete, says Patrick Mack, Northumberland County’s planning director and vice chairman of the AOAA authority. Next up is to begin construction of the trailhead area, which will include a maintenance and security building with both a small retail counter and restrooms, parking, and a picnic area.
Several sponsored events have been scheduled at the AOAA for 2013, including:
  • Valley Forge Trail Riders Hare Scramble, May 11-12, 2013
  • 2nd Annual Coal Mountain Jeep Jamboree, Aug. 1-3, 2013
As the AOAA comes on-line, it is expected to generate demand for the private sector to provide lodging, camping, dining and other support service businesses in the area.
We congratulate Northumberland County on taking the next steps to turn the AOAA vision into a reality!

A New Model for Comprehensive Planning

Jim Pashek , Paul Gilbert, and other members at Pashek Associates have been developing, with representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), a new model for community comprehensive planning.

The goal is to truly focus on the key issues of a community or region and to craft a clear, step by step response to those needs.  An important component of this model is identifying the community’s capacity to implement the strategies.  Gone are the spreadsheets with hundreds of recommendations, replaced with realistic strategies that can be done in response to issues the community really cares about.

Jim and Paul have had the privilege to work with Zelienople and Harmony Boroughs in their successful implementation of this new model of comprehensive planning, followed by a plan for Heidelberg, Carnegie, and Scott.  DCED believes that this new model of Implementable Comprehensive Planning will have a much greater chance in effecting change in communities.  No longer is the Comprehensive Plan the goal.  Now communities can expect specific strategies to solving their unique problems as the outcome of their planning.
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To spread the word about this new model for planning the Western Section of American Planning Association of Pennsylvania sponsored two workshops, one in Latrobe and the other in Carnegie, PA.  The sessions, led by Denny Puko (DCED) and Jim Pashek were very well received. DCED then sponsored similar workshops near Philadelphia, Scranton, State College, and Meadville.

We have just learned that the Workshop will be shared with a national audience with a presentation at the APA conference in Chicago on April 13-17, 2013.  If you are planning to go to the conference next spring, make sure you stop in and say hello to Jim and Denny.  They will be speaking on Wednesday, April 17.

Pashek Associates Receives Planning Award

This week David Brooks, of the Austin Dam Memorial Association and Executive Director of the Potter County Visitors Association and John Buerkle, Vice President of Pashek Associates, attended the American Planning OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAssociation Pennsylvania Chapter’s annual meeting to receive the 2012 Planning Excellence – Best Practice Award for a recently completed master plan and economic development strategies for the Dam Park in Austin, Pennsylvania.

Pashek Associates led a planning team that included Albertin Vernon Architecture, who provided interpretive planning and master planning support.  The team encouraged the community to reflect on their history and environment in a way that made them realize the significance of what they have; how they can capitalize on it by marketing themselves; and how to promote and interpret their unique history, environment, and culture of days past and present.

This project serves as a case study on how to understand and convey a ‘sense of place’ and to gain the buy-in of local residents and business owners to think regionally – recognizing local economic development can be enhanced by marketing the Dam Park and Austin Borough as part of the regional PA Wilds, Lumber Heritage, and PA Route 6 initiatives.

The plan has also earned two regional awards for excellence.  David Brooks, the driving force behind developing the plan, was named the Pennsylvania Wilds Outstanding Leader for his role in the planning effort.  Further, Austin Borough was named a Pennsylvania Route 6 Heritage Community of the Year based on the master plan and their centennial observance of the flood of 1911 that resulted from the failure of the dam.

Congratulations to all who contributed to the plan!  For more information about the Dam Park click here.
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Beautifying the Northside

Saturday, there was lots of activity on the east end of the East Ohio Street business district. Kids from the nearby Allegheny Alliance Church and neighbors worked to clean up some of the buildings and plant a recently updated entrance sign in the neighborhood.

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Pashek Associates helped the project by donating design services for a planting plan for the entrance sign, arranging to pick up 40 bags of topsoil and mulch donated by Home Depot and acquiring plants from Best Feeds at their Babcock Boulevard retail outlet. For a week, our office looked like a nursery with plants filling the conference room and hallways stacked with bags of soil and mulch, hoses, and garden tools. John Buerkle, Vice President at Pashek Associates, oversaw the planting operations last Saturday. Thanks John for donating some of your personal time to improve the Northside!

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Trails Revitalize River Towns

Montour-Trail-Lower-TrailThis morning Jim Pashek was riding into the office on his bike and had a nice chat with Chris, a young man riding his bike to work downtown. Chris works in the Mental Health field and is studying at Pitt in Social Work. Chris recently moved to Millvale from the East End. He loves Pamela’s and the other great shops in Millvale but the primary reason he moved there was the trail connection from Millvale Riverfront Park to downtown. Chris’s story is a great example of how trails revitalize river towns.

Not only do trails provide recreational opportunities, but they truly are alternatives to driving and parking in the City. They become magnets for young professionals like Chris (and older professionals like Jim) who want to live near a trail so they can ride their bike to work or school.

Chris, thanks for talking with Jim and making the 7 mile trip seem much shorter today.

When is a Charrette Appropriate?

Jim Pashek recently attended a Charrette planning workshop sponsored by the National Charrette Institute (NCI) and Harvard Graduate School of Design.  The Charrette, typically involving 6-9 months of activities, centered around an intensive 7 day workshop has been used to bring together disparate viewpoints, build consensus, and generate products that can often move forward projects that may have been on hold for years.

Route 30 Charrette
Route 30 Charrette

Although there are usually months devoted to workshop preparation, often including a public meeting, the heart is the seven day charrette.  This involves representatives from all sides of an issue, at least three “feedback loops” to make sure the proposals at the end are incorporating stakeholder views and a range of professional participants depending on the type of project.  It is not unusual to have at the seven day charrette, 12- 15 professionals, from land use planners, architects, landscape architects, illustrators, economists, developers, engineers and ecologists.  The cost of a charrette obviously varies depending on the complexity of the project. The NCI suggests that these charrettes often cost from as little as $125,000 to more than $350,000 for very complex projects.

The 9 steps for a successful charrette include:

  1. Working in a collaborative way – don’t start designing until seeking input
  2. Design cross-functionally – multiple disciplines will result in a realistic product, avoiding re-work
  3. Compress work sessions – facilitates creative problem solving and “thinking outside the box”
  4. Communicate in short feedback loops – quickly builds trust and project understanding
  5. Study the details and the whole – designs of varying scales will reduce likelihood of “fatal flaw”
  6. Produce a feasible plan – decisions must be fully informed regarding legal, financial and political
  7. Use design to achieve a shared vision and create holistic solutions – can contribute to resolving conflict
  8. Conduct a multiple day charrette – need time for at least three feedback loops with stakeholders to build trust and make sure design is going to be accepted
  9. Hold the charrettes on or near the site – allows design team to better understand project
Workshop in Prague
Workshop in Prague

Because we were in Cambridge for the training, we had the added benefit of a session with Stacie Smith from the Consensus Building Institute (CBI).  The Institute, who started as a group of professors at MIT and who authored the book “Getting to Yes,” have developed an interesting process for getting groups with polarized positions to identify common values that they can build on (the CBI is just beginning to do work in the middle east).

There are situations when viewpoints are so entrenched that consensus building might be a more appropriate process than a charrette.  Other times, this process might be a logical precursor to a charrette workshop.

The NCI has great resources for agencies including a standard scope of work for running a charrette process.  Check out www.charretteinstitute.orgor call them at 503-233-8486.  I would encourage everyone to become more familiar with this great public process tool and consider using it in the appropriate situation.  Anyone who is interested in more information could also give Jim Pashek a call at 412-321-6362 x111.

Permaculture, Community Revitalization, and Sustainable Design

A small, but growing, group of neighbors in East Liberty, called the Borland Garden Cooperative, have come together in order to develop a sustainable, multi-purpose urban garden that eliminates vacancy, adds vibrancy and biodiversity, and serves as an educational tool and community gathering space.

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Funded by the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, Sprout Fund, and the Sarah Heinz Foundation, the Borland Garden Cooperative partnered with East Liberty Development Incorporated, Pittsburgh Permaculture, and GTECH Strategies to develop a unique urban garden model. Pashek Associates was hired to develop a master plan for the garden in which energy and water will be captured, materials will be recycled and reused, and everyone who works in the garden shares tools and the harvest.

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The group envisions the garden as a place in which the surrounding community can come together to learn, share resources, work together, grow together, and share in the bounty. Some of the unique features of the garden include an urban food forest, traditional vegetable garden, water cistern, bio-shelter, rain gardens, chicken coop, outdoor kitchen and gathering space, and a labyrinth.

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Chimney swift habitat helps offer pest management as well as doubling as educational signage. A windspire serves as a sculptural focal point as well as powering lighting. Bee and butterfly habitat promotes pollination within the garden. A sensory garden entices the public to walk up to, smell, touch, taste, see and interact with the garden. Compost bins help recycle chicken manure, garden waste, as well as compostable materials from adjacent neighbors.

The master planning process is almost finished but that does not mean the work is done. The Cooperative will be out in full force to prepare for the installation of the rain gardens, cistern, street trees, and urban food forest in the fall.