On April 17th, 19 Chatham University landscape architecture and interior architecture students presented North Oakland public space improvement proposals at their senior capstone reception, North Oakland: Inside Out. Proposals focused on the North Oakland business district, including the Melwood Avenue corridor adjacent to Polish Hill.
Students, a combination of undergraduate and graduate, displayed their proposals at a reception at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. They sought critiques from local professional architects and community members who attended the event.
Projects included low-income housing developments, artist studios, indoor athletic facilities, community green spaces, and trail systems, among others. Students combined goals and ideas from The Oakland 2025 Master Plan with existing structures and topography to craft their proposals.
In the evening’s opening comments, District 8’s councilperson, Dan Gilman, told guests, “The Baum-Centre corridor is considered one of the hottest pieces of real estate between New York and Chicago.” He emphasized the importance of communities working together as the corridor develops noting that “the entire region will benefit from the exciting development possibilities” in the area.
“These ideas demonstrate the area’s potential for investment and transit-oriented development ,” said OPDC’s Executive Director, Wanda Wilson. “The innovative approaches to creating public spaces that are community assets are helpful as we continue to work in the North Oakland business district.”
Chatham’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Wenying Xu, celebrated the collaborative nature of the event. “Many of the signature social problems of today require us to look at them from multiple viewpoints,” she said. “Community engagement is a key responsibility of local universities.”
Read about some of the proposals and view the drawings below. View photos from the event here.
Low-income housing with a twist
“I grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn where my mom and I shared an extremely small space. Some families had even less space,” Ms. Estrada said. “As I grew older, I started to recognize how the lack of privacy in low-income housing development really affects quality of life. I asked myself ‘How can a small, affordable space still emphasize good design and offer people privacy?’ “
She didn’t want to stop at housing, though. “Low-income families often need the support of the community to help get back on their feet, build their income by obtaining higher-paying jobs, and ultimately to thrive and support their local economy. “ She decided to include spaces for education, career counseling and community building. A library and coffee shop at the ground level provide a place to study close to home, while also enhancing the business district.
Herron Hill Pumping Station: A Community Plaza and Marketplace
Landscape architecture student David Wilson’s vision calls for a “democratic urban public space” at the Herron Hill Pumping Station site on Centre Avenue at North Dithridge Street. Mr. Wilson, who attended a series of community meetings with the Bellefield Area Citizens Association (BACA), said, “The community process was very important. I was able to bounce ideas off of nearby residents.” Those ideas eventually culminated in his proposal to transform the areas around the Herron Hill Pump Station and the former CVS on Centre Avenue into a community plaza and farmer’s market, respectively.
Wild, Urban Places: An enhanced citywide trail system
Many guests were drawn to Elaine Kramer’s “Wild Urban Places” project, which calls for development of bike and pedestrian paths throughout Pittsburgh. The comprehensive plan utilizes undevelopable ravines to connect neighborhoods from the Herron Hill Pumping Station all the way to the Eliza Furnace trail in South Oakland.
“Lacing North Oakland are many steep, wooded hillsides. These landscapes can be gently developed as community assets for their ability to increase people-to-nature contact,” Ms. Kramer said. “Many think of trails as only serving cyclists. This trail system is designed to accommodate people with various physical abilities. After all, people in wheelchairs, want to interact with nature, too. “
Centre Avenue Technology and Community Center
Lauren Everett looked to the Baum-Centre Initiative group for guidance on her project, a technology startup and community center at 4635 Centre Ave. “The meetings really reinforced to me that we were proposing designs for a real community,” said Everett. “Sometimes in school it’s easy to design in a vacuum, but the meetings and community plans like Oakland 2025 really gave the project focused goals and a defined user group.”
Ms. Everett’s project is anchored by a large co-working space, smaller leasable office space, and a maker space/tech shop for innovators and local youth to work and learn together. “The idea is to encourage startups to stay in Oakland while also providing a resource to local community members of all ages. Supported by a restaurant, coffee shop, and market at the ground level, this development will help North Oakland become an innovative, multi-disciplinary microcosm of Pittsburgh’s growing technology industry.”
To reach any of the featured students about their projects: