Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Urban News Vol. 16

Back today with some news outside of Western New York, but certainly in the urban context. Pittsburgh seems to be a city that's really getting it these days. Of course their incredibly intricate terrain consisting of steep ridges and river valleys is not terribly kind to the sprawl model and clearly defines a downtown district. I actually caught wind of the Point Park University project yesterday, but decided to wait for the additional details promised by the Post-Gazette. My patience was rewarded with the arena story that you'll see is a sort of step back in time to the days of Maple Leaf Gardens.

by Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Article Key Points:
  • Point Park University, originally a secretarial school, is embarking on a $210 million campus expansion plan
  • Plans were unveiled for their "Academic Village" downtown
  • University has run out of space as student body has expanded by 50 percent in 10 years
  • By 2013, number of students living downtown expected to increase from 750 to 1200
  • Projects planned: New student center in existing YMCA; New 1000 seat gymnasium on a parking lot next to the Y; Turning two existing eight-story buildings into student housing; Creating a park at Wood and Blvd of the Allies on a surface parking lot; New Playhouse Complex with three theatres will be new construction on two surface parking lots and use of existing buildings
  • College will try to "preserve the facades of existing buildings as much as possible, 'we love the architecture in this neighborhood.'" - Dr. Hennigan, President
  • Project starts this year with residence hall next to the YMCA and finishes in 2015

Wow. There's not much else to say here. This is such an incredibly good project in just about every way imaginable. Someone is finally taking the attitude that parking is not the end-all and be-all of life and that they will create a BETTER college community and experience by integrating true urban complexity. Their students will likely save on the autombile's stifling overhead costs as well. Every city campus in America could learn something from Point Park's lead.

Planners Approve Final Design for Penguins' Arena
by Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Article Key Points:

  • The city planning commission has approved, after many aesthetic/neighborhood objections, the design of the $290 million arena
  • Groundbreaking should take place this summer with completion expected by the start of the 2010-11 hockey season
  • HOK Sport reduced dominating glass on the urbanism defining Fifth Avenue side and varied the storefronts to make the proposed spaces more individualized
  • The final design of the Fifth Avenue retail space must be reviewed and approved by city planning staff before permits can be issued

We haven't seen a whole lot of this in ballpark and arena planning despite the exceptional strides the genre has made since Baltimore's archetype, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Despite drawing large crowds to business districts on off-hours, these types of development are usually accompanied by vast surface parking lots, especially the NFL variety. Pittsburgh has had some prior experience with this on a small scale, allowing restaurants on the east (Federal Street) side of the ballpark to contribute to the North Shore Hotel/Bar/Restaurant scene on off days and during the winter. This ice arena incorporates the good elements of austerity into a structure that not only commands respect, but contributes to the Fifth Avenue corridor street wall which is presently the rare thin building alternating with surface parking lots. This will seriously do a lot for spatial definition and perceptions of safety.

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