Parklet boom: Banks' green spaces add beauty to Downtown
By John Conti
Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
It seems rare these days to want to say thanks to banks. But among the half dozen enjoyable new parks and parklets built Downtown over the past 20 years or so, three are due to the efforts of PNC and BNYMellon.
• PNC, six years ago, created a handsome public place it calls Firstside Park, a place of intricate, varied spaces and amusing sculptures between First and Second avenues and Grant and Ross streets. It is opposite PNC's operations center.
• BNYMellon maintains a greenspace it calls Mellon Green. With a prominent, imaginatively designed central fountain, it faces BNYMellon's own operations center on Ross and the Grant Street entrance to the William Penn Hotel. It is adjacent to the 54-story BNYMellon Center.
• Finally, in 2009, PNC built what has proved to be a superbly successful modern-style parklet on a small triangle of land at the busy intersection of Liberty and Fifth Avenues, in front of Three PNC Plaza. This space is called Triangle Park, naturally enough, and it's an encouragingly egalitarian sort of park. It provides both the foreground for the Fairmont Hotel, one of the toniest overnight stays in town, along with the most elaborately designed — and restful — bus stop in the city. It was designed by LaQuatra Bonci, South Side landscape architects.
Interestingly, neither bank took the easy approach to design. They could have created spaces that were mostly lawn, with a few trees and a few flowerbeds — a traditional sort of open urban park that you can take in at one glance. But the designs of Mellon Green and Firstside take an opposite approach — providing lots of varied plantings of shrubs and trees that screen you somewhat, though never totally, from the streets around you.
PNC's Firstside, even though the lot was originally level, has earthen berms around the edges and little hillocks throughout, and numerous small changes in level. Curving gravel paths run among a variety of spaces, and only one nearly direct diagonal walk — from the Boulevard of the Allies over to the corner of First and Ross — crosses it. Inside are whimsical sculptures of monkeys and frogs, among other things, and a big Corten steel sculpture that many Downtown workers may remember was originally installed near PNC's headquarters on Fifth Avenue.
There are plenty of places to sit and even read. And though you can never be out of sight in this park, it gives you what the designers intended: a wonderful feeling of temporary isolation from the sights and sounds of the city.
Firstside park was built on a block opposite PNC's operations center. This block had formerly housed the city's Public Safety Building. It was designed by Astorino, the Downtown firm that designed the center. Drivers of the Parkway East are familiar with this building, whose long, curving facade borders the Parkway East near Grant Street.
The park is heavily used by PNC workers but also nearly day and night by students from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, as the diagonal walkway is an indispensible part of the shortest route from the Institute's classrooms to its dormitory.
Mellon Green is somewhat famous for having been the unwilling host for nearly five months in 2011-12 to the “Occupy Pittsburgh” demonstration against the “1 percent” — something that banks are thought to be the most visible reminders of. But the greenspace has been restored and is today a remarkably pleasant place to stop regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum.
It, too, helps you feel a little isolated from the city thanks to perimeter plantings and the intentionally loud, but pleasant, sound of the fountain, sculpted with huge granite monoliths at its center, and intended to block out the sounds of the city. The greenspace slopes from Ross toward Grant, and has an X-shape for its walkways. A smaller green space, across Ross and next to BNY Mellon's operations center, adds a second component to the park-like environment.
Marshall, Tyler, Raush designed the fountain, and Moore Design Associates the overall park. Both are local firms.
Firstside and Mellon Green could, ultimately, be used for future development. But nothing of that sort is on the horizon, both banks say. And, in any case, parks are far better than parking lots as a way to hold Downtown land for development.
So, if you need a pleasant respite on a busy day, try one of these parks. It might well help take your mind off the state of your checking account!
John Conti is a former news reporter who has written extensively over the years about architecture, planning and historic-preservation issues.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Analysis: Kesler still on Pens’ radar as Shero aims to bring back ‘Big 3’
- Starkey: Steelers know when to say goodbye
- Pirates’ big risk with pitch-heavy draft focus might soon pay off
- Penguins GM Shero’s deadline deals: Addition by subtraction
- ‘Un-American’? That’s Harry Reid, the Senate’s lowly smear artist
- Ex-Colts executive Polian: Approach free agency with caution
- With so many needs, Steelers can ill afford to miss in draft
- SUV flips onto its side on Parkway East
- Gettysburg wax museum selling historical figures
- Punxsutawney man pleads guilty in 2011 fatal crash
- Penguins minor league report: Defenseman Dumoulin optimistic for home stretch