Pittsburgh Allegheny Central History Mixed with Modern

#11 Allegheny Central

Pittsburgh’s Best Neighborhoods

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Neighborhood Location Map
Allegheny Central is a great neighborhood surrounded by great neighborhoods.

Allegheny Central Neighborhood Description

Old school urban renewal is a topic well researched and understood for those who seek to understand best practices city building. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, planners and city leaders undertook wholesale demolition of dying inner city neighborhoods in an effort to revitalize them into “modern” competitors with all of the suburbs that mostly white, middle-income families were moving into from said inner city neighborhoods. The tools of choice were eminent domain and urban renewal authorities. It varies a bit by state, but urban renewal authorities are subsidiaries of the city government and independent bodies politic that are intended to partner with the private sector to get city building stuff done. The redevelopment model of wholesale demolition, replacing historic neighborhoods with large open plazas, modern buildings, and plenty of parking fizzled by the 1980s. Lots of intelligent people have studied and written plenty of books on the effectiveness of the old school urban renewal model and have concluded that in so many different ways in so many different cities it was a sweeping, cataclysmic failure that ultimately taught us how not to build cities, and may God have mercy on our souls.   

Pittsburgh’s bright and shiny example of old school urban renewal is Allegheny Central. Demolished and rebuilt in the 1960s, it is now large open plazas, walkways, and modernist architecture. Allegheny Central is textbook urban renewal. What’s interesting, however, is it’s not necessarily not working. Allegheny Central is what a back-handed compliment looks like when it takes the shape of a neighborhood. It helps that the area is surrounded by Allegheny Commons Park, which is filled with paved walking paths and lots of trees and greens, so when one moves from the park into Allegheny Central’s large tree-lined plazas and walkways, the transition feels natural and comfortable. It also helps that many of the old historic churches were not demolished back in the early 1960s, so there is a juxtaposition of ornate historic churches against the relatively bland urban renewal era modern architecture.

Perhaps what makes Allegheny Central most interesting is it’s in the second generation of renewal from the first failed generation. The bones of the first renewal are obviously still omnipresent but there is neighborhood life within Allegheny Central courtesy of several metro Pittsburgh cultural anchors and Allegheny Commons Park. It also helps that there’s lots of housing. Thus, now that smart people have studied and formed conclusions on the first generation of urban renewal projects, there is more scholarship to be had around how those same projects have adapted over time because Allegheny Central has adapted into something pretty cool, just don’t tell my urban planner friends.    

Neighborhood Ranking Criteria

A Front Door

There’s a few small historic markers around Allegheny Central but the true front door to the neighborhood is the entirety of Allegheny Commons Park.

An Identifiable Center

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central More Plazas
This is the peak pedestrian intersection in Allegheny Central.
Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Children's Museum
The Children’s Museum feels like the center of Allegheny Central.

One could make an argument for a few different centers for Allegheny Central, but my argument goes to the pathway intersection where the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum sits mostly because it is true geographic center for the neighborhood.

Boundaries

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Commons Park
Allegheny Commons Park surrounds Allegheny Central, which creates a heck of an amenity and quite the pleasant walk when a resident needs groceries.

Neighborhood boundaries are defined by the whole of Allegheny Commons Park, which surrounds Allegheny Central on three sides. On the fourth side is the old, failed urban renewal mall that has been converted to office space.

Density

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Walkway
Some bland high density housing next to a historic church. Classic urban renewal.

The neighborhood is denser than it looks, at least from a population density perspective, courtesy of all the high rise apartment towers.

Detached Sidewalks and Street Trees

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Walkways
Plenty of pleasant tree lined walkways throughout Allegheny Central.

There are lots of pedestrian only walkways in the neighborhood, which are certainly detached and meant for walking.

Diverse Architecture and Buildings That Address the Street

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Plaza
Bland architecture next to bland architecture surrounding a dead plaza. The fruits of urban renewal.

Architecture in Allegheny Central consists of the classic, urban renewal modernist style with lots of historic churches to spice things up.

Mixed Land Uses

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Housings
They’re not classic townhouses, but they’re close. Much of the housing in Allegheny Central looks like this.

Lands uses aren’t really mixed on a per building basis but the neighborhood has a fairly balanced mix of residential to commercial to institutional land uses within it.

Street Energy

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Urban Renewal
Walkways are as wide as streets in Allegheny Central.

Street energy in Allegheny Central is better measured by plaza energy. Milling around the old plazas is largely limited to daytime office workers and perhaps one of the residents smoking a cigarette. The pathways through the neighborhood, however, are well worn and entertain a high amount of pedestrian traffic.

Streets That Generally Connect

Of the three or four streets in the neighborhood, they all connect, as do the ped pathways.

Transit Access

Transit is limited to regular old buses but one is so close to downtown and Allegheny West and Deutschtown that walkability is at a premium.

Walkability

One does not need a vehicle to reside in Allegheny Central. All your needs, including a grocery store, are a short walk from you.

Opportunities for Improvement

Pittsburgh Allegheny Central Old School Urban Renewal Dead Plazas
This dead plaza looks like a good place for a pick-up football game, and it also looks like a blank palette.

The magic question here is how do we enhance an old urban renewal project? The answer, all things being equal, is you try to turn it back into the cool neighborhood it was before the bulldozers came. All things are not equal with Allegheny Central, however, because the blended walkability dynamic between it and Allegheny Commons Park creates something unique and special (at least from an urban design standpoint). Thus, the trick is to enhance the neighborhood without destroying, once again, its core urban character. The plazas and surface parking lots are dead space that pose opportunities. We obviously need parking and parking garages are expensive but allowing for development on the larger surface parking lots and funding new garages based on the future tax proceeds from said new developments ain’t a bad idea. The plazas are a horse of a different color, however. They’re basically blank palettes, and when it comes to filling in blank palettes we’re only limited by our own creativity. All of this is to say Allegheny Central could use some smart infill projects that match and enhance the overall feel of the neighborhood.