Pedestrians can escape the hustle and bustle of downtown at Bae Bae's Greenhouse. Photo by Merritt Chase.

Downtown Pittsburgh just got a little greener.

A pop-up parklet just made its debut in front of Bae Bae’s Kitchen in the 900 block of Liberty Avenue. The public area occupies a 24-by-11-foot space and features tables, chairs and a greenhouse-like structure filled with plants that the Korean-inspired restaurant can use in its kitchen.

Bae Bae’s Greenhouse is one of two parklets — the other one will be installed this month outside of Onion Maiden on East Warrington Avenue in Allentown — created through the city’s 2018 Spark Pilot Program.

Launched in February by the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) and the Department of City Planning (DCP), the program aims to create safe, active, complete streets by creating extensions, or Sparks, for sidewalk activities in existing parking spaces.

Nina Chase, owner and co-founder of Merritt Chase, an emerging landscape architecture firm in Pittsburgh, designed the Spark site with input from Bae Bae’s Kitchen owner Edward Lai, who opened the sustainable eatery in 2017. The greenhouse will stand from August through November, go into a storage facility for the winter and then return in Spring 2019.

“We like to work between the buildings in a city — streets, sidewalks, riverfronts, parks, plazas, places where people congregate,” Chase says. “That’s what we found exciting about this program. It’s continuing the dialog about green spaces and making it more public and making sure we have space for everybody.”

In addition to providing a welcoming extension to the Liberty Avenue sidewalk, the greenhouse filters air pollution and captures stormwater with air filtering plants, rainwater collection barrels and a pollution-cleansing paint called PURETi that contains TiO2 nanoparticles that neutralize pollution from nearby vehicles.

Digital sensors monitor air quality and stormwater volume. People can follow the greenhouse’s pollution-killing progress on Twitter.

Merritt Chase donated its design services to the project. Other funding, supplies and expertise came from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Microsoft, Technique Architectural Products, Ethos Collaborative and Earthspan.

“Sparks are tools for Pittsburgh to think about their street differently. What we think of a typical street in 2018 was used very differently 50 years ago and will be used very differently in the future,” says Kristin Saunders, principal transportation planner for the DCP.

Photo by Merritt Chase.

“Pittsburgh passed a Complete Streets Policy in 2016 with the vision of creating a more livable mobility environment for people who are traveling by all modes. Sparks are one example of how a street can support the pedestrian environment better than it does today.”

Business or property owners can sponsor a Spark if they are in a commercial area on a city-owned street with less than a five percent slope and a speed limit less than 25 mph. Although the public is welcome to bring food and drinks onto the site, there are no commercial activities and alcohol are prohibited.

The city received four Spark applications, only two of which followed the guidelines, and received letters of support from adjacent property owners.

The Spark program is modeled after similar projects in Philadelphia, New York City and San Francisco.

Saunders says she hopes to see Sparks pop up throughout the city.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.