PDP teams creatively working to extend the sidewalk on Liberty Avenue.

Walk down the 900 block of Liberty Avenue starting this month and you’ll find yourself strolling through urban gardens and LED artwork. 

The new designs are just the latest phase of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Envisioning Downtown initiative. The project is about “examining temporary pilot improvements that we can do throughout the business district that make the city more welcoming and enjoyable for pedestrians,” says Chris Watts, vice president of mobility for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP).

The Life on Liberty Streetscape Project, as it is known, will extend the sidewalk on the north side of the street for one year. The resulting space will be filled with public art, public gardens and hopefully many pedestrians like you. Already, the project team has painted new murals on the asphalt and installed LED cubes to mark the newly reclaimed public space.

Planning for the extension began more than a year ago with a series of conversations and discussions with the stakeholders that make up the block, which include Bricolage Production Company and the August Wilson Center.

Construction will be finished in mid-September.

“We are looking forward to the continued improvement of the 900 Block of Liberty Avenue,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the PDP. “We believe these enhancements will make for a much safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone who uses Liberty Avenue and will support the small businesses and cultural assets that are located along this corridor.” 

Jumpstarting the Downtown Pittsburgh economy has been a long-time goal of local politicians and non-profit groups like the PDP.

While the expansion of Point Park University and a slew of new restaurants and theaters have done much to revitalize the neighborhood, Watts said that there remains much work to be to done to improve walkability.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, he said the 900 block of Liberty Avenue was a prime example of the larger urban planning issues at play. While the street is full of businesses and cultural offerings, much of the public space is lost to parking and loading zones. “Some of the widest streets in Downtown are not necessarily the most engaging streetscapes,” he says.

Previous PDP efforts to beautify Downtown include the new mural at Strawberry Way, the seasonal Market Square Farmers Market and a striking canopy of LED above Garrison Place. 

For Liberty Avenue, Watts says designers took inspiration from walking neighborhoods in cities as far afield as San Francisco and Copenhagen. The final design was created by the Studio for Spatial Practice design firm in Lawrenceville with input from the public and the city’s Department of Mobility & Infrastructure. A year from now, the PDP and local stakeholders will assess the impact and determine what should be made permanent. 

“We hope the project will help fully realize the potential of Liberty Avenue as an engaging public space,” says Jackie Baker, managing director of Bricolage, ” and increase the likelihood that people will choose to spend their time in and around the theaters on this block.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.