(This is the first in an occasional series, Steal This Idea, shining a light on urban practices that are worth being stolen by other cities.)
Pittsburgh has plenty of amenities, from top flight museums to our thriving Cultural District, from state-of-the-art sports venues to winding walking trails.
And some of my favorite parts of Pittsburgh are the riverfront parks.
Over the last two decades, Pittsburgh’s riverfront areas have gone from industrialized non-entities to civic gems.
Some have green space. A few have fountains. Most have biking trails. A lot have unique views of the Downtown skyline.
Great public spaces are priceless in a city. We all get to enjoy the summer sun and unmatched vistas by the water. It’s a beautiful thing.
But there’s one feature our riverfront parks don’t have: A beach.
If you’re in Pittsburgh and want to see a beach, you better drive two hours north to Presque Isle.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though.
Writer Brian O’Neill popularized Pittsburgh as “The Paris of Appalachia” (and I have a shirt that says as much). So all we have to do is look at Paris.
For more than 15 summers, Paris has turned the roads along the river Seine into the Paris-Plages, or “Paris beaches.”
The idea is simple: for two months, shut down the riverside road to cars, truck in some sand, and make it a beach.
It has evolved over time. While it started with your traditional beach chairs and umbrellas, activities like mini-golf and ballroom dancing have turned up over the years to add some more life to the proceedings. And millions of visitors have been able to enjoy a bit of the Riviera in Paris.
The popularity of the Paris-Plages summer events have given way to permanent changes. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said announced in 2016 that a two-mile stretch of highway along the Seine would stay closed to motorized vehicles for good. And after a court fight, that stretch has become a permanent thoroughfare for people instead of cars.
It’s a success story that American river cities ought to duplicate. Louisville, St. Louis, Omaha, Cincinnati … this is all open to you guys.
But I hope Pittsburgh’s leaders will be keen on stealing the idea (or Steeling it, as it were).
The 10th Street Bypass in Downtown Pittsburgh would be an ideal site to test out a “Pittsburgh-Plages” project, as traffic could be shifted onto the parallel Fort Duquesne Boulevard for a few weeks in the summertime.
If a city as large and populous as Paris can accept a little less space for its cars, surely Pittsburgh can too. And who wouldn’t want to bring a six-pack down to the Allegheny Beach for a little summer relaxation.
Yes, Pittsburgh’s riverfront parks are great for biking and running. But adding a little sand to the proceedings may cause us to stop and think, maybe we all should to kick back and enjoy what makes Pittsburgh a special place.