#bioPGH Blog: Nature Within the City
Oct 11

#bioPGH Blog: Nature Within the City

By Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Research and Science Education Outreach Manager

Biophilia NetworkA resource of Biophilia: Pittsburgh, #bioPGH is a weekly blog and social media series that aims to encourage both children and adults to reconnect with nature and enjoy what each of our distinctive seasons has to offer. 

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As the fall weather slowly returns, crisp breezes and colorful leaves beckon us to come outside. Indeed, there is nothing quite like autumn to remind us of E. O. Wilson’s popular “biophilia hypothesis,” the idea that we humans crave connections to nature. What if you work a high-rise office, though, and a weekend hiking trip is still a few days away? How can you add a little nature, especially glorious fall weather, back into your day? Here in Pittsburgh, we’re in luck! Throughout the city and its many neighborhoods, examples of strategically placed biophilic design are perfect little pockets of nature, even in the middle of downtown.  So even if you only have time to pause and recharge for five minutes, you can find a space to do so. Below we have a few biophilic features listed, but there are many more to discover!

Water Steps –North Shore
If you have ever gone for a jog or attended a sporting event on the North Shore, you may have seen the Water Steps—water flowing down and around a series of huge sandstone blocks just across the walkway from the river. During the summer (or an oddly warm October day), the water steps are the perfect place to cool off or to pause and enjoy the sound of water as it makes its way down from a canal higher on the shore. In the fall, it has a perfect view of the trees changing color in Point State Park. Along the Three Rivers Heritage trail just west of PNC Park.

David L. Lawrence Convention Center Water Feature—Downtown
Hidden from the average map, the Water Feature is a delight of a walkway between the two halves of the Convention Center. The walkway leads from the fork of 10th Street to the Riverfront Plaza, but in the case, the journey is just as emotive as the destination. Pedestrians walking through the Water Feature find themselves on a serpentine path between two walls of gently falling water. On either side of the path, smooth stones illicit the sound of bubbling and gushing as the water trips and slides towards the lower end of the path. Walking through the water feature in the evening is an entirely different experience as the illuminated walkway changes color. In addition to connecting walkers to the sounds of nature, the Water Feature is fed by an aquifer known as the Wisconsin Glacial Flow to avoid using cleaned municipal water. Parallel to 10th Street between Penn Avenue and Fort Duquesne Boulevard.

Agnes R. Katz Plaza – Downtown, Cultural District
 If you’re interested in an imaginative escape from the bustle of downtown, the Agnes R. Katz Plaza is a tree-lined hideaway with benches, a tall fountain, and sculptures that double as seating. The fountain is reminiscent of the mountains and hills that Pittsburgh itself is built into, and when in full leaf, the trees muffle the city sounds and provide some green relief. On the corner of Penn Avenue and 7th Avenue.

South Shore Riverfront Park – Southside
The grassy outdoor amphitheater-style seating by the river makes a wonderful lunch spot for anyone who works in the area, or if you go down the steps all the way to the riverfront, you can listen to the sound of the Monongahela River lapping at the banks. If you only have your lunch break or a few minutes after work, you might even have time to enjoy walking along a short stretch of the trail. During the right time of year, the serviceberry trees that line the path are often filled with cedar waxwings hopping from branch to branch searching for food! Along the Monongahela River at the end of 27th Street.

Mellon Park, Day or Night— Shadyside
Mellon Park is a beautiful oasis in a busy area, with its Walled Garden and expanse of trees. If you visit at night, though, it is a whole new experience. When the sun starts to set, the lawn within the Walled Garden in Mellon Park turns into a map of the stars at night. Hidden in the lawn are a hundred tiny granite discs, each with an LED, that at night illuminate the ground like a grassy planetarium. A memorial to a local young woman, the constellations in the lawn reflect the night sky from her birthday in 1979. Altogether, the park, the stars in the sky, and the stars on the ground create an experience in nature that is practically magical. The park sits on the corner of 5th Avenue and Shady Avenue.

In September 2016, Pittsburgh joined the global network of Biophilic Cities—an initiative dedicated to strengthening urban ties to nature and highlighting the emotional and physical wellness benefits of connecting with the outdoors. The biophilic points of interest listed here are just a few of the features that make living in Pittsburgh a great experience. What are some of your favorite hidden pockets of nature in the city?

Continue the Conversation: Share your nature discoveries with our community by posting to Twitter and Instagram with hashtag #bioPGH, and R.S.V.P. to attend our next Biophilia: Pittsburgh meeting.

Select photos © Wikimedia Users: Dllu CC-BY-SA-4.0, HoboJones CC-BY-SA-4.0