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The Point: Mayor Lawrence on Urban Design

Photo_of_historical_marker_commemorating_David_L._Lawrence.


Pittsburgh's Mayor Discusses Urban Design at Harvard Conference

From Charette, May 1956. Harvard University's Graduate School of Design recently sponsored an invitation conference on Urban Design, held on the Harvard Campus. The roster of distinguished speakers included Jose Luis Sert, Pietro Belluschi, Richard Neutra and David L. Lawrence, Mayor of Pittsburgh. Because Mayor Lawrence's address has been widely hailed as an intelligent and inspired approach to urban planning, we reprint significant portions of it here.

There are some occupations which irresistibly attract the amateur. Bullfighting has its Ernest Hemingways. Every fire house has its neighborhood fire buffs. And I have noticed that the world is full of lay architects and unprofessional city planners--people who love a set of blue prints with the same intensity that a baseball fan brings to the daily box-score.
I'm sure that if we were all millionaires, there would be an enormous number of architectural commissions annually awarded, of city plans made and remade, with no more intention of using them than the stamp collector has of using his mint sheets to mail a letter. They would pile in plans cabinets, as the stamps go into albums.
I think I should quickly tell you that I am not so attracted. I do not pore over blue prints. I have no personal theories of design. I don't read the architectural magazines. I am only a very practical and prosaic mayor of a large city, which I love, and which I want to see become more serviceable to its region and more livable for its inhabitants. My effort must go, not into architectural and planning critiques, but into the limited, tedious, persevering work of making things happen.
I am not impatient, as Robert Moses appears to be, with those who insist on what they consider the ideal. Instead, I think it is very necessary for the practical among us to be constantly challenged by those who want to do it better, to be compelled to make hard compromises instead of easy ones, to stretch and pull at the dollar sign and the land available and the needed uses until that which is done is admittedly the very best that can be done.
Of course, we cannot afford interminable, paralyzing wrangles in our cities. There must be decisions reached, construction started, things accomplished.

Our grand design in Pittsburgh has been the acceptance of a belief that a city is worth saving; that a successful organism in the plan of nature must have a head and nerve center; that the people of a city can take pride and glory in it in our own times as the Athenians did under Pericles or the Florentines under Lorenzo.
Perhaps we are all wrong. Perhaps the city is technologically obsolete. Perhaps the world of tomorrow will belong not even to the suburbanite, but to his kinsman, one step removed, the exurbanite.
But, in our design, we don't think so. We think that civilization cannot be a string of country villas, or a sprawl across the landscape of incomplete satellites revolving around nothing. We think there must be a center where the highest skills may congregate and exchange ideas and services, where the rare and the beautiful may be exalted, where the art of administration may be practiced to meet the increasing complexities of both industry and government; where the human need for mingling with one's fellows can be met. That has been the philosophy of our design for Pittsburgh. The detail of design has been in many hands.
Ralph Griswold, landscape architect, is doing Point State Park, with Clarke and Rapuano, landscape architects and engineers in consultation. The site plan for Gateway Center was developed by Clarke and Rapuano, and the Equitable Life building group had, as architects, Irwin Claven and Eggers and Higgins. The project was developed and guided by Robert Dowling and the City Investing Company. Altenhof and Bown are the architects of the State Office Building now in construction in Gateway Center; Press Dowler is designing the new Bell Telephone building there.

Harrison and Abramowitz were the architects of the Mellon Bank-U.S. Steel Building and the Alcoa Building which flank Mellon Square; Mitchell and Ritchey designed Mellon Square itself. Hoffman and the late Kenneth Crumpton, architects, have done four downtown garages for the Parking Authority.
The site plan for the redevelopment of the Lower Hill has been the work of Mitchell and Ritchey and the City Planning Commission. The design for the Municipal Auditorium, centerpiece of the Lower Hill redevelopment, is Mitchell and Ritchey's.
Now, I have neither praise nor blame to give to any of this work, as to detail of design. As professionals, you will make your own judgments regardless of what I say. As a layman who can never remember the difference between a mullion and a spandrel, I have no particular criteria except the instinctive reactions of pleasure or unease, and a general objection to leaky roofs and bids in excess of cost estimates.
But, as Mayor of Pittsburgh, and thus charged for the term with some responsibility, in our city, I take enormous pride in the fact that our community has made this work possible; that we have financed it, publicly and privately; that we have created an impetus for it; that we have been able to reach community agreement that we must make our city over into the best that we can imagine, fashion, and afford.
"Afford" is the key word. We can "imagine" without limit. With today's technology, we can "fashion" anything. The limiting factor, except in slave societies where the sustenance of the people can be drained into monuments, must always be our willingness and our ability to pay for what we want.
Perhaps our handsome Mellon Square would have been even more handsome if it did not also have to provide for underground parking. Perhaps the buildings in Gateway Center could have been built as monumental buildings, instead of commercial investments which must pay a return on capital invested.
But a community--except Washington--cannot live on public works alone. The test of our design, the test of our planning, comes when we make the best possible reconciliation of public powers and controls with the drive and initiative of private enterprise.

The public body should not be obsessed with controls. It should also, ideally, have the capacity to inspire. In our own situation in Pittsburgh, we have found that such inspiration is actually a two-way flow. Perhaps some of it has come from government; at least as much has come to government from the citizen representation of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Our public planners know that it is fatally easy to be negative; they have tried instead to guide. I should like to emphasize the vital role played by two of them--Park H. Martin, director of the Allegheny Conference, and Frederick Bigger, for many years chairman of our City Planning Commission, and now consultant to our Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Rather pretentiously, our program has been called "the Pittsburgh Renaissance" and our central business district, "the Golden Triangle." Our general improvement program has been concerned with many things apart from land uses and buildings. We have worked hard in the fields of air and water purification, in public health, in flood control. We feel that we have largely conquered the nuisance of smoke and air pollution, and just last week, we began the physical construction of a $100,000,000 sewage system.
But the most obvious things--the symbols, the attention drawers--are buildings and new land uses. And in Pittsburgh, the most conspicuous place is the downtown district, is the Golden Triangle, a few hundred acres of land between the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Downtown Pittsburgh has been tremendously changed in this last decade. It has been ripped apart, opened up, demolished and rebuilt on more than a quarter of its area.

At the Point, where the rivers join to form the Ohio, an area of 36 acres, once solidly built upon, has been cleared for the Point State Park. Two existing bridges will be torn down; two new ones built. The Park must be crossed by a vital highway interchange, and a major design effort has been made to prevent the highway from destroying park values. The arch of the interchange will be 200 feet long giving an unobstructed view of the park from the city. The treatment of the interchange will not be standard highway engineering with its all too common insensitivity to any value except the movement of traffic; the state highways department has engaged Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and Charles M. and Edward Stotz to develop the architectural planning of the structure.
At the very junction of the river, in the historic and geographic birthplace of the Ohio valley, a fountain will be built to symbolize the meeting of the the waters and the rivers' part in the settlement and economic growth of America's heartland. The fountain, with a jet capable of rising 150 feet, will be the focus of our area--the trademark of Pittsburgh as the Eiffel Tower is for Paris.
The Point Park will be an ever-present reminder of an adventurous frontier past. It will outline the boundaries of Fort Duquesne, reconstruct the Monongahela bastion of Fort Pitt, house a historic museum which will call to memory the French and Indian wars; the great British statesman from whom we take our name, William Pitt, Earl of Chatham; and the great American patriot who chose our location, George Washington. Good urban design, as I see it, should not break completely with the past.
The plantings in the park will be the native species--the flora which existed in the river bottoms of Western Pennsylvania 200 years ago. Nothing in the park will commemorate any man or happening of the last 156 years. The park has a very mundane, practical use. It helps us modernize traffic circulation around our business district. The park will have a great aesthetic value. It opens our downtown vista to a sweep of land and water, to growing things and earth. It will have recreational value. The fountain pool will be artificially frozen in winter for skating. The banks of the rivers--walls of the park--will be in part, bleachers for aquatic shows and boat races.

Having recaptured something of the past in Point Park, we move directly toward the future in adjoining Gateway Center. Gateway is a 23-acre redevelopment project, non-Federal, in which the Equitable Life Assurance Society is the redeveloper and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh the public agency.
It is a business district relieved from the tyranny of land, and the pressure to cover every inch of ground to bring a maximum return. The redevelopment project, together with Point Park, has eliminated a street pattern and a lot pattern laid out in 1794. Land coverage which had been close to one hundred per cent, excluding streets and alleys, is now less than 30 per cent. The atmosphere of Point Park has been projected into the city's premium business district.
Equitable has itself built three buildings, one of 24 stories and two of 20 stories, which are rented as corporate offices. They have famous name tenants--Pittsburgh Plate Glass, Jones and Laughlin Steel, Westinghouse Electric, National Supply. These buildings are almost fully occupied.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania are now constructing office buildings in the Center, on land purchased from Equitable. The covenants of the redevelopment contract hold in such cases.
The redevelopment plan and the redevelopment contract are carefully drawn to protect the project from excessive land coverage. Park-like appearance is contractually assured, as are adequate off-street parking and harmonious building uses.
Each proposed new building is subject to review by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the City Planning Commission, and City Council may forbid a use which it finds in conflict with the contract terms.

Gateway Center and Point Park, in their final development which we should reach in about five years, will actually give us something unique in urban life--a greenbelt border for a central business district, a blending of office buildings, highways, bridges, fountains, gardens, trees, and water.
In the very heart of the Pittsburgh business district, where the working population is most dense and the land use most intensive, we have also been able to create our first openness--to bring flowers, trees, and fountains, and the luxury of rich materials--through the construction of Mellon Square Park. Its utilitarian use is the parking of more than 800 cars. It forms a plaza for the Mellon Bank-U. S. Steel Building, newly constructed on its borders, and for old neighbors--the Oliver Building and the William Penn Hotel--that look different to us now that we can see them plainly.
To make Mellon Square possible, the foundations of the Mellon family gave the City of Pittsburgh a gift of more than $4,000,000. A whole city block, more than 60,000 square feet of premium real estate, was bought and cleared. It was excavated to provide underground parking. To preserve the commercial character of a principal business street, shop fronts were built on the Smithfield Street side, the surface (actually the roof of the garage) is a park development in the contemporary style.
We hope to do another downtown square--make another clearing--when the time comes that the Federal Government can move from its old post office building. Because of Point Park, we have been able to tear down an overhead railroad that used to run the length of our Allegheny river frontage downtown. Landscaping will make the former support areas of the overhead a series of planted gardens, featuring flowering crabs and cherries.
In downtown Pittsburgh, we have also built four publicly owned parking garages above ground. They are clean-looking structures, purely functional, and financially successful. In the very near future, our aggressively managed Public Parking Authority will build two more of them. In this program, our design is to put the garages where the need is greatest, the traffic flow easiest, and the economic return at least above the break even point.
Our whole aim has been to use all our ingenuity, all of our store of good will and civic pride, all of our resources to redevelop the Golden Triangle so that it may endure as the center of a metropolis of more than 2,000,000 people--so that it will be convenient to reach, pleasant to work in, good to look upon, efficient for its task of administration, a shopping center beyond rivalry in our area. We have in part succeeded. We have infinitely more left to do. One of our greatest efforts is just beginning.

Our Urban Redevelopment Authority has just made its first sales agreements for properties in the Lower Hill district--the first of a thousand negotiations and condemnations which will buy and clear 95 acres of blighted area that form the base of our Triangle.
In this project we are using Federal aid under Title I. We are getting some state assistance. The county government is assisting in the financing of a major highway. The Housing Authority will make the job of relocating 8,000 people possible. A new public instrument, the Public Auditorium Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, has been specially created to build the project's centerpiece. The A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust is making an invaluable contribution as a guaranteed redeveloper of land to be held for institutional use.
The total cost of this project, in public and private funds, when ultimate development is reached, may well exceed $100,000,000. It is a project which involves massive slum clearance. The site plan provides for a diversity of uses--a new street pattern, the consolidation of parcels into large areas susceptible of commercial and apartment development with relatively low land coverage, parking, and the auditorium and other recreational and cultural uses.
The auditorium will be a multi-purpose structure. Its revolutionary feature will be a movable roof, opening it to the skies in fair summer weather, closing in a matter of minutes against threatened rain. The summer use will be predominantly for operettas; the winter use for sports and spectacles. There will be auxiliary convention meeting rooms and exhibit space. It will be financed by a combination of private gifts, city and county contributions, and revenue bonds.
A city--a great city--must have some place for its people to assemble. Television, with all its wonders and its errors, is not a complete substitute for flesh and blood. To keep the city in the human scale, this central meeting place is part of our urban design. In my judgment, the redevelopment of the Lower Hill--a giant bite from the core of the city--will be the greatest of our Pittsburgh projects, underway or yet envisioned.

The point I would like to leave with you is that these things we have talked about are not of a future vague and undefined--they are of the present and the immediate future, with target dates and with commitments. These plans--this design for changing urban life--are being carried out. Each month and year sees them advance.
Long ago, almost twenty-five years ago, Pittsburgh was fortunate in that its Buhl Foundation developed and financed an outstanding example of good urban design. Its Chatham Village is as sound today, as livable today, as sought for today, as it was in the early 1930's when it was conceived and built.
Chatham Village is now completing the construction of its third unit, which will increase the community in size to 216 families. It is very close to the heart of Pittsburgh, on Mt. Washington above the Monongahela. It consists of 46 acres, of which 17 have been built upon. Four acres are in playfields and 25 acres are in wooded hillside. It is beautifully planned row housing, which has turned the challenge of a hillside terrain into a virtue. It has been retained in the ownership of the Foundation and managed as an investment. It is in no sense a philanthropy.
As an investment, it has paid a stable return of more than four per cent through depression, war, and inflation. It has a record of 100 per cent occupancy over many years, and a very low rate of tenant turnover. It not only pleases its tenants; it has pleased such notoriously critical people as Lewis Mumford and Catherine Bauer. It was designed by the architectural firm of Ingham, Boyd & Pratt.
The question that Chatham Village always raises is: why don't we build more like it in the Pittsburgh district and in the nation? I am not sure at all of the answer, but I think it may be that the comparative ease of home ownership--and the speculative profits in building homes for sale--have all but eliminated interest in rental housing. The whole emphasis of public and private credit has been placed on ownership. And while a man's home is still his castle, individual ownerships of housing built to meet minimum standards will not give us many Chatham Villages.

Our City of Pittsburgh is only about 60 square miles. About 700,000 people live in its corporate limits. In that 60 square miles, we maintain the true urban life of a metropolitan community of some 2,200,000 people, resident in at least four counties. We are the center of public and corporate administration; the center of education; the center of medical care; the center of banking and finance; the entertainment center. We have the great stores, the museums, the symphony and opera, even the best parks, the flower shows, the zoo.
In the Golden Triangle, we count our land in acres. The Triangle and the University district, which are now approaching each other through the process of redevelopment cover together only a very few square miles--much less than our city's full total of 60. And yet, it is on those few square miles of land that we function as a regional capital, that we become truly a great city.
It is our hope that the talent of the architect, the landscape architect, and the city planner will never fail us as we strive to meet more fully our obligation. They will not be infallible and without human error, but as one public administrator, I hope to work always to give them a chance to do the best that is in them.


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