An Idea For Pittsburgh’s Riverfronts: Let’s Make The Point More Of A Draw

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Maybe it occurs to you while you’re watching a Pirates game, when the cameras pan out past the walls of PNC Park to show off the sparkling Pittsburgh skyline.

Or maybe you’re reminded of it when you emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and the view of the Golden Triangle explodes in front of you: This place – with its hills, bridges, rivers and towers – is stunning.

I think that all the time. Sounds sappy. Don’t care.

I’ve always agreed with the late Brendan Gill, who once wrote in The New Yorker:

“If Pittsburgh were situated somewhere in the heart of Europe, tourists would eagerly journey hundreds of miles out of their way to visit it.”

So this is a personal story for people like me, and hopefully, people like you — people who love the beauty of Pittsburgh.

I take in that beauty often at Point State Park. The fountain at the confluence is the city’s iconic image. The peaceful, riverside promenades attract walkers and bikers. The serene open spaces and cool, shady corners beckon. It’s an urban gem.

While the Point is a perfect site for big events like the Three Rivers Arts Festival or the Regatta, and attracts downtown employees for lunchtime strolls on pleasant weekdays, the city’s signature park at other times can seem underused.

I mentioned this concern on social media recently, and in response someone told me about Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati. Instead of Pittsburgh’s routine park benches lining the shore, Smale Park features shaded, porch-style bench swings.

cincinnati riverfront swings An Idea For Pittsburghs Riverfronts: Lets Make The Point More Of A Draw

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

So I posted some images online and commented, “Riverfront swings are cool. Cincinnati has them. Pittsburgh needs them.”

Hundreds of Pittsburghers liked and re-tweeted and said yes, yes it does. Vivien Li was one of them.

“When I saw your tweet, I said to myself, wow. This is something we should follow up on,” she said.

Li heads Riverlife, Pittsburgh’s leading voice on riverfront development, the keeper of a vision of not just attractive but also vibrant riverfronts.

“Do I think it would be something fun to bring to the city? Absolutely,” Li said.

To see how much fun – and what this could do for Pittsburgh – I went to Cincinnati. It was sticky and in the low 90s on the day I visited, but the swings overlooking the Ohio River were busy.

I offered to give brothers, 11-year-old Ethan and 9-year-old Noah Bourbeau, of Cincinnati, a push while they shared a swing. They told me that even on such a sweltering day, there was no place they’d rather be.

Their mother and older sister were sharing the next swing over. They were marveling over the fact they had come upon two vacancies.

“Usually, I come down here and they’re always filled,” says Alicia Bourbeau. “Everyone loves this.”

The first set of swings along Cincinnati’s riverfront was installed in 2013. They became so popular that within two years, they added a second set. People can’t get enough of them. If it’s not raining, I’m told they’re busy all day and into the night, too. The lights, the colors, the views create a scene that’s almost irresistible. The kinetic energy is constant.

Says Gregg Pullano, visiting from Akron, “It’s something that makes this park and makes this setting more attractive than it already is.”

A few swings down, Trinity Stewart gently swings while gazing at the river traffic. She says she loves to lift her eyes to the view and lift her feet off the ground.

“It feels like you’re lifting your cares away,” says Stewart. “It’s definitely alluring.”

Discovering these swings can stop people in their tracks. Even people in cars.

“We were driving along, and, of course, saw the swings and the riverfront park, and thought, ‘Oh that’s nice,’ so we stopped for the swings,” says Rita Holland, of Ft. Mill, South Carolina.

That’s the kind of thing Steven Shuckman loves to hear.

“It brings me great joy to see how much people are enjoying it. I enjoy it myself,” he says.

Schuckman, superintendent of Planning, Design and Facilities for Cincinnati Parks, is part of the team that envisioned this riverfront. The inspiration for the swings came from a park in Charleston, South Carolina.

If Charleston didn’t mind their borrowing the idea, would Cincinnati mind ours?

“Hardly,” laughs Schuckman. “I’d take that as a compliment. Here’s this great park and a great feature on the same river we share with Pittsburgh. Why not?”

It’s easy to imagine how swings like these could make downtown Pittsburgh and The Point even more of a destination. Cincinnati boosters go so far as to say the swings – combined with all the other activity on this very active riverfront – are attracting people who want to live close by.

“This is a backyard, a front yard, for people who live downtown. It’s pretty spectacular,” says Mindy Rosen of Downtown Cincinnati, Inc. “You can’t go wrong if you add to your park system.”

Set in the beauty of Pittsburgh, swings like these would say, “Hey, you, stick around a while. Enjoy your city. And come back, often.”

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As a final point, let us turn to science.

I met psychiatrist Gary Swanson, MD, of Allegheny Health Network, at Oakmont’s lovely Riverside Park, site of the only waterfront swings around Pittsburgh that I could find.

We talked about studies that suggest the very motion of swinging can ease anxiety, and how, in the right setting, it can be so pleasant, it might even make us nicer, more sociable.

Dr. Swanson says positive associations with swinging are deeply rooted in all of us.

“Rocking in the cradle, or swinging motions in your mother’s arms … those are soothing to children and probably evoke the same sort of response from us,” says Swanson.

No wonder this story so appeals to me. I’ve been hardwired for it. You have, too.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto expressed openness to the idea. He told me he likes what he sees in Cincinnati, but says it would require comprehensive site planning.

Jacob Weiland, manager of Point State Park, says because the park has been designated a National Historic Landmark, various levels of approval would be required before such a project might be considered.

However, Weiland says, “The park is always open to ideas and improvements that would benefit the visitors’ experience.”

Riverlife CEO Vivien Li is optimistic. She says if it’s not at the state-owned Point, putting in riverfront swings is something owners of other shoreline property here should definitely look into.

“And I think we will see those swings in our city,” says Li.

What do you think? Are riverfront swings a good idea for Pittsburgh? Where would you like to see them? Take part in our poll on the KDKA-TV Facebook page:

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