Market Square is a unique jewel situated at the center of the business and cultural districts in downtown Pittsburgh. The square has played a central role in Pittsburgh’s history, once housing the Alleghany County Courthouse and the “Diamond Market,” the largest city market to which Pittsburgh residents came to shop, eat, and even roller skate on the top floor, until it was demolished in 1961. But in recent years, largely because of minimal uses throughout the day and a virtual shutdown after 5pm, the square has become a haven for criminal activity. With the goal of recapturing the square’s potential to once again become a vibrant gathering place, in 2007 PPS worked with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and several local agencies to facilitate a community process to develop a vision and activation plan for the square.
The downtown partnership has made impressive strides since then, drawing on substantial support from public, private and non-profit agencies, as well as developers and local foundations. After securing initial funding to test design and programming recommendations developed by PPS, the partnership conducted a series of short-term experiments to inform the physical reconstruction and ensure that permanent changes would be well-received by the public. These experiments included eliminating bus traffic, expanding space for sidewalk cafes and constructing seasonal plantings. Three designs for reconstruction were then generated and made available for public comment. The final design (pictured below, night configuration) is a blend of the two most popular options. It references the history of the space, incorporates both green and hardscape elements and creates one continuous elevation, generating the feel of a piazza.
Construction is currently underway, and in the meantime, the partnership is conducting focus groups to determine what types of programming local citizens want for their square. On the whole, the redesign process provides an excellent model of how to successfully create a vibrant place through ongoing, meaningful engagement with the surrounding community. We look forward to Market Square’s reopening and are eager to see how the square evolves in the future.