Every so often, a person gets to work on a project that can make a significant difference for a community and also feels deeply personal. This was the case for Amy when she was invited to assist in creating the Hazelwood Riverfront Master Plan. Developing a plan to reconnect Greater Hazelwood to the Monongahela River had been a long time coming.
Dates: April 2020 – August 2022
Client: Almono LP, via the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (returning client)
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Greater Hazelwood neighborhood)
Outdoor Assets: Monongahela River, Three Rivers Heritage Trail, Great Allegheny Passage
Project Type: Plan development
Collaborators: Environmental Planning & Design was the primary contractor
Much of Hazelwood’s riverfront is privately owned by Almono, a joint venture of three Pittsburgh philanthropic foundations. The riverfront is part of a larger 178-acre brownfield site, Hazelwood Green, that’s being converted into a mixed-use development. Hazelwood Green has gone from hosting one of the world’s largest coke works operations (part of Pittsburgh’s once massive steel industry) to hosting research and robotics operations with the country’s largest rooftop solar array. Almono, which intends to restore public access to the Monongahela River, partnered with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to seek a Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources grant to produce a riverfront plan. With the grant approved, Environmental Planning & Design was selected to produce the plan. Cycle Forward was brought on to lead community engagement efforts, conduct stakeholder interviews, and coordinate with the project advisory committee.
See this excellent video for more about the project in the words of community stakeholders and AJ Schwartz of Environmental Planning & Design.
Hazelwood is a historically disenfranchised neighborhood that has been disconnected from its riverfront for decades. It was important that a thoughtful and inclusive public engagement process be a central part of the project. Early in the process, the project team and advisory committee developed planning and design goals that were centered on an inclusive process. Included were the intention to return access to the riverfront while mending the impacts of heavy industry.
The project began in March 2020, just as pandemic safety measures were being taken. The team shifted away from planned largescale public meetings to a series of virtual interactions. We attended Hazelwood Initiative’s (the local community development corporation) monthly community meetings, hosted an outdoor weekend-long workshop, conducted individual stakeholders, surveyed residents (paper and digital), and found ways to introduce people to the site (a virtual tour, articles in the local newspaper, and so forth). The process concluded with a virtual meeting to review the draft plan. Ultimately, the public process included a more extensive and longer-lasting outreach effort than may have occurred in a pre-COVID environment.
Environmental Planning & Design took the lead in producing the project’s key deliverable, the Hazelwood Riverfront Master Plan. See Part 3 of the plan, “People,” to learn more about the public process that was managed by Cycle Forward. The section includes key takeaways from the community survey and stakeholder interviews.
The most significant impact of the project was convening a group of local champions and providing an avenue for celebrating Connellsville and its outdoor assets. Specific accomplishments include:
- The planning process enabled Almono to build upon its relationship with community members and engage around a shared vision of reconnecting Greater Hazelwood to its riverfront. One telling outcome was the midway decision to stop referring to the site as the “Hazelwood Green Riverfront” and to simply call it the Hazelwood Riverfront (signifying the riverfront is of the community, not simply part of a private development).
- One tangential outcome was when Hazelwood Initiative invited Cycle Forward to give a presentation about the trail town approach (Hazelwood is adjacent to the Great Allegheny Passage). That occurred only through relationships developed during the project. Hazelwood Initiative credits conversations spurred at that meeting for a 2023 Friends of the Riverfront effort to plan for a critical trail connection through Hazelwood.
- On a personal note, Amy lives directly across the river from Hazelwood. One of her last assignments in graduate school in 2001 was a class project producing a plan for Hazelwood (one of many student plans neighborhood leaders have indulged over the years!). Little did she know back in 2001 that she would be back nearly 20 years later working with the community to plan for its future along the water – this time, as someone who lives close enough to walk that stretch on a regular basis. It will take years – decades even – to realize the riverfront plan. It’s an ambitious plan that is worthy of the investment and one that will reconnect people to the Monongahela River in a powerful way.