This past winter and spring I worked with an initiative called Rust2Green. Rust2Green, or “R2G”, is a cooperative of specialists and students from a variety of fields, working to revitalize and stimulate “Rust Belt” communities within New York State. Currently, R2G is working with the City of Utica, New York. In the past few decades, Utica has shown economic parallels to other postindustrial cities. In fact, following Detroit’s declaration of bankruptcy in July 2013, Utica’s local newspaper published an issue with the front page headline of “Are We Next?”[/stag_intro]
Indeed, Utica has faced many of the difficulties that other Rust Belt Cities have confronted in the last century: a stretching and decentralization of resources due to the sprawl of suburbs, population loss, and difficulty adjusting to new industries and economies.
During my work in the city of Utica, I periodically traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as well. As I worked to reimagine one struggling rust belt city like Utica, I was experiencing the wonder of another city that had already reinvented itself. In a true testament to Pittsburgh’s resilience, it has transformed from an economy completely dependent on big steel, to one that possesses diversified commercial sectors such as healthcare, higher education, and technology.
As the project in Utica unfolded, I kept returning mentally and physically to Pittsburgh’s Point State Park for inspiration. Like Utica and many other industrial cities, Pittsburgh was founded first as a military fort along a great waterway. Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, while Utica stretches across the Eerie Canal. These vital waterways in Utica and Pittsburgh enabled both cities’ great expansion during the Industrial Revolution Era.
Through innovative signage, preserved historic remnants, and stone curbing outlining the historic form of the bastion, the design of Point State Park beautifully commemorates and portrays the history of the area. Furthermore, the park brings life to the Pittsburgh waterfront while visually referencing the important role of water in this city through a towering fountain.
Currently, the park is the center for culture and innovation in the city, hosting events such as the Three Rivers Arts Festival and the Venture Outdoors Festival. On a sunny day at the confluence of the three rivers, it is easy to forget that Pittsburgh is considered a Rust Belt city; all you see is the green of the grass, the blue of the water and the vibrant life of a thriving city. As we continue to hear about the decline of legacy cities like Detroit and Utica in the news, I revisit Pittsburgh and the park for inspiration and proof of resiliency and reinvention of a city.
Check out David DiCello’s photography of Pittsburgh HERE