Civic Design is a term that we hear frequently, but what does it really mean?
The word “design” in its broadest sense is envisioning something in the future that does not yet exist. Design has a positive connotation in that the designer is planning a future that is better than today.
The word “civic” is derived from the Greek words civis—citizen, or civitas—citizenship.
So civic design is planning the future, by the people, for the common good. Civic design is in the public realm. It is for the benefit of the community, not of private individuals. Civic design implies a public process where stakeholders, those that have a stake in design outcomes, have a say in what is designed. A successful civic design process engages the community that will benefit from the implementation of the consensus design.
Gateways and Corridors
Gateways are entrances to something new. At a gateway we depart from where we were and arrive at where we are going. A gateway is a point of simultaneous departure and arrival.
Where a gateway is a point, a corridor is linear. In a building the front door is a gateway. The visitor departs from the outdoors and enters the interior. In a building a corridor is the pathway that provides access to all the functional spaces within. In terms of time, a gateway is a moment; a corridor implies movement through time.
There are gateways and corridors in the city. Some are readily apparent. Others are go unrecognized.
A city gateway has a distant view of the city center. A gateway to the city of Pittsburgh can be defined by a distant view of the cluster of downtown towers at the convergence of rivers and hills. There are gateways to the city itself that are widely celebrated—
- Emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel with the sudden up-close view of the city framed by the bridge structure
- Rounding a bend on the Parkway East with Monongahela River valley drawing the eye to the cluster of towers at the Point
- Similarly, arriving at a high point heading south on Route 279 with the East Street Valley framing the city view
Pittsburgh is known as a city with distinct neighborhoods. The uniqueness and diversity of city neighborhoods enriches city living. A neighborhood’s character can be enhanced by a well-defined gateway, signaling to the visitor that they have arrived at a welcome destination. Some Pittsburgh neighborhoods have marked their gateways with signage, public art, or landscaping—
- The gateways to Deutschtown on E. Ohio Street and to Bloomfield on Liberty Avenue are celebrated with wall murals.
- The eagle sculptures on the abutments of the Boulevard of the Allies Bridge over Forbes Avenue enhance the gateway entrance to Oakland.
- Heroic horse sculptures on Stanton Avenue mark the entrance to Highland Park.
Often district gateways are less purposeful. Rivers, valleys, tunnels, and bridges define the edges of districts and are the often unrecognized gateways of Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
Gateways in the city mark the boundaries or limits of urban corridors, which are the clusters of uses centered on a main street. A city corridor has a single identity defined by its primary activity, such as a retail corridor, a manufacturing corridor, or an arts corridor. A corridor, with its unified identity, can still be an area of mixed uses and could overlap zoning districts. A corridor can be the centerpiece of a neighborhood, and the gateway to the neighborhood occurs on the corridor. So a neighborhood or district gateway can be at a boundary between neighborhoods, along an urban corridor.
Gateways and corridors that are distinct and memorable enhancements to the urban experience.