Walkabout / Hello, Chateau: Your neighborhood has potential

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Pittsburgh has so many neighborhoods even some lifetimers haven't heard of all of them. Hiding in plain sight, Chateau is one of the least known.

Home of the Rivers Casino, Carnegie Science Center, Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, it is otherwise an industrial strip that cups around Manchester like a lounge chair. In 1960, when the two neighborhoods were still one, 5,251 people lived in that part. After construction of Route 65, Chateau became an irony -- a brand new neighborhood draining of people.

By 1970, it had lost all but 681 residents. Ten years later it had half that number.

I scoured the neighborhood five years ago looking for a population and found five residences, four along the river. The 2010 Census counted 11 people living in this ghost neighborhood that -- except for the part that's closest to Allegheny West -- is ugly and hard to get to.

Warehouses, manufacturing plants, chain-link fences and parking lots serve their purposes, but they are hogging a potentially high-rent shoreline with a great view of the Golden Triangle.

In the new livable Pittsburgh, shorelines are being rebuilt for vibrant lifestyles, so Chateau was a perfect target for the fall semester's Urban Lab architecture class at Carnegie Mellon University.

The students took the neighborhood, simmered it in the juices of their creative minds and turned it into a hip new destination with an expanded campus for the craftsmen's guild, some high density housing, a pier and streets alive with young people on bikes and in kayaks. The forthcoming North Shore light-rail connection is the spur of reality entering this picture and presents a great opportunity.

The students envisioned the rail line going through Chateau -- to the airport.

They presented their ideas and drawings at a recent gathering at the craftsmen's guild. Those plans will be available at some point on lulu.com.

They are based on the principles of "smart growth," which pairs development and transportation with human-scale use for the long term. It means retail and residence are near transit lines, that the retail is off a sidewalk not a parking lot and that the place is designed for safety and vibrancy through a mix of uses.

The re-envisioned Chateau has apartments with balconies, a pier, an environmental center, infrastructure to mitigate stormwater runoff, a riverfront market, a retail corridor and alterations to Route 65, the elevated Berlin Wall of highways.

One plan would bring it down to the existing street grid, another would leave but punch through it to re-establish connections to Manchester's street grid.

Eve Picker, one of the instructors, said afterward that some things "may be pie in the sky, but there is low-hanging fruit" -- ideas that could be turned into relatively uncomplicated projects.

One -- and maybe the most critical to Chateau's ever becoming anything but what it is -- would be a reconnection to Manchester via North Avenue. That would require an underpass through Route 65.

As I drove to the students' presentation the other evening, the rush hour was in full swing, and I cursed the terrible access, as I always do. You have to drive north into Marshall-Shadeland before you can make the only turn into Chateau. Upon leaving, you have to take Beaver Avenue south to the North Shore and get entangled in traffic that is, for the most part, trying to get back on a highway to leave the area.

That was the point of these highways -- to get city workers who live in the suburbs in and out efficiently. For people who aren't leaving the area, who might, say, want to walk to Manchester Craftsmen's Guild from other parts of the North Side, they are oblique barriers.

At one point on my way home, all the cars were stopped on Reedsdale Street, garish streaks of red tail lights and exhaust wisping upward.

Even though the North Shore changes have occurred in the past decade, the design, if I dare to call it that, is already outdated. The next generation of architects, planners and designers are seeking alternatives to acres of parking lots and wide swaths of highway that rend neighborhoods. As a result, our city neighborhoods will be better places in which more people will want to live.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk . First Published December 20, 2011 5:00 AM


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