In my Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path series I describe a particularly beautiful, but underappreciated, spot in the city. I hope these posts will give you inspiration for future adventures and will remind you that Pittsburgh, for all its industrial buildings and soot-covered past, is a city bursting with beauty. The rest of the series is located here.
Pittsburgh has a lot of nicknames: The ‘Burgh, Steel City, Sixburgh. My favorite one is probably the City of Bridges. I’m so proud to be from the city with the most bridges in the WORLD. I’m even more proud to be from a city where we treasure our bridges so much that we yarn-bomb them! That’s right! From August 12th to September 6th the thousands of hours of grueling labor involved in the Knit the Bridge project will come to fruition and the Andy Warhol Bridge will be covered in knitting! I trust it will be a truly magnificent sight.
In honor of the beautification of this well-loved city bridge, I thought I’d focus my Beauty off the Beaten Path series on another Pittsburgh bridge: Shady Liberty. It’s newer and less well-known than the Andy Warhol Bridge, but it was born to be a functional piece of public art. And I’m so happy I discovered it earlier this summer with my family!
We found it during a walk through East Liberty and Shadyside after eating in Penn Circle. We were wandering around the upper level of the Eastside shopping complex (the retail development that includes Whole Foods) when we heard the sound of a passing train near the Busway below. As we went closer to the railing to get a better look, we came upon a pedestrian bridge that links the Eastside shopping complex in East Liberty to Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. Since I don’t live in this area and rarely walk around it, I never even knew it was there! Although it was small in size, this Pittsburgh bridge was BIG in personality!
It is called Shady Liberty and it was designed by Sheila Klein and opened in 2012. Its basic structural elements are quite modest: a simple concrete walkway with a surrounding chain link fence and posts. And yet, the designer was inspired to turn these functional parts into pieces of public art:
- The concrete walkway is painted with random, overlapping yellow and white stripes that appear to be street lines (they are actually modeled on a Liberty Avenue parking lot where street-line painters test their equipment). However, unlike traditional street lines, they lack any perceivable order. Careful scrutiny reveals that this unexpected absence of pattern is exactly what makes the walkway so beautiful. I like to believe the design reflects something really cool: the unique path of each individual pedestrian (as opposed to the more predictable driving pattern of an automobile). In that way, I believe the walkway’s artistic design promotes walking vs. driving as a responsible (and fun!) mode of transportation.
- The chain link fence follows the path, protecting pedestrians from falling into the busway and railroad tracks below it. However, the chain link fence, too, is beautified. At the top, it is ornamented with large handmade glass sequins that were created at The Pittsburgh Glass Center. They reflect the sun’s glittering light—bringing the sky closer to the bridge and the people on it. The fence also has a gently curving design, leaving room for surrounding greenery.
- Finally, the metal fence poles provide structural support to the fence and anchor the handrail. However, they also curve over the top of the walkway to support suspended glass orbs that light the bridge at night. Although I haven’t had the pleasure of being on this bridge after dark, I believe these lights would reflect stunningly in the glass sequins–mimicking the the stars and the moon in the night’s sky.
Shady Liberty was beautiful to traverse AND it was fun for my kids! They enjoyed following the lines AND peering over the edge at the passing trains. I enjoyed relaxing on a bench that faces the bridge on the Eastside portion. I spent some time observing the passerbys. I was amazed at how many different sorts of people actually utilized the bridge: elderly people, students, families with children, young professionals, even lucky (probably childless) couples grasping bottles of wine and takeout!
While pondering the Shady Liberty Bridge that day, I started thinking about Pittsburgh and its unique geography. Our broad rivers, though beautiful, could be considered a major challenge, with the potential to seriously divide our city. And yet, we have built bridges-the Andy Warhol Bridge, the David McCullough Bridge, the Liberty Bridge and so, many, many more–to cross our rivers and bring together our neighborhoods, our people, and our resources. What an incredible testament to the unity of our city!
The Shady Liberty bridge, though diminutive in size, has a similar and equally commendable purpose. It brings together the very different communities of Shadyside and East Liberty to share in the continuing efforts to economically revitalize the East Liberty area. Thank you Sheila Klein and the East Liberty Development, Inc for your impressive vision!© Copyright Nadine Champsi, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog
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