Shots from the Block: Pittsburgh Highline

Among the many discoveries I’ve made during my initial journeys along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail is the Pittsburgh Highline. I rolled into the open air plaza on a recent weekend morning and was totally caught off guard, wondering if this was a brand new development or I had simply been unaware of the location during my previous years in the city. It turns out that the Highline opened last summer. Press coverage of the August 2020 opening positioned the property in relation to broader reimaginings of public spaces that proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with the general aesthetic and approach to postindustrial re-development at the site, the Highline moniker itself is indicative of the intracity circulation of urban development and branding strategies. News coverage of the opening and the developer’s own description of the property point out that the name is a nod to New York’s famous High Line, which repurposed a disused elevated railway into a pedestrian park.

The Pittsburgh Highline similarly repurposes and incorporates rail infrastructure into its design. The development is centered around a former terminal warehouse, and sits right alongside still active train tracks. There is also a vintage rail car positioned as a centerpiece in the ground-level plaza. The carriage is covered with graffiti, which aesthetically links the Highline with the nearby Color Park, though I am unclear whether this is sanctioned by the property owners as the promotional images I’ve discovered depict the train car sans graffiti.

The plaza also excellently incorporates new cycling infrastructure to connect with the river trail, helping riders and pedestrians transition to McKean St and back to the riverfront. For my fellow aficionados of Pittsburgh filming locations, the upper plaza overlooks the concrete plant where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s detective character takes out two of Bane’s evil construction workers in The Dark Knight Rises. Below is my photo of the spot and then an image from the relevant scene in the film for comparison.

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