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Revitalization in Olmsted’s Small Town

Olmsted's plan for Vandergrift.

A small town in Pennsylvania designed by Frederick Olmsted is trying to turn a corner after years of decline by building on its history as a city designed to be in tune with nature. The AP’s Ramit Plushnick-Masti writes how Olmsted designed Vandergrift, 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh and its streets to follow the river. Street corners and the buildings on them were rounded. Parks dotted the hilly landscape, and the town was walkable. Today the town is not as pedestrian friendly, but there seems to be a new thinking afoot:

While many communities are embracing sustainable revitalization, Vandergrift’s strategy is all-encompassing: to create an energy independent, ecologically low-impact, economically viable town from the ashes of its postindustrial wasteland. It aims to renovate buildings with sustainable materials, from carpet textiles to solar roof panels. A farmers market has been expanded. Trees are being planted and green spaces recovered.

Perhaps the most ambitious is the river energy project. With Weiland’s guidance and a grant from the National Science Foundation, University of Pittsburgh students are seeking to exploit the hydrokinetic forces of the Kiski River to offset energy costs downtown, without building dams or coal-burning electrical facilities.

The city has gone from 6,800 residents in 1980 to about 5,000 today. We often concentrate on the efforts of big cities, but with many Americans still living in smaller cities and towns, and the fact that sprawl is common and energy used more in those places — the work in Vandergrift (and other places such as Greensburg, Kansas) is worth telling.

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One Response

  1. Interesting post Ben, I didn’t know that Olmsted ventured into town planning. Truly ahead of his time. This idea of developing with nature has continued, such as McHarg’s work in Houston and Village Homes in Davis, CA to name a few but few examples exist on the scale of a whole town such as Vandergrift. Would love to see more spring up.

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