The Riverlife Task Force held its first meeting on Monday, with members resolving to do whatever they could to make the area's waterfront areas more vibrant.
Citizens of Pittsburgh are slow to recognize the beauty of the rivers, task-force founder Hugh Brackenridge told an audience of 20. That's partly because views of the water are obstructed by all the trees, he said.
"For too long, we've neglected this natural asset," Brackenridge said. Despite years of occupation by the recently ousted French, he noted, "If you walk along the shore, you see nothing but fish splashing about in the water, blue heron skirting the riverbanks as deer and bear come down to drink. We want to make sure people get full enjoyment of the area's natural resources, whether that be by swimming, fishing, constructing complex lock-and-dam navigation systems, or dredging river bottoms for millions of tons of gravel."
How to make the riverfronts livelier? One suggestion has been to use them as the site for constructing some kind of massive manufacturing center. Supporters pointed out that the rivers could be used for transporting large amounts of raw materials into the area, while finished products could be shipped out. Attendees praised the concept as a "novel approach," though it was somewhat less popular than a rival proposal: turning large swaths of riverfront land into centers for merchants to sell their wares.
Other uses for the rivers were suggested as well. "How can you justify going digging all these latrine pits when the river could just carry your waste away downstream?" asked John Scull, publisher of the Pittsburgh Gazette and a founding task-force member. "What we're doing now is simply unsustainable."
Another challenge: access to the river by area boaters. There's too much of it, attendees agreed, citing countless canoe-launches along the banks of all three rivers.
Despite the divergent ideas for the future, attendees could agree on at least one essential point: "We're sure not going to continue squandering our riverbanks like the Indians have," Scull said. "I mean, what do people think we're going to end up with here -- a bunch of hiking trails?"