3 Rivers 2nd Nature (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Questions of Art, Ecology, Access, and Advocacy

3 Rivers 2nd Nature (3R2N) is a five-year project that addresses the meaning, form and function of the three river systems and 56 streams of Allegheny County. We are primarily interested in strategic research and creative action that supports the form and function of the post-industrial public realm. This project builds on the success of strategic creative inquiry, ecosystem analysis and community dialogue developed by the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry through the Nine Mile Run Greenway project. We work with scientists, engineers, planners and policy experts. We have partnered with regulatory agencies, universities and non-profi t organizations to conduct fieldwork to develop an ecological baseline for Allegheny County. Data collected includes three types of water quality, botany, geology, landscape ecology, public access and historic use. The project is also working with communities to address the cultural understanding of living rivers and water quality, as well as the potential to preserve and restore natural ecosystems in a postindustrial urban setting.

We have specific research questions. Can artists working as cultural agents affect the public policies and private economic programs that mark and define urban places and ecosystems? Can we help initiate a public realm advocacy that addresses the perception, meaning and form of nature, while expanding the creative act beyond the authorship of the artist?

The 3R2N Project Team develops strategic knowledge and broad community discussions about rivers and streams. Strategic knowledge helps us understand what is happening in and along our rivers and streams, and how we can either help or hinder their recovery. The Project Team has developed rigorous methods to acquire this knowledge, gathering scientific data that leads to a spatial understanding of the existing conditions. We then conduct map analysis to synthesize and understand the forces affecting specific areas. 3R2N seeks to identify the potential for preservation and restoration of natural and cultural systems. The work is about social and ecological change. The work is also fundamentally interdisciplinary (relational). We cannot rely on the art world as the only point of engagement and interpretation and we must utilize other social and intellectual frameworks and support networks.

Project products include:

  • An Allegheny County conservation, restoration plan
  • Policy reports on regional water quality and land conservation
  • The Monongahela Conference and Residencies – on art and change.

Community participation is essential to our process, transformation starts at the moment when people gather to discuss their place. We believe that perception drives experience and leads to new values. Our work focuses on the foundation concepts that inform perception. We then craft onsite (on-river) public experiences. Each individual has different interests and struggles, different relationships to their place. Each community includes people who have observed and stood as witnesses for the nature that defines
their region. Our goal is to find new ways to see, platforms for speech, new ideas and methods for creative engagement with our place. We are interested in experience, dialogue, shifting values, and diverse visions. We actively seek examples that have the power to change our own understanding of culture, nature, and place.

3 Rivers 2nd Nature is organized as an academic research project. Tim Collins and Reiko Goto are the principle investigators responsible for funding and project direction with research associates Noel Hefele, Priya Lakshmi, Jon Kline, Lauren McEwen, Beth McCartney and many others participating as science consultants over the five year period of the project. The project also maintains relationships with a science advisory board and
an outreach advisory board made up of regional leaders.

The Nine Mile Run Greenway Project (NMR-GP) engaged cultural and aesthetic issues of post-industrial public space and ecology. The STUDIO team endeavored to generate an informed public conversation regarding Nine Mile Run, a brownfield site in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania being developed into a mix of housing and public greenway. Our goal at Nine Mile Run was to enable an equitable public dialogue about brownfields nature and public space. We saw our work in terms of a community consensus process and a public policy discussion about the form and function of post-industrial public space, a discourse that was missing and continues to be an anomaly in the current program of local brownfield development.

As our project team honed their philosophy, process and skills, it became clear that there was a set of basic guidelines which would guide our experiments in public dialogue and the broader intent of renewing postindustrial public life.

  • Create images and stories that reveal both the cause and effect of the industrial legacy.
  • Create works that illuminate and explicate confl ict and points of dynamic change.
  • Produce new forms of critical discourse that provide access, voice and context