Great Public Spaces in Pennsylvania detailed by planning professionals

Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park has been designated a 2020 Great Place in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Through its Great Places in Pennsylvania Program, the chapter annually designates Great Places, which it defines as a place with "a sustainable vision for the future and serve as a model for other communities. For 2020, the Great Places were designated in the Great Public Spaces category.

The chapter described Riverfront Park as a “4.5-mile linear park, which parallels the Susquehanna River and Front Street” and "extends from downtown northward to an ‘uptown’ neighborhood.

"It was envisaged in a 1901 master plan during   the   City   Beautiful   Movement   as   the   centerpiece   to Harrisburg’s park system.
"Riverfront Park is woven into the fabric of the city through its unique views of the state capitol and other historic structures.
"The park is enhanced with a walking/biking trail, benches, picnic tables, exercise stations and two plazas, as well as multiple crosswalks that provide safe pedestrian access.
"The park has a direct connection to City Island Park via the historic Walnut Street Bridge (pedestrians/bicyclists only) and is a key segment of the Capital Area Greenbelt.
“Riverfront Park, with its spectacular views of the river and surrounding landscapes, is an attraction for residents, downtown employees and visitors and is host to a variety of events/festivals.”
The chapter explained that having high quality examples of successful planning efforts throughout the state to share and promote helps to achieve its mission and vision.

The Arboretum at Penn State, State College, also was named a 2020 Great Place in Pennsylvania.

Penn State’s Trustees set aside 25 acres of land adjacent to University Park Campus for the Arboretum in 1914. However, a master site plan was not completed until 1999 when the site had expanded to 370 acres. The planning process involved community input through a series of brainstorming sessions.

The Arboretum, which opened in 2009, preserves a rare remnant of old-growth oak-pine forest, protects the aquifer supplying most of the campus water needs, and boasts a variety of botanical gardens, wildlife sculptures, a children’s garden, a pollinator/bird garden and a bike trail.

It’s easily accessible by residents of adjoining neighborhoods, as well as the University community, and is a popular destination for visitors. It hosts a variety of festivals, exhibits, and programs and serves as an attractive venue for many private gatherings.

It continues to evolve with planning and community involvement playing an important role to maintain this local jewel as a showcase for preserving and caring for nature.

The third Great Place for 2020 is Allegheny Commons Park Northeast Fountain in Pittsburgh, which was built in the 1860s, was the first of five ornamental fountains in the historic park.

With its 50-foot basin and 70-foot central plume, the fountain was a focal point of the park until its decommissioning after World War II, when it became a planting bed.

A master plan for renovation of the Park recommended restoring the fountain to its original 1867 design. Completed in 2019, the renovated fountain mirrors the original design, except for a lower plume height and lesser number of jets as energy savings measures.

The project also included the addition of benches, a flower garden, trees, pedestrian lighting and connecting paths.

Northeast Fountain is once again a popular gathering place for residents and location for an array of community events. The restored community gem is a centerpiece not only of the Park, but also the neighboring community.

The chapter launched its Great Places program in 2014.