Living Waters of Larimer: A Fresh Infrastructure
Larimer Neighborhood, Pittsburgh PA, USA           Video

“Living Waters of Larimer: A Fresh Infrastructure” was started as a concurrent project with the 2013 Mattress Factory Installation “Water Rules–Life.” Pittsburgh suffers from severe water infrastructure problems. Design has focused on piping water with little consideration for the complexities of local ecosystems and communities. The majority of Pittsburgh’s waters (rivers, streams, seeps) have been buried, leading to problems with flooding and overflow of the city’s combined waste water/storm water system. “Living Waters of Larimer” changes the paradigm of storm water, from cumbersome waste to community resource. Rainwater is placed as the foundation of the Larimer community’s redevelopment and frames the vital importance of local control over basic resources. It empowers citizens to imagine what is possible.

The Larimer neighborhood combines an ideal geography for water remediation and a proactive community that is hungry for improvement. Larimer is situated on a plateau that was historically surrounded by two waterways, Negley Run and Two Mile Run. Today these waterways are buried. Eighty million gallons of rainwater fall on the Larimer District each year, contributing to flooding and property damage. In 2011, this flooding caused the death of four individuals on Washington Boulevard, a road below the Larimer plateau.

Since the 1960’s the Larimer community has declined in population and income as Pittsburgh’s economy shifted away from steel. It is currently one of the poorest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.

A mural in the Larimer neighborhood near the Kingsley Center represents the determination of the community to build a better future for itself.

The Kingsley Association, the Larimer community’s main community center, has organized to imagine a green and sustainable redevelopment plan for their district. They started the Larimer Green Team, which amongst its accomplishments has created a community garden. These groups are fighting to retain control over Larimer’s identity as outside development firms, unconcerned with the existing community, encroach. Both the Kingsley Association and the Larimer Green Team are major actors in “Living Waters of Larimer”.

The Larimer Community Garden is built and maintained by the Larimer Green Team. Garden plots are allotted each season to residents to grow plants of their choice.

“Living Waters of Larimer: A Fresh Infrastructure” is a community action. It is imagined, planned and executed under community direction and with community members. To initiate this project Betsy Damon asked eco artist Bob Bingham, a professor at the nearby Carnegie Mellon University and part of the Nine Mile Run Restoration Project, to collaborate. She talked to local grassroots groups, community organizations, businesses, and everyday citizens. Other than the Kingsley Association and the Larimer Green Team, “Living Waters of Larimer” has received notable contributions from the architecture firm EvolveEA; LandBase Systems, which created storm water flow maps; and individuals from the Carnegie Mellon School of Art.

A map created by LandBased Systems shows the flow of rainwater on the Larimer neighborhoods streets. Redevelopment ideas are also shown on the map.

Betsy Damon brought a simple idea to the community--what if the 80 million gallons of water that fell on the Larimer District each year could be harvested as a resource for Larimer’s redevelopment? It would be a chance for citizens to live off their own footprint, reduce residents’ reliance on the over-taxed citywide wastewater infrastructure, and allow them access to water resources without charge. Capturing this rainwater would also prevent the flooding that plagues the surrounding areas.

Betsy Damon talks with people at a Kingsley Association meeting about “Living Waters of Larimer.

The community has taken charge of this project, giving it the name “Living Waters of Larimer: A Fresh Infrastructure.” Brainstorming with the Larimer Green Team and the Kingsley Association, we asked how rainwater could be used to fuel businesses, jobs and community projects. Running with this idea, members of the community made plans for self-sustaining urban gardens, orchards, medicinal gardens, paper-making businesses, hydroponic farms, and water features in playgrounds and fountains. These endeavors would be visible public displays of water’s flexibility and fuel the community as well as the local ecosystem.

Betsy Damon with the Larimer Community.

We are headed to doing a comprehensive infrastructure plan, with the community taking the lead in its conception and design. A locally created water infrastructure will provide flexibility and resiliency to the community in the face of future change. We will take on many challenges, as we are questioning the old water infrastructures. Yet, even if 50% of the plan is implemented, it will be 50% more than any other neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

For more information on the other organizations and people involved with “Living Waters of Larimer” see the links below.

Kingsley Association:
Larimer Green Team:
Bob Bingham:

A locally created water infrastructure will provide flexibility and resiliency in the face of future change.