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Computational Urbanism

implementing rainwater-powered community gardens in underserved lots of Friendship & Garfield

Computational Urbanism | Spring 2019 | Pittsburgh, PA

According to the National Weather Service, Pittsburgh has slowly increased in its number of rainy days as well as amount of precipitation, 2018 being the heaviest in a decade. These precipitation numbers should be taken advantage of, especially when lead contamination in the public water system is rampant - we need to find innovative and sustainable methods to collect, filter and harvest rainwater.

This project implements computational urbanism to produce rapid scenario planning, by studying the topographical conditions  of Friendship & Garfield, assessing locations and analyzing performance for community gardens powered by rain barrels in vacant lots.

As a wholly residential neighborhood, Friendship lacked an initial identity: early residents considered themselves to be living, not in Friendship, but in the nearest neighborhood with a business district. Garfield, on the other hand, is a neighborhood just north of Friendship that has been having several housing affordability issues and overall neighborhood decline.

Regardless of struggles, these neighborhoods have been striving to be at the forefront of urban gardening and localized sustainability, the most noted in the neighborhood being Latham Street Commons (LSC), a physical experiment testing the impact of rain water collection and distributed energy generation systems on food production in an urban environment, and the Garfield Community Farm, an urban garden that provides fresh produce and educational opportunities within Garfield.


Population in Friendship: 1,785
Population in Garfield: 3,675

Lowest elevation point on project site: 880’
Highest elevation point on project site: 1175’
Elevation change through project site: 295’

Number of vacant parcels on site: 886
Range of vacant parcel size: 0.4 acres - 3.2 acres
Number of residential properties on site: 2,297

Number of summer food sites: 2
Number of farmers markets: 0
Number of fast food locations: 2
Number of GrowPGH gardens: 7


Component Design

The goal of this analysis would be to find ideal locations to implement these gardens with the most rain barrels, to reach to maximum homes with the least cost. The responsive components in the community garden would be:

1. Planters: beds in which nearby residents can grow their produce,
2. 3-bin composting system: a set of bins which collects organic waste in one bin, aerates in the second, and collects ready compost in the third,
3. Tool shed: A small closed space to store equipment and tools for gardening,
4. Picnic benches: For hosting small community events or as public space,
5. Rain Barrels: Collects stormwater during each rainfall. Residential rain barrels range in size from a 30-gallon capacity up to about 150 gallons.
6. Open-Air Kitchen Unit: To host community events using produce grown in the community garden.

Based on this research and scenario analysis, Scenario 3 allows for the most number of rain barrels and planter beds. This can allow for maximum collection of rainwater, as well as reaching towards the maximum homes. Of the 3 sites, 5200 Penn Avenue is the most ideal to begin with implementing a community garden, as it is at the intersection of the two neighborhoods, as well as proximity to public transportation along a main street.

It would be most beneficial for existing urban agriculture organizations to expand their resources into these proposed sites. Organizations such as Latham Street Commons, The Octopus Gardens, or Garfield Community Farm could benefit from further expanding their reach in these neighborhoods and beyond. Moving further, one could implement more parameters to allow for flexibility of these community gardens, such as providing an outdoor classroom setting, or creating a playspace from multiple adjacent rain barrels on a site.

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