Fern Hollow Bridge. That’s its name. I’ve lived right on the east side of it for 17 years and had no idea. Traversed it daily at least twice. Hiked under it regularly. We called it “The Forbes Bridge” or just “the Bridge.” And I only learned its name because of the bridge being shattered on Friday.
I’m thinking about how it got that name. Wondering if it is something the city stole from the people who might have named it that, just as we stole the land itself. It’s so obviously the right name. The ravine is teeming with ferns. Olive color broad-based ones, tiny bright green ones, variations in between. They may be age variations of a single species, I don’t know. There’s a lot I don’t know about this park that is my front yard and so I’m thinking about it.
Listen to an audio version of this story
Thinking about land. About this park I was raised in and now live on the border of. This park that is now between me and where I routinely need to be instead of something I pass through or over on my way. Thinking about how quiet it is now that traffic has little need to pass by my house. How much easier it is to hear the calls of crows and hawks. Mourning doves and sparrows.
Thinking about Gov. Tom Wolf’s statement that, “With the Fern Hollow Bridge seeing more than 14,000 cars daily, it’s critical that we act quickly to reconstruct it so that commerce can continue and life is not interrupted.” Thinking about how we — as neighbors and residents and government — set priorities. Thinking about the two-plus years Councilman Corey O’Connor estimated it will take to replace the bridge. Thinking that’s too optimistic an estimate. Thinking about how the hell we’re going to get my son to his school on the other side of that ravine. What used to be a short drive is now three times as long in miles, probably longer in minutes, because we’ll be sharing the road with all my neighbors who also used to depend on the bridge. Thinking about coping with two years of that.
Thinking about how wrecked the ravine is going to be from the usual methods of construction through rebuilding the bridge. Even getting the trucks and equipment in place could be ruinous to the biome. Thinking about how hard it will be to advocate for unusual methods that preserve the land against the assumptions that they are more expensive. Untried. Risky. City government after the donation (at Henry Clay Frick’s death) said, “No plan should be determined upon except after the most careful study and with the advice and assistance of the best landscape architect obtainable.”
That’s “best,” not “cheapest,” and so I’m thinking about how UpStream Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University’s architecture school and the Environmental Charter School could all be partnering on that rebuilding project to make it green and sustainable and minimally damaging … and how unlikely that alliance is to make it past the demands for as rapid a replacement as possible. Demands from people in just the position I myself am in.
Thinking about the story of Frick’s daughter envisioning a park as a natural refuge for the city’s children.
Thinking about how Fern Hollow’s Indigenous curators would approach this catastrophe. Thinking about what it would look like to have a city government comprised of such people and invested in a holistic approach to the question of reconstruction — which is exactly what the landback movement aims to do.
Thinking about what it would look like to leave the gap unbridged from now on. Economically. Aesthetically. Environmentally. To leave the hollow hollow. About how hard it will be to even have a conversation about the possibility of such a resolution. One that puts the needs of the land itself at the table in deciding what happens next.
Thinking about land.
Thinking about landback.
Katherine Davoli (they/them) works full time as a bench researcher neuroscientist, attends seminary part time and does ministry for folks at the intersection of queer and Christian identities. They have taught discernment and collective decision-making to fellow students and ministers and to civic and faith-based organizations, and is the author of “The Chairperson’s Toolbox: Essentials for the committee leader” on that topic.
If you want to send a message to Katherine, email email@example.com.
Clarification: The story has been updated to include a more holistic and accurate accounting of the native peoples whose land Frick Park occupies.
Do you feel more informed?
Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.