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New Web site will map the region's green scene

Monday, January 31, 2000

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A map of places in southwestern Pennsylvania to hike, bike, camp, fish, raft, canoe, snowshoe, bird watch, star gaze, rock climb, spelunk, picnic, or view a moonrise or sunset will soon be only a click or two away.

 
  At greenpittsburgh.net, folks will be able to find information, details and other details about sights such as the lions of Pittsburgh's civic Garden Center. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

Within months - by Earth Day, April 22, if all goes according to schedule - a "green map" of the region's natural amenities, recreational attractions and environmental resources will be available online at greenpittsburgh.net to anyone with wanderlust, a "where'szat" question and access to a computer.

"It will be a Web page, but it's really something quite new," said Peter Lucas, president and chief executive officer of MAYA Design Group, the 10-year-old South Side firm doing the Web site design work. "Our vision is to create simple, interactive ways that you can pan and zoom around the region on a one-stop shopping trip for any environmental or recreational information.

"We don't want it to feel like a typical computer interface. We want it to feel like a map, but a really magical one."

It won't be the first online map of environmental amenities. Many of the 107 city or regional environment-based maps in 34 countries that are part of the Greenmap System (http://www.greenmap.com/) are Internet accessible.

But none have the personally interactive properties of greenpittsburgh.net's 10-county Greenmap map, said Evan Verbanic, manager of the Pittsburgh Technology Council's Sustainable Pittsburgh project.

"New York, which started the Green Map movement, has its Green Apple Map. It's online now, but it's static," Verbanic said. "You call it up, it's cluttered, noisy. You get everything at once.

"They can't 'drill down' into data layers and call up, for example, just the birding hot spots imposed on the biking trails. We can."



The original idea for a "green map" of Pittsburgh's regional environmental projects, recreational sites and conservation attractions unfolded three years ago in the mind of John Stephen, co-founder of Friends of the Riverfront and an environmental consultant.

A prototype of the map, then called the Green Guide, was even displayed on Earth Day 1998, at the Party for the Planet in the National Aviary.

But it never found its way to the glove compartment of any car.

"As more people became aware of the idea for a green map, we started hearing about different amenities and environmental assets that should be included. That took some time, and it just evolved," Stephen said.

The biggest evolutionary leap took place about a year ago, when Stephen and other environmentalists hooked up with 3 Rivers Connect, a nonprofit technological support firm.

"The green map guys had the content and the agenda. They got linked with the technical guys, and it was a good fit, since we were already looking to create an 'information commons' for the region," said George Calaba Jr., project builder with 3 Rivers Connect, which is now managing the mapping effort.

Funding sealed the deal. The Heinz Endowments and the R.K. Mellon Foundation have provided $120,000 to underwrite development of the World Wide Web site.

MAYA, which specializes in devising advanced yet accessible computer programming, was hired to do the map design.

"There's a lot of 'green maps,' and a lot of them are online now and have a Web site, but they're poorly integrated because they were originally conceived as paper-based," Calaba said.



A preview of the Web site last week at MAYA's office showed it to be anything but flat.

Mapped areas had a three-dimensional quality, with different colors indicating different land uses, and points of interest marked by playful, pop-up, cartoon-style drawings.

A long menu of options along the left side of the screen listed categories - parks, rivers, trails, mines, etc. - that could be selected with a click of the mouse. Icons for those categories then appear on whatever area of the 10-county map the viewer selects.

There will be map sites and information on natural amenities like parks, trails, forests and rivers and streams; attractions like Phipps Conservancy and the Carnegie Science Center; plus natural gas refueling stations, composting operations, wetlands, federal Superfund sites, mines, even gas and oil wells.

Click on the icons and a snapshot of the place or event pops up, along with a thumbnail text summary and links to other Web sites. Any customized map can be printed and taken along on a hike or drive. There is a spot for user reviews of the Web site.

"This is something that has great potential to connect people interested in 'green' things in the Pittsburgh region," said Skip Shelly, senior information designer at MAYA. "The Web is often touted as being something that brings the world closer, and lowers geographic boundaries, but this site will do that for people living two blocks and 10 counties away from one another instead of time zones away."

An e-mail was sent to more than 40 groups, government agencies, and individuals last week to solicit site submissions for the map. Calaba said 80 potential content providers attended a greenpittsburgh.net kickoff meeting at Duquesne University earlier this month. Eventually, he expects more than 100 contributors will provide mapping information.

"I think it will be very useful," said Susan Parker, executive director of the Pittsburgh Civic Garden Center, who attended the Jan. 6 meeting at Duquesne. "Right now it's still a little bit of a blue sky concept. Still, I think we're on the edge of something very interesting."

Stephen said the map will work best if it is opened up to the widest number of contributors, a view the development team shares and is working to encourage.

"I envision this map as having a strong grass roots component," Stephen said. "I hope in the long run it will reach down to include information about things like greenways that run through neighborhoods and backyards. Those are the kind of things that usually slip through the cracks, but are important parts of living in Pittsburgh."



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