By Andrea Bosco Stehle
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Vivien Li, Riverlife Pittsburgh President and CEO

Photo: George Vasquez

On October 1, Riverlife will welcome Vivien Li as its new president and CEO. She comes to Pittsburgh from The Boston Harbor Association with 24 years of expertise as its executive director and, most recently, its president. “Vivien Li has a remarkable legacy of achievement in supporting the cleanup and fostering the vitality of Boston’s waterfront,” says Thomas F. Lamb, Jr., Riverlife board of directors chairman. “We are thrilled to have Vivien join Riverlife as we enter a new phase of riverfront development. She will bring her passion, focus, and lessons learned in Boston to the work Riverlife continues to do to make Pittsburgh’s riverfront parks world-class destinations for our residents and visitors.” We spoke with the charismatic leader on the continued transformation of our riverfronts and her streamlined goals for success.

What attracted you to Pittsburgh and this great opportunity?
Vivien Li: I’ve visited Pittsburgh several times because I have a niece who attended Carnegie Mellon University. Each time I came, I was struck by how green the riverfronts were. You don’t see as much parkland and green spaces along Boston Harbor. Much care and planning obviously went into creating those Pittsburgh green spaces in a city that was formerly known for its hard industrial edges. Pittsburgh is a city of great beauty and character, and to be a part of its riverfront renewal was very exciting to me.

What are you most excited for with this major career move?
VL: Pittsburgh and Boston are cities that share a common interest in improving waterfronts for all to enjoy. I am proud of the activity and energy now along Boston’s revitalized harbor — a place people once seldom visited because there was little else besides parking lots and dilapidated warehouses. I see that same energy in Pittsburgh, as the city’s riverfronts have come so far in their transformation. I particularly love all of the open spaces and parks along the riverfronts. I am looking forward to being a part of the next chapter in Pittsburgh’s riverfront renaissance.

How have your experiences in Boston contributed to your continued success as a leader in the industry?
VL: My time at The Boston Harbor Association taught me the importance of partnerships to achieve significant and tangible amenities. We worked with elected officials, public and private property owners, residents, and citizen groups in our efforts to secure public spaces, boat docks, and public benefits for all to enjoy. The Boston Harbor Association has also become a leading voice in preparing for the effects of climate change and rising tides, which will impact the city significantly over the next few decades. That message has resonated with business leaders and property owners who recognize that this is not just an environmental issue, but an economic one as well. Sound planning and climate preparedness should be goals for all communities developing their waterfronts so that those investments are resilient to environmental changes.

What inspires you on a daily basis?
VL: My two daughters and their cousins inspire me daily! I’m also inspired when I see children and families of all backgrounds and income levels enjoying the public spaces along Boston’s waterfront. I’m inspired by property owners and developers who now ‘get it’ and include a variety of public amenities, from play spaces to public art, in their residential and commercial projects.

What are a few goals that you aim to achieve as president and CEO of Riverlife?
VL: Pittsburgh’s riverfront development scene is so active right now — I will be hitting the ground running as I get up to speed on projects along all three rivers with 13 miles of Downtown riverfront and 800-plus acres of open space. Since its inception, Riverlife has been a leader in implementing the community’s vision for Pittsburgh’s riverfronts, and we will see that vision come to life in several areas over the next few years. One example is our focus on the Strip District riverfront, which is seeing unprecedented real estate development along the banks of the Allegheny. We know the neighborhood is the prime location for a beautiful riverfront park that weaves trails and public open space into the new residential and office projects that are being planned, and I look forward to working with all of the community stakeholders and property owners involved to refine that vision.

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