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Pittsburgh Zoo Master Plan

Discussion in 'Speculative Zoo Design and Planning' started by Anmltrnr98, 29 Sep 2019.

  1. Anmltrnr98

    Anmltrnr98 Member

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    Hi all! I hope I’m posting this in the right spot. I’m still new around here, so forgive me if not.

    In my free time lately, I’ve been developing a master plan for my hometown zoo: The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. I just finished the schematic overview and I’d love to hear your thoughts and input before I get into developing the illustrative plans.

    Any thoughts about layout, species, habitat size, or anything else for that matter would be much appreciated!

    Pittsburgh Zoo Master Plan: PGH Zoo Masterplan Schematic Overview
     
  2. amur leopard

    amur leopard Well-Known Member

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    Looks great! Love the graphics and the maps. Did you do them all yourself?

    As for the ideas, I love them, and they seem to fit in well with the zoo's message of conservation etc.
    Like the baird's tapirs instead of the typical Lowland species, and conservation message can be delivered.
     
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  3. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

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    Really like this, although I don’t see the need to renovate the Kid’s Kingdom, aquarium or the two new Islands/Jungle Odyssey.

    I really like your idea for the Tropical Forest makeover, that house needs to be destroyed.
     
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  4. Ebirah766

    Ebirah766 Well-Known Member

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    I agree with the sirenian, there is no need to destroy the already amazing Islands or Aquarium exhibits.
     
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  5. Jay Dun

    Jay Dun Member

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    Hi,

    The Pittsburgh Zoo is also my home zoo and I've been there countless times, so I know it quite well. Your draft Master Plan has intrigued me enough to sign up and comment :)

    My credentials:
    - I have visited the Pittsburgh, Louisville, Columbus, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and D.C. zoos
    - Expert player of Zoo Tycoon 2 :)
    (ok so I have no real credentials, but you offered for comments and opinions haha)

    First off, great job and a lot of hard work is evident on your plan thus far. If you actually did this just for the fun of it, I commend you and your commitment to zoo planning. I really enjoy the updated exhibits and expanded interactivity you have. One of the largest areas for improvement is a need for additional amphitheater and show space. The zoo's current show and presentations are almost non-existent. Your thoughts on the service road running through the middle of the zoo are also A+, as it is something that the zoo has publicly stated they would like multiple times. One very important item you did not touch on is....cost! While I really like the plans, it is almost impossible for Pittsburgh to completely revise the zoo this way without a several hundred million dollar donation.




    Here are some thoughts if you wanted to provide the zoo with a plan that is more feasible from a cost standpoint as well:

    An easy way to see what people like and do not like with the zoo can be found for free on Trip Advisor and Facebook reviews. Most of these items are frankly quick and easy fixes or items to not change during future plans. A quick summary for you:

    Likes:
    1) Admission pricing (specifically annual memberships)
    2) Ability to bring food and drinks into the zoo (for families and picnics) and kid friendly atmosphere
    3) The linear nature of the zoo walking path (i.e. do not need to read a map to see the whole zoo) I did see that you proposed to remove the linear walking path on your draft plan. I would not recommend this change as patrons from the area are used to this setup already.

    Dislikes:
    1) Animals not on exhibit or could not be seen easily (this is a common complaint at all zoos, and I would propose to provide better communication at the front of the park and on the website for patrons prior to entering the zoo. The zoo does not currently do this well. The zoo could provide times that animals are typically most active and inform patrons if an animal is off-exhibit better)
    2) Bad smells (again, common complaint at most zoos and I would not recommend any major changes. These are animals after all :) )
    3) Bathrooms are not clean and poor customer service (I would recommend renovating several of the bathrooms throughout the zoo as a couple are pretty outdated, and would introduce some type of program for zoo employees to provide better service. I'll admit even in my experience the customer service can be pretty hit or miss.)

    OK, so now that we have short-term and "easy fix" customer likes and dislikes, we should discuss what the zoo's leadership is actually looking for long-term and their goals. President Baker has publicly stated several times that other than conservation initiatives, her long-term goal for the zoo is to increase annual visitors to 1M+. Right now the zoo averages about 700K annually. Her and the board have voted to finish out construction of the zoo's remaining land through the Top of the World project. I'm sure you're aware that the zoo is halfway through with the project (Islands and Jungle finished with Compass point and an indoor reptile solarium remaining). Completion of this major project will exhaust the zoo's land footprint, expand the zoo's sq footage by roughly 25 - 35%, and also provide the zoo with an inner service road as you have recommended on your master plan currently. I do not see the zoo abandoning any of these plans for the Top of the World project at this time. I would recommend leaving any of these plans as-is for your work.

    To further increase the zoo's visitor rate, you can work to bring more people in from the Pittsburgh metro area, attract visitors from outside the area with a probable over-night stay required due to longer travel, or both. Due to cost and the existing limitations of the zoo's land footprint and topography, I would recommend the zoo to focus on additional visitors from the metro area (or better yet an ~2 hour or less drive to the zoo). Without data, I speculate that the visitor rate for the metro area is pretty saturated during the summer months (i.e. the zoo will probably not get a lot of additional visitors during the summer regardless of what initiatives are taken from the metro area residents). Therefore, I would propose a Master Plan subsequent to the completion of Top of the World that increases indoor space and shows/amphitheater. This will increase visitor rates during the fall, winter, and spring seasons, in my opinion, enough to push 1M+ annually.

    Indoor space: As stated by a poster above, the indoor Tropical Forest exhibit is dated and needs an overhaul. Structurally though, the building is still top-notch and is actually quite large and tall. To help with costs, I would recommend a full renovation to only the inside of the existing structure utilizing a mixed-use and interactive approach with animals and plants. An example would be the Buffalo Zoo's Rainforest indoor exhibit (it was fantastic by the way, please check it out on YouTube). I would also recommend heavy use of water through streams, mist, and a waterfall for the space with a second story overlook inside. For your project, keep in mind the Pittsburgh zoo has a unique special exemption from the city to have free and unlimited water, and already has an abundant amount of streams and water features throughout the zoo and a full aquarium due to this. Ultimately, I consider this large indoor space could greatly enhance the visitor rate during the colder seasons for the zoo.

    Shows and amphitheaters: The second major recommendation I would propose is to build an indoor theater for shows to attract further patrons. The hardest part of this recommendation is location. As stated above, the zoo is exhausting the existing land footprint with Top of the World, and I do not believe removing an existing exhibit for the theater is wise from a cost or visitor rate standpoint. Therefore, I would propose for the theater to be built south of the Education Complex. If you look at the zoo's map, you will not see it, but south of the Education Complex is flat land with a walking path, an existing waterfall feature, and plenty of sq footage for an indoor space. (if you visited the traveling dinosaur exhibit the past 2 years, this is the area I'm talking about). This space is severely underutilized by the zoo currently.

    Last, I would propose two other renovations to current exhibits that you could easily incorporate into your Master Plan without "breaking the bank" for the zoo.
    1) Renovate the amur leopard(s) exhibit immediately. It is woefully small and not conducive to a good environment for the animal. Leopards are solitary creatures and like to climb trees. The current exhibit provides almost no privacy for the animal from patrons and has no climbing features. The zoo could slightly expand the exhibit by digging out the hill behind slightly, add a couple of trees and extend the netting higher, and then slightly tint the viewing window. This would provide the leopard(s) with additional space, climbing features, and the tinted windows would still allow patrons to see the beautiful animals but would also provide some needed privacy from the leopard's viewpoint. I estimate the zoo could realistically complete this renovation for less than $50K if they didn't overthink it too much.
    2) Complete overhaul of the tiger exhibit. It is dated, has poor vantage points, and does not have the sq. footage needed for the tigers to roam. I'll leave it up to your imagination on how you would specifically change it. Again, I would add water features as they are nice for the patrons, the tigers, and is practically free for the zoo.


    That's my thoughts. Let me know what you think :)
     
    Last edited: 6 Oct 2019
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  6. Anmltrnr98

    Anmltrnr98 Member

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    Hi Jay,

    Thanks so much for your detailed feedback. I’m not an expert or professional either, so you’re in good company!

    This first round was definitely a “dream version” of the masterplan. You’re absolutely right, I estimate this is at least a $250 Million dollar plan. As I refine this next draft, I have pared back some of the projects significantly and hopefully made it slightly more realistic.

    That being said, I want to create this as a 25 year master plan, so I do want to push the limits in some ways. I definitely agree with your “quick wins” for making easy upgrades, and if I was zoo director, I think I’d implement them all. But for this project, I want to look a little further out to create more significant changes.

    To address a couple of your other points:

    • I think you’re absolutely right that creating more indoor experiences that can be enjoyed in all weather is a great way to increase year round attendance. One of the key ways I want to do that is by offering better indoor viewing areas in addition to adding those theater/presentation spaces.
    • Being able to see the animals: I think there are two sides to this. One is that the zoo lacks indoor viewing for a lot of it’s species (Giraffes/Hoofstock, Jungle Odyssey, Rhinos, Big Cats, half of Kids Kingdom), which means that when the weather drops (for some species anywhere below 55), these animals aren’t visible. I hope to address that by building more indoor viewing opportunities. I also think building exhibits that capitalize on our improved knowledge of animal behavior to incorporate more opportunities for environmental enrichment as well as rotation and flex habitats will give guests a better chance of seeing animals engaged in natural, species specific behavior.
    • Another note on visitorship: I think another way the zoo can increase revenue and become more of a destination, is to better capitalize on Animal Encounters and interactions. One of the “guiding principles I listed is to “Create revenue generating add on programs, like tours and Wild Encounters, to connect guests to Animals and the Zoo’s mission.” I believe that building these interactions into the facilities (like an indoor space for year round sea lion encounters), will help the zoos bottom line, encourage guests to visit during the “off” season and encourage guests to come from further away.
    • Top of the World: Yep. You’re right. But I have no idea what those plans are going to look like, and the next phase of it isn’t going to open for at least a year, so for the purposes of this fantasy exercise, I’m going to pretend like it doesn’t exist.
    • As far as bathrooms, the plan calls to renovate 2 of the 7 current bathrooms and add 2 more.
    • The area south of the education complex (former railroad): I do have a little insider info on this one, because I too was wondering why on earth the zoo wasn’t utilizing the space: they can’t. Because of the way the ground was graded when the zoo was first constructed, they can’t build anything else on that side of the bridge without building a foundation support structure 90’ into the ground (aka the level the parking lot is at). Apparently there is too much risk of the ground eroding and the whole thing washing into the parking lot? That’s why there are no permanent structures.
    • Tropical Forest: Very interesting idea that I hadn’t thought of. (I think I have so much distain for this exhibit, I just want to see it go.) I’m definitely going to do some drafts to see if I can maintain the buildings shape while still adding some outdoor opportunities for the animals. Great idea! (One EDIT: As Pittsburgh transitions to new water management for the City, the zoo is going to be losing their free water privileges. Additionally, as a conservation organization, they want to model sustainability wherever possible.)


    Here are the highlights of my other plans for this next iteration:

    • Leave Jungle Odyssey and Islands unchanged (Thanks @TZDugong and @Ebirah766)
    • Turn the ~25,000 Sq Ft of space between JO and Asian Highlands into a new Orangutan habitat as well as an event space.
    • Leave KK primarily as is, except for Sea Lions. This 25 year old freshwater habitat (and holding spaces) do not meet current best practices in animal care.
    • Make the amphitheater space in PA Wilderness an indoor venue and reduce the ambition of the rest of the space just a tad.
    • Add Flamingo and Japanese Macaque habitats at the Zoos entrance so that guests are greeted by animals as soon as they walk in.
     
    Last edited: 7 Oct 2019
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  7. Jay Dun

    Jay Dun Member

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    Thanks for providing more info on your first draft. It helped me understand a bit more perspective on what you were aiming for.

    It is a real bummer regarding the area south of the Education Complex. I had no idea that the ground stabilization issues even existed. Also, too bad that the zoo is losing the water exemption it had. I think the Pittsburgh Zoo (and most zoos in general) are already under-funded, and I thought the water exemption helped in some small way of giving the zoo an extra "edge".

    Please post your next Master Plan version - I'll be interested in checking it out.




    Since you are working on a ~ 25 year plan, that means we are talking about zoo developments for 2045, which is obviously quite a way out. While building materials, general animal habitats, and the zoo footprint are likely to remain (reasonably) unchanged though 2045, a real wildcard is technology. We are at the beginning to middle stages of serious advancements in AI, robotics, medical technology, and virtual reality and connectivity. While some of these technologies may not seem reasonable to implement today (mainly due to costs and capability limitations), I believe that they may be much more common methods for zoo operations within two decades. Here are a couple ideas you might be able to incorporate using the assumption that technological capabilities and reductions in costs continue at a rate they are today:

    1) Virtual Reality - Imagine one of the indoor areas you are creating such as the gorillas also has a virtual reality bay. Patrons can enter the area, put on goggles, and actually be IN the enclosure with the gorillas. It would be an experience unlike any other as you believe you are in the enclosure with the gorillas, while they are playing and running, and swinging right over top of you. Perhaps you could even install cameras into some toys, which the gorillas would even touch and throw and wow - what a ride on virtual reality that would be!

    2) Genome Tracking - I think it is only a matter of time until we have full genome databases on our animal counterparts. Today, we are starting to learn how certain DNA markers in humans predispose us to disease. It is reasonable to assume we will eventually have this understanding of our zoo animals as well. How cool would it be if the viewing/enclosure windows, utilizing touchscreen and in-glass video technology, can show us "Sally the lion's" full genome sequence and what diseases she is predisposed too genetically. The video could then pop-up the zoo's veterinary team providing her latest preventative care treatments of those diseases to patrons. It would be interactive, a personalized experience for each different animal, and would be cutting edge as the enclosure glass has the technology built-in.

    3) Health Tracking and Fitness - Many people already wear smart watches, and even further advancements are being made by health care companies using devices as wide ranging as eye lenses to nanoparticles in bloodstreams to track health in real-time. These areas will continue to advance, and I can envision a future where humans will have immediate access to heartrate, blood pressure, sugar levels, etc. I see no reason why these things will not also transition over to animal care. What if patrons could walk up to "Harry the giraffe's" enclosure, and a screen can provide information regarding Harry's current heart rate and body temperature, steps taken so far in the day, and his path walked in the enclosure through time lapse videos. Again, this would make each animal a personalized experience and have an added benefit of educating kids on the differences between each animal's health and needs.

    4) Robotics - Go on YouTube to check out some of Boston Dynamics inventions. Yes, I'll admit they are a bit scary lol, but it is also exciting. I think robots could be used in zoos to help with enclosure cleaning and maintenance. If done properly, it could provide additional safety for zoo employees and the animals themselves.

    5) Artificial Intelligence - We discussed above a common complaint regarding zoo patrons; animals not able to be seen. What if artificial intelligence could be utilized to predictively learn each animal's traits and habits over time. How amazing would it be for the zoo's app to send you alert notifications on your phone while you are in the zoo? I imagine it could predict that "Jimmy the bear" has a 89% probability of waking up within the next 15 minutes, or "Nancy the penguin" has a 96% probability of jumping in the water within the next 10 minutes. This technology could be utilized by the patrons to move to different areas or spend longer times in the zoo if an interest is in certain species. In addition, zoo staff could use it to monitor animal health and if an animal is off from the AI models, it could mean a health issue is popping up.

    Just a few more thoughts - let me know what you think :)