Matthew Galluzzo, the current executive director of the Lawrenceville Corporation and soon-to-be president and CEO of Riverlife, has a master’s degree in community organization and social administration from the University of Pittsburgh. But he says some of the best training for his career was as an undergrad English student at Thomas More University.

“Much of what we deal with in community development could be written into a Kurt Vonnegut piece,” Galluzzo tells NEXTpittsburgh. “We get to deal with some complicated, interesting things, and sometimes absurd things.”

Equally inspiring was the writing of Pittsburgh native Annie Dillard. “Her work is such a strong meditation on the beauty and power of the natural world — and, our visceral need to connect to it,” says Galluzzo. “That’s certainly a clear metaphor for our work.”

Galluzzo was officially announced as the new head of Riverlife on July 2, after a nationwide search earlier this year. His official start date is September 16, to allow for a smooth transition of leadership at the Lawrenceville Corporation.

Galluzzo is happy to tout the progress he and his team have made in Lawrenceville, including spearheading the city’s first community land trust, but he says improving riverfront access was often beyond the reach of the locally-focused community development organization.

“To create new riverfront amenities often takes a regional lens,” he says. “One of the frustrations I’ve experienced at Lawrenceville Corporation is the inability to move those regional levers.”

While he declined to offer specifics on what new policies and programs he’ll bring to Riverlife when he officially takes the reins, Galluzzo did identify several initiatives he’d like to tackle in his first year.

First up: connecting the 15-mile loop of riverfront parks centered around Downtown Pittsburgh, a long-held goal of the organization.

According to Riverlife’s estimates, the loop is about 85 percent completed. “There are still remaining gaps, like in the Strip District and South Side, that I think we need to move quickly to fill so that there’s a seamless experience,” says Galluzzo.

Also on his docket is advocating for a riverfront park in the Strip District. “With all the development happening in the Strip, I think that’s going to be important.”

For Galluzzo, the drive to protect public riverfront access in the rapidly developing Strip is a preview of the questions that many riverfront neighborhoods will have to ask as the heavy industry recedes along our waters.

“As those riverfronts become more mixed-used, we have an opportunity, and frankly in a limited window of time,” says Galluzzo. “The interventions that are being made now are going to set a course for riverfront use for the next 50 to 75 years.”

Beyond any planning for the built environment, Galluzzo says he also intends to continue Riverlife’s long history of environmental advocacy and activism.

“Water quality, air quality, equity and inclusion, those are issues that we need to confront head-on as an organization,” he says. “Maybe not as leaders in all regards, but as partners in those efforts.”

Riverlife will celebrate Galluzzo’s appointment and 20 years of operation with their annual Party at the Pier benefit on August 23 at the Rivers Casino Ampitheater.