Needs of city parks add up to mean serious business

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A park is a good place to be on a day that's already a steam bath at 8 a.m.

District 5 Councilman Corey O'Connor visited 20 of them around Pittsburgh on Friday, the second consecutive Friday of an exhaustive familiarization effort he is making as council's chairman for parks and recreation.

Mike Gable, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, and Mike Radley, director of Citiparks, briefed him in 10-15 minute overviews at each stop, starting Downtown then moving to the Hill District, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Shadyside, Highland Park, Lemington, Homewood, East Hills, Regent Square and Squirrel Hill. Mr. O'Connor was accompanied by his staff intern Ben Cohen.

Arsenal Park, one of Lawrenceville's few shady places, has ball fields, a playground for children, a remnant of the Civil War arsenal, an empty sloping concrete area that used to be a shallow pond and passive areas with benches. The park fills most of the land between 39th and 40th streets and from Butler Street to Penn Avenue. It was quiet with dog walkers taking advantage of what would be the most tolerable time of day when I met the councilman and his entourage near a playing field.

"The bleachers don't look great," Mr. O'Connor said, nodding toward a little grouping of gray wood planks flanked by weeds. "Plus there could be a safety issue with having them so close to the third base line."

He described the park as one of Pittsburgh's big little parks, not grand like Schenley and Frick but much more than a parklet.

"It will be good to look at how it can be better used," Mr. O'Connor said. "Like maybe how that pond could be something else because now water just runs off" into a drain in the middle.

"On the tour we took last week, we saw parks that all we're doing is maintaining. We want to see if there are more efficient ways" to improve them while maintaining them. Some places in some parks are being taken over by weeds.

The city is coming into capital budget time, cost savings being the perennial issue.

"There has been no discussion about eliminating any parks," Mr. O'Connor said. "But some parklets have been abandoned and the property stolen. It's enlightening to look at the parks physically to get a better sense of what to do."

Mr. Radley cited the city's master planning effort now under way, with green space as one of the components. "That will address what's beneficial and what is on the low end of use."

Pittsburgh has a lot of parks, "as good if not better than most cities," Mr. Gable said. "What we're probably lacking is acreage." The city's five regional parks make up 2,000 of the 3,000 acres that parks and green space account for.

At Sullivan Field -- a big rectangle of ball fields along Liberty Avenue east of the former Iron City Brewing Co. -- the city officials stood at the entrance, where a sign states that "only officially credentialed coaches and players are permitted on the field during games."

Mr. O'Connor frowned at the rusted, partially ripped chain link. "As you can see, this fence hasn't seen attention for a long time," Mr. Gable said. The fence is lined by a row of trees still young enough to need straps and stakes.

Mr. Gable said there are no permits for baseball at Sullivan "last I checked." This is the kind of detail that can help the city redirect uses.

"If it is not used for baseball," Mr. O'Connor said, "then maybe we can attract a group that's going to Fox Chapel to play cricket or rugby. This could interest them in coming to the city. Then after the game they might go to the market down the street."

The city has roughly 150 parks, parklets, tot lots, playgrounds, ball fields and other recreation outlets, some of them pocket-sized.

"This has been a great learning experience," Mr. O'Connor said of touring them. "I didn't know about the arsenal building. And some of the places we've been have amazing views that a lot of our residents have never seen."

He said he might schedule more tours in the fall, "maybe with other council members. The city is growing and this is such a great quality-of-life issue."


Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at


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