If you walk a dog in Troy Hill, chances are she does some of her research in Citizens Park, the neighborhood's communal lawn.
It was the first project the Troy Hill Citizens undertook after it formed in 1971, transforming a "field of rubble" that was left from the demolition of an old school, said Tony Benvin, the group's president.
The park takes up the largest part of a square block -- about a half acre, bounded by Lowrie, Claim, Hatteras and Lager streets -- and is criss-crossed by X-shaped paths.
Its redesign is one of the inaugural grant projects of the Neighborhood Renaissance Fund, a collaboration between the Design Center and the city to provide early jump-starts of neighborhood projects. The first round of grants was announced earlier this month; they range from $10,000 to $50,000.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Design Center built the fund, which awarded $275,000 to 12 neighborhood organizations in the inaugural run. If the work is completed by next summer, as Mr. Benvin expects, it would be one of the quickest completions among renaissance fund recipients.
Troy Hill Citizens received $15,000 toward reconfigured pathways, a low-rise stage, new landscaping and relocation of the flagpole. The new paths will be circular, creating a central gathering area, and the pavement will be replaced with crushed limestone.
The current paths are lined by huge stones that once lined the walls of the Allegheny City reservoir. Those stones will be moved to line the park's perimeter; the split rail perimeter fence will be removed.
"Some of the work can be done now, such as removal of the fence," Mr. Benvin said. "Landscaping will be in the spring."
The pathways now have a static feel, and yet the little park has some charm as the neighborhood's unofficial town square.
The Design Center assembled a design committee to review all the applications for the renaissance fund money, said Thor Erickson, the center's programs manager. "We talk about whether [the applicants] have the capacity to take the project on, whether there are other project funders to help make it happen. The groups have to demonstrate they have community involvement, and one way to do that is to show there was consensus around neighborhood planning."
Each applicant group was asked to supply letters of support for its project; Troy Hill got letters of support from city officials who will commit about $14,000 to it. The citizens group has a lease agreement with the city for use of the park.
The decision to green the lot in the early '70s was a wise and perhaps obvious decision. Although it is surrounded by steep wooded hillsides, Troy Hill itself is urban-dense, packed into a narrow slice of land with narrow streets and little public greenery. As much as one might love the tight, dense grid of streets and urban life, a green space is a deep breath and a slow exhale in a city's rhythm. No matter how small a green space is, it is a draw.
I can't remember now why I chose Troy Hill as a dog-walking destination shortly after I got my puppy in 2006 except that I was trying to get her comfortable with going anywhere I might need to take her. After parking, we got out and she immediately dug in, looking around anxiously, looking at me, completely weirded out.
I urged her along the sidewalk, completely unaware there was a park up ahead. I got a few willing steps out of her but mostly pulled her along until we got to the corner of Hatteras, where we saw the block of grass and trees. With spring in our steps, we crossed Hatteras and went into the park. She bobbed along the path, sniffing with great concentration every few seconds.
By the time she had completed her research, she was surer of herself as we retraced our steps on the sidewalk to the car.