A weedy lot on Stanton Avenue at Keystone Street caught the eye of Lawrenceville's Tree Tenders five years ago. Until then, the group had initiated the planting of dozens of street trees and organized numerous events to care for them.
Ready to take on a big project, members identified the site along a heavily traveled stretch in Upper Lawrenceville, which begged the question: How hard can it be to turn a 9,000-square-foot lot into a tree park?
The answer: Harder than it seems.
From an all-volunteer force that moved its plan ahead in fits and starts, the Tree Tenders began assembling collaborators, starting with the Lawrenceville Corp., which bought the land for less than $2,000 from a private owner, said James Eash, community planning and project coordinator for the Lawrenceville Corp.
At a planting party on Saturday, the neighborhood celebrated an aspect of community development that many vacant lots offer to those who have perseverance and partners.
"We hope this can inspire other neighborhoods to do projects like this," said Christine Brill, a Lawrenceville Tree Tender who designed the park with her partner, Jonathan Kline of the Studio for Spatial Practice. There are 33 native tree specimens on the lot, a future canopy of which Upper Lawrenceville has few.
Hundreds of Tree Tenders throughout the city have been trained in tree care by the staff at Tree Pittsburgh. Unlike most of them, Lawrenceville's formed a group that meets monthly to plan tree care in collaboration with Tree Pittsburgh.
"We decided to work on a project, and a tree park was the idea that stuck," said tree tender Molly Dimond-Stephany. "A lot of vacant lots in the neighborhood are hidden. This was a perfect location because it is so visible."
The sloping site also presents an opportunity to capture stormwater runoff, she said. A sculpture to collect rainwater and provide shelter is on the drawing boards. The group will raise funds for that within the year, she said, adding, "We're just so excited to get to this point."
The project began with the expectation that it wouldn't take as long as it did or cost as much. But it ended up costing far less than it might have.
In actual money, the project cost about $40,000, Mr. Eash said. At least double that amount was donated in either grants or pro bono services, including concrete from 43rd Street Concrete Co., sidewalk repairs by Costa Contracting and the park design by Ms. Brill and Mr. Kline.
"We didn't have money to spend," Ms. Brill said of Tree Tenders. "Jonathan and I decided to donate our services and took the idea to community groups to see if there were concerns."
A lighting plan addressed concerns about vandalism, she said.
A $22,000 grant from Duquesne Light paid for conduits and lighting that will line the path in the tree park.
The group originally had wanted a Corten steel retaining wall because it would have weathered well and been a nod to the city's industrial heritage. But its $50,000 cost was prohibitive.
Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United, said, "We thought, 'Are we really going to be able to raise that?' We finally realized we wanted to just go ahead and make something happen."
The city's public works Green Team prepared and graded the site and built a concrete retaining wall to replace a collapsing one that caused water to leak into foundations of adjacent homes. The city's team also brought in topsoil and built a new sidewalk along Stanton.
The Lawrenceville Corp. used state Elm Street money to buy the land and for some site work and materials. It used what remained of Weed and Seed money for the initial surveys and engineering. TreeVitalize, a partnership that includes the city, the county and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, provided the trees.
Hundreds of volunteer hours went into cleanups and weeding, and Tree Tenders will help maintain the park's trees.
On each side of the path, which curves gently in a C-shape off Stanton, trees will include dogwoods, hawthorns, ironwood and may apple. A later phase will include shade plants under the canopy.
Marissa Doyle, a spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the tree park is "a great example of many people working together and what the mayor's Green-up program can do: Transform a vacant lot that wasn't contributing anything to the community into a tree park that families can enjoy.
"It's also an example of not giving up," she said. "There's work that has to go into things and the community was great about being patient and working with the city to make this happen."