Planners unveil plan to manage Pittsburgh's parks

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They comprise 20 percent of the city of Pittsburgh but get less than 3.5 percent of its funding.

The city's parks are so expansive and ubiquitous that they're often taken for granted. But the resources for parks are dwindling, and Pittsburgh's park system was built for a metropolis twice its current population, so the city needs to stretch its dollars.

That's the idea underlying OPENSPACEPGH, a comprehensive parks plan that takes an in-depth look at nearly all of the city's parks. It's one of 12 components in a far-reaching 25-year blueprint called PLANPGH.

"We're trying to take a holistic look at the city and what we have," said Noor Ismail, director of city planning whose department oversaw the creation of the plan. "We have facilities built for 600,000 people. ... We are trying to utilize our resources better."

The city's planning commission formally approved OPENSPACEPGH on July 9, but the city announced Monday its formal adoption of the plan, which includes recommendations for all of the city's parks -- from massive, award-winning Schenley Park to a small patch of land in Garfield known as Kite Hill Park.

The recommendations aren't binding, and whether they're implemented is dependent on a number of factors. But Ms. Ismail said she has received assurances that the budget office will give more weight to proposals that fall in line with the plan.

Ms. Ismail said the plan attempts to capitalize on some of the greatest benefits for parks. The department's analysis showed that many of the large, regional parks, like Schenley, Frick and Highland, boosted the values of the homes adjacent to them. But the same wasn't true for other parks.

That's why the department recommended aesthetic and access improvements for some of the parks to bring those same benefits to other neighborhoods.

The plan also addressed the city's shifting population -- recommending some parks be naturalized or divested -- while advocating more investment in other parks. Kite Hill Park, which sits on a steep slope in Garfield and has a poorly maintained basketball court, was labeled "relocate, divest or naturalize." The plan recommends closure of some under-utilized facilities, like pools and tennis courts, in some parks. The plan, for example, recommends the closure of the pool in McBride Park in Lincoln Place.

A variety of groups gave input on the plan, from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to athletic organizations who use the ball fields to bird watchers and community development corporations.

Susan Rademacher, a parks curator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, said her organization backs the plan.

"It's important to have a plan in place because parks and open space are one of the city's greatest assets in terms of its public health, its environmental quality and its economic viability," she said.

"... Looking at the entire system allows you to kind of realize not only what the needs are but what the benefits are and then to make decisions going forward with that bigger picture understanding."

To see the city's OPENSPACEPGH plan, visit http://planpgh.com/openspacepgh.

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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