Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Garfield park space is far more valuable than it may appear

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Pittsburgh is lousy with parks, and the city can or will no longer budget for the upkeep of all of them. I believe “can’t” is the right word over “won’t,” but the strained municipal budget isn’t the point of this column.

The point is that even a piddling little green space in disrepair has value to a neighborhood. 

Kite Hill Park was established a few decades ago as an acknowledgment that children in Garfield needed a place to play. For children who can’t reasonably walk to one of the big parks, parklets that would seem as dismissable as Kite Hill are critical to a neighborhood’s quality of life.

It consists today of nothing but a battered bench and a derelict basketball court atop an unmarked band of green between North Fairmount and North Graham streets. There are no steps. A paved footpath off Rosetta Street serves as the only formal introduction. Except for the slope off Hillcrest Street, which a resident keeps mowed, the city mows somewhat regularly, said Rosetta resident Renee White.

When the planning department began gathering public input for the city’s first comprehensive master plan three years ago, Kite Hill didn’t send lobbyists for the park, but it might not have mattered. It was tagged for relocation because of its steep approaches.

In the past, the Garfield Community Action Team has organized volunteers to clean the park and paint lines on the basketball court. The most dominant lines now are grassy cracks, and the woods have marched right up to the court’s rusted, ripped fence. There once were swings, rocking toys and monkey bars “that just kind of disappeared,” said Melissa Council of Hillcrest Street, and residents would like the play space restored.

“We’re not asking for the Taj Mahal,” said Ms. White. “We’re just asking for some new things for tots, and a table.”

Were the city to invest in significant improvements, it would be required to make the park accessible to all. The width of the site appears too narrow for a ramp with a gentle enough slope. Even if it’s wide enough, would the cost be justified if the upgrades were to nothing more than a basketball court and a tot lot?

Somewhere inside the dilemma of Kite Hill Park is a way to give the children of Garfield a good green space.

Ms. Council remembers when the site was wooded. Then it became a park and people flew kites there. Then it became a place that might not have been safe for kids. But negative neighborhood drama has fallen drastically.

“Much better I’d say in the last 10 [years],” said Denise Jordan, of Hillcrest Street. 

“At one point Kite Hill was maybe underused,” said Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. “But there are more families with children now, and the people who live near it use it and need it.”

Considering the city’s interest in relocating the park, the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. had proposed new housing on the site earlier this year and encouraged residents to attend a meeting to hear the details and provide feedback. The community group dropped the housing plan once residents spoke out.

“They organized, and I appreciated that,” Ms. Brose said. ”They wanted to keep it a park. We set our drawings aside and said, ’We respect your wishes and will work with you.’ There is a need in Garfield” for usable green space. Besides the ungainly Kite Hill, Garfield has a tot lot on a corner of Evaline Street and that’s the extent of it.

Ms. Brose said the community met in May and addressed a post-agenda meeting of City Council in June “to plead their case” to preserve the parklet. She has yet to hear back from city officials.

“We have a lot of kids who play in the street and parents who stand in the street” and yell “Car!” when one approaches. She said her advocacy of a tot lot for Kite Hill is ”for the smaller ones.”

“Garfield is up and coming,” Ms. White said. “If you want to improve an area, improve its parks.”

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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