In the 1980s, city officials took steps to set aside strips of undeveloped hillsides as greenways that could never be developed.
Over the years, some of those lands have become the sites of illegal dumping, hunting and dirt bike racetracks. Now, the Department of City Planning is hoping to get more value from those parcels.
The department is applying for a $50,000 state grant to hire a consultant to look specifically at how the city can better use its 12 designated greenways, which cover about 600 acres.
City planners have pledged to match the state’s grant with an additional $50,000 in local funds for what is expected to be a nine-month consulting engagement, including public input and an evaluation of best practices.
Andrew Dash, assistant director of the Department of City Planning, said the successful transformation of the Duquesne Heights Greenway into Emerald View Park on Mt. Washington served as a starting point.
“Looking at how community-initiated actions through stewardship and trail building and some of these other items have actually decreased incidences of illegal dumping and other illicit activities that we see within our greenways,” Dash said. “There is a need for an update of the policies.”
When the greenways were first created, several were cared for by neighborhood groups. But over the years, many of those organizations have fallen apart, according to City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak. Much of the signage and fencing that was erected at the same time has also fallen into disrepair.
Councilwoman Darlene Harris said she would like to see the city rebuild those fences, fix signs and clean up the land before looking for new solutions.
Councilman Corey O’Connor suggested linking the greenways to parks or each other.
“The intention of this would be to figure out how to better organize the process -- to create those connected spaces that we can -- to try to allow and work with neighborhood organizations and community development corporations to replicate some of the success we are seeing,” Dash said.
Rudiak said took a particular interest in the proposal when it was presented to council, she said. Once a collection of small boroughs, Rudiak's district is composed of South Hills neighborhoods incorporated into the city over time. She said those boroughs did not have millionaires like the Fricks and the Schenleys that donated park land.
“In a sense, we are a little bit late to the park game,” Rudiak said.
She said many of her constituents see the greenways as a part of the local park system and say they feel slighted that the city and county are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain parks while asking community groups to maintain greenways.
While well-maintained green spaces contribute to a sense of security and can increase property values, Rudiak said the opposite is true for rundown and poorly maintained green spaces.
“When we look at stewardship agreements, the concept is that it relies on residents,” she said. “I think we actually need to look at the city putting money where its mouth is and actually maintaining some of these greenways on their own, because it's not fair.”