Pittsburgh
3:30 am
Mon August 12, 2013

Project Aims to Make Use of Pittsburgh's Empty Space

It’s 1950 in the city of Pittsburgh — the population is more than 600,000, and Pittsburgh is the Steel City.

Fast forward 60 years — the population is half as large, and Pittsburgh is working to become a “green” city.

The shrunken population has left once crowded neighborhoods with empty plots and less money from tax revenue to maintain those spaces and local parks.

“Given the times, there’s not enough resources to go around, so we’re trying to look at our parks and how we could manage it better,” said Director of City Planning Noor Ismail.

Pittsburgh is taking on these issues with the adoption of a project called OPENSPACEPGH, which will help leaders find ways to better invest in parks, recreation facilities and vacant land reclamation projects.

OPENSPACEPGH is part of PLANPGH, a 25-year comprehensive blueprint that determines ways of using the Pittsburgh’s natural systems, infrastructures, cultural assets, recreational amenities and economic resources to benefit the city and its residents.

“We may be looking at, you know, future land banking, maybe looking at creating new parks,” Ismail said. “We’re also talking about taking parks off line, especially parks that are not well designed and are not quite accessible to the public and we have quite a few of those,” Ismail said.

Ismail said Pittsburgh spans 55 square miles and 18 percent of that is open space, ranging from cemeteries and parks to space outside of public buildings like schools.

The OPENSPACEPGH team took recommendations from nearly 3,000 residents and experts in the field.

“It is important for us to understand what their needs are, what the public appreciates in a sense in regards to what the city is offering and we found that playgrounds and picnic fields and ball fields are actually sort of like at the top priority,” Ismail said.

The recommendations shaped five goals: transitioning, activating, stewarding, documenting and integrating natural systems into the spaces.

“We’re looking at completing systems, for example, connectivity between greenways and trails would be important to us as opposed to something that you’re not looking at comprehensively,” Ismail said.

OPENSPACEPGH is the second out of 12 PLANPGH components to be adopted, ranging from ARTPGH, which will incorporate art into public spaces, to LIVEPGH, which will evaluate and guide the development Pittsburgh’s housing stock.