Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning writes on its website that South Side Park is unique and hidden, which essentially translates as “hard to get to.”
“Absolutely,” said Bryan Hanes, who is leading the design side of the master plan process for the park. “It’s one of the things we hear consistently from people around the neighborhoods.”
Since January, City Planning and its consultants have been working with residents to figure out what they’d like to see in the 57-acre green space. Tucked between the South Side Slopes and South Side Flats, the park’s topography makes it hard to access and navigate.
Speaking at a public meeting Thursday night, Hanes said they’ve heard a need for all the typical park stuff—benches, lighting, better trails. But he said there’s a bigger desire.
“The need and absence within each of these communities for bigger gathering places, where the community can come together," he said.
South Side resident Joyce Wilbur said she and her husband are avid recreators, and they’re excited about what the park could be.
“I think outdoor life is important for everyone. For city residents I think it’s probably more critical because they don’t have it as much in their daily lives,” she said. “So providing those opportunities is good for the health of the community.”
In 2013 the city adopted an Open Space plan, which recognized South Side Park as one of the city’s most underused, and included a recommendation to make it a “signature community park.” The designation means more capital and maintenance investment, specific programming and an effort to appeal to both nearby and far-flung neighbors. The master plan process will provide a way to implement that vision, said project manager Felipe Palomo.
“It’s that space, that opportunity to hear people’s dreams on a park,” he said, noting that long-time residents and newcomers seem equally excited about the park’s future. “It’s the perfect time to tell the community there’s a really awesome park here, and we can make it more awesome.”
Over the last few iterations of the plan residents have responded positively to nature trails, boardwalks, a sweeping overlook and improved playgrounds. A big hit was a slide built right into the hillside.
“People really loved that idea,” Palomo laughed.
What it will cost to make the park improvements depends on what residents decide to prioritize. The project team will incorporate Thursday’s feedback into a final master plan, to be presented to the community in April. After that, it will head to the Planning Commission, and the hunt for funding will begin.