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This Old Park: Restoring The North Side’s Allegheny Commons

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Residents gathered at the New Hazlett Theater Thursdsay night to hear preliminary recommendations to restore Allegheny Commons Park.

More than a decade after a master plan was completed for Allegheny Commons Park, a coalition is working to implement it.

“Parks are for people,” said Susan Rademacher, parks curator for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

The nonprofit is working in partnership with North Side community groups, including the Allegheny Commons Initiative and the Northside Leadership Conference, and the city of Pittsburgh on an action plan to restore the 84-acre Commons.

“Parks are fresh air, they’re recreation, they’re an escape from the work day. They’re part of a healthy population and a happy population," Rademacher said.

When the Borough of Allegheny (now the city's North Side) was laid out in 1788, more than 100 acres surrounding the settlement were designated for grazing commons and farming. The green space has long since become a respite for people instead of cows, but over time, the park has lost acreage, statues, and fountains; sections of it have fallen into disrepair.

In order to preserve Allegheny Commons Park’s history and protect its future, community members spearheaded the creation of a Master Plan in 2002. It’s a very fine plan, said Rademacher, but it’s not an implementation plan.

Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A coalition of Northside community groups, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and the City of Pittsburgh are working to create a master action plan to restore the 84-acre Allegheny Commons Park.

“It does not give us a set of clear projects for which we can fundraise,” she said. “This effort is about looking at the 2002 Master Plan, understanding some shortcomings of the present-day commons, and developing a series of projects to fully implement that (plan) with a few modest updates.”

Residents were asked to weigh in on preliminary recommendations for those updates at a public meeting Thursday night.

Fred Bonci of landscape architecture firm LaQuatra Bonci Associates presented drawings and suggestions to restore plantings, amenities, and connectivity to the park’s 84 acres. Many of the meeting’s roughly 30 attendees nodded or made appreciative comments about suggestions for pavilions, restrooms, a “destination playground” and more formalized event spaces.

But John DeSantis of the Allegheny West Civic Council is concerned: neighbors rely on the Commons for their open space, he said.

“To take that ground and do anything other than enhance it and make it more useful for those people ... is shocking,” he said. “This is not some place to create a major attraction. This is not some place to create lots of glitz and excitement. Those people aren’t looking for glitz and excitement. And if they want that, they can get in the car and drive to Kennywood.”

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy staff stressed that no projects will move forward without the community’s input or consent. The primary goal is a beautiful park that’s well-maintained and managed, that functions well on an everyday basis for the people who live and work around the Allegheny Commons, said Rademacher.

“Beyond that, we want to have really good facilities for festivals, farmers’ markets – special events that are already going on in the commons, but without the supportive infrastructure that they need,” she said. “We want to make sure those things are located properly so that they’re not detracting from the everyday use of the commons.”

The next public meetings to gather community feedback will be held Nov. 14 and 15.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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