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Since the pandemic, protecting urban green spaces has become even more important in Pittsburgh

A section of the former St. John's Hospital in Brighton Heights. Allegheny Land Trust and its partners hope to acquire the green space.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A section of the former St. John's Hospital in Brighton Heights. Allegheny Land Trust and its partners hope to acquire the green space.

Urban parks and gardens improve air and water quality, biodiversity of wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation and education. Throughout the pandemic, the spaces have seen a lot of visitors. As Pittsburgh neighborhoods develop, community gardeners and other green space enthusiasts want to make sure their land doesn’t turn into a condo or parking lot.

One solution? Protect the land. That’s the strategy of the Allegheny Land Trust and its partners. Since their start in 1993, they’ve protected more than 3,300 acres of green space. Often the land is a longstanding urban garden, managed by neighbors. But ALT also helps protect and connect parks and trails, regardless of size.

“Pittsburgh traditionally built every square inch of the city,” said Alyson Fearon, senior director of community conservation and resiliency. “We firmly believe that some areas of the city should remain green space for safety reasons as well. Vegetation stabilizes landslide-prone hillsides, and it could manage storm waters … much better than some man-made [structures]. It should be a marrying of green solutions.”

ALT says they saw use increase all over the region, but notably in communities like Garfield and East Liberty, two neighborhoods that have experienced rapid development recently.

In July, the organization said they’d officially protected Kincaid Street Garden in Garfield. Two parcels were purchased by ALT’s and Grow Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Agricultural Land Initiative. In late October, Enright Community Garden in East Liberty was protected. Both spaces have a dedicated group of gardeners who, ALT says, don’t have to worry about the land being converted into non-agricultural use.

“[In] these neighborhoods, if we don’t protect that nice, flat parcel that has utilities with it, even if it one would be too small, it could possibly be turned into a new home,” Fearon said.

For ALT, the process for land protection begins with community outreach. If neighbors are interested, they fill out an application and a steering committee is formed that includes representatives from the community. Then, Fearon and others at ALT figure out who owns the land, how it needs to be acquired and what that might cost.

“That process is as fast or as slow as who owns it and who we have to buy it from,” Fearon said.

When people were forced to stay closer to their homes, people started frequenting nearby gardens or trails. People who used to travel to Dead Man’s Hollow in McKeesport, for example, started visiting the green space in their own neighborhood of Upper St. Clair.

“Since the pandemic, we have been busier than ever before, kind of maintaining and improving the green spaces we have and with the recent protection of a number of the community conservation parcels, but also the bigger parcels,” Lindsey Dill, marketing and communications director, said.

The group works around Allegheny County and has its eyes on protecting a number of parcels including some in Franklin Park, Ohio Township and the former St. John’s Hospital site in Brighton Heights.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.