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Identity & Community

North Braddock Residents Plan To Give 'Second Life' To Community Park

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North Braddock Cares
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North Braddock residents are using their own hands to rebuild the town’s parks with the first ever Build Day this Saturday at Recycle Park.

The park on the corner of Bell Avenue and Verona Street was once a vibrant park with playground equipment, lights, water and a pavilion, said Vicki Vargo, treasurer of North Braddock Cares, Inc. Over the years, wood and metal structures deteriorated with rust, and the only ones left nowadays are the pavilion and merry-go-round, she said. 

Residents still use the park, she said, but it doesn’t have the friendly air it did at its inception in the 1970s so Braddock residents decided to give it a “second life,” dubbing it Recycle Park in 2013.

North Braddock Cares partnered with the North Braddock Borough, the Braddock Carnegie Library and the Carnegie Museum of Art to bring an art educator and two architects to the Braddock library this spring to work with local children on what they wanted to see installed in Recycle Park. The architects created four drawings of potential structures based on the kids’ ideas, and after a public vote, those were narrowed down to two. With funding from grants by Vibrant Pittsburgh and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, materials were gathered, and the structures will be built by North Braddock residents this Saturday.

The designs use only recycled materials, so they’re building three or four tire seats that also serve as “mini-swings,” said Vargo, and they’re also building one “hive seat.”

They’ll evaluate community response after about a month and hopefully hold another Build Day to create more of these structures.

North Braddock has more than 350 vacant properties, a rapidly growing problem in the Mon Valley communities, Vargo said. With this project at Recycle Park and its emphasis on reusable materials, she hopes to encourage residents to revitalize the vacant properties in their neighborhood.

“Maybe you have a vacant lot next to you," she said. "If you gain ownership of that lot through the vacant property program, here are some things you can do with that lot that don’t cost a lot of money, that don’t take a lot of time, but it takes some creativity.”

Beyond that, she said she wants residents to know that they are an important part of North Braddock’s future.

“By doing this, you’re empowering the residents to look at a problem with a solution in mind, rather than saying, ‘There’s nothing I can do about this. I don’t have any control over the destiny of North Braddock.’ And it’s quite the opposite,” she said. “Everybody has a say in what happens and everybody can do something about it.”

Vargo said turnout for the public vote on the designs in July wasn’t what they wanted it to be. About 30 residents out of North Braddock’s approximately 4,000 attended. However, she hopes this project gains momentum with a goal of expanding to more parks in the area. Ideally, she'll begin to working with other community rejuvenation efforts like Gardweeno, a garden project just across the street from Recycle Park that works with the town’s youth.

She wants this to be the first of many Build Days for their community, she said.

“It’s just amazing to see the creativity that comes out of this, and to be able to say, ‘Wow, we did that,’” she said. “And to look at a child and say, ‘You thought of that idea, and this is your idea come to life.’

“That’s empowering the youth of our communities to say, ‘I did this, I helped to build this, and I want to do more.’”