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Pennsylvania Mayors Call For Local Parks Investment As Park Traffic Stays High

The splash pad at Marmaduke Park in the city's Brighton Heights neighborhood.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The splash pad at Marmaduke Park in the city's Brighton Heights neighborhood.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is calling on Congress to invest money in local parks. He and 18 other mayors of Pennsylvania cities want $500 million set aside for local parks development in the highly-anticipated infrastructure package.

Specifically, the mayors are asking the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to pass the Parks, Jobs and Equity Act as part of the infrastructure bill. The proposal would fund more than 1,000 new or upgraded parks in the country in neighborhoods with historically low access to parks and green spaces.

“When we look at infrastructure we think about our roads or bridges or pipes and sewers,” Peduto said. “Adding parks into an infrastructure bill would allow for cities to be able to utilize those funds to … enhance and keep the parks for the present and to ensure their viability into the future.”

But Pittsburgh property owners are already funding new investments in the city’s parks. A parks tax passed in a 2019 referendum is expected to create $10 million for park upgrades and maintenance. But Peduto said it isn’t enough.

Citing Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville, he said the tax just barely covers routine park costs.

“Just to maintain that park in itself [costs] millions of dollars,” Peduto said. “In order to bring it back to its original luster will cost tens of millions of dollars.”

Pittsburgh has 165 parks, ranging from regional parks to small neighborhood parklets.

“In Pittsburgh, a lot of the infrastructure within our parks has not been maintained as it should, partly due to the last 20 years of economic struggle," he said. And renovating an existing park doesn’t serve those in neighborhoods without a park, he added. More money could mean more programs and resources for city kids.

“Down in Manchester, just a few miles from where the Steelers play… kids are playing football on just a big open piece of grass,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages state parks and provides grants for expanding local parks and programs, reported a 26% increase in park visitors year-over-year in 2020, when the coronavirus made gathering indoors unsafe. Midway through 2021, park usage continues to show growth over 2020’s record numbers.

Across Pennsylvania, 88% more people headed for the park in July 2021.

The Pittsburgh region has seen similar trends, according to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. In July 2020, people going to parks increased nearly 60%. About 30% more people went to parks and public gardens during July 2021 in Allegheny County.

“We recognize the need to expand access to parks in Pennsylvania cities where there are fewer recreation opportunities and green spaces,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “This proposal addresses our most pressing immediate needs and lays a foundation for continued growth, improving environmental conditions in urban areas, and helping promote positive physical and mental health.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.