August Wilson Park opens in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood Saturday after years of planning and construction.
“For people to love a space, they’ve got to know it, understand it, and have buy-in when it changes,” said Terri Baltimore, vice president of neighborhood development for the Hill House Association, a project partner.
The one-acre green space formerly named Cliffside Park was first established in 1975 perched along a ridge in the Hill District overlooking the city.
The park had been largely abandoned in the 1990s due to budget constraints but has been renovated to include a playground, a half basketball court and a paved switchback path making it completely accessible to people with disabilities.
It also features art installations, including quotes from plays written by August Wilson and photos by Teenie Harris, both natives of the neighborhood.
Baltimore said community input was a key part of the planning process. So was problem solving.
Scott Roller, spokesman for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which helmed the project, said that because of the geography of the space, erosion remediation was needed. A major sewer line running through the park also had to be replaced, causing delays.
“The Hill has had a number of development projects and opportunities that kind of were promised but may not have materialized,” Baltimore said. “And so the idea of communities getting promises and nobody’s circling back to say, ‘This was the interruption’ can make a neighborhood jaded.”
But, Baltimore said, that was not the case with the August Wilson project. She said her organization and others prioritized transparency and communication with neighbors.
"The sense of community in a neighborhood in a park space where people can meet and interact in a really calming positive way is a wonderful thing,” Roller said, noting home values around the park could also rise.
Baltimore said the neighborhood was already beautiful.
“One of the things that this park will do, we hope, is tweak people’s perceptions,” she said. “Very rarely do you hear people say ‘Hill District' and 'beautiful' and 'green’ in the same sentence. We want to help people string those words together.”
August Wilson Park officially opens at 2 p.m. Saturday, and will feature actor readings from the August Wilson play “Seven Guitars,” which opens at the nearby August Wilson House that same day.