Urban parks and gardens improve air and water quality, wildlife biodiversity, and opportunities for outdoor recreation and education. Throughout the pandemic, the spaces have seen a lot of visitors. As Pittsburgh neighborhoods grow, community gardeners and other green space enthusiasts want to make sure their land doesn’t turn into a condo or parking lot.
A solution? Protect the earth. This is the strategy of the Allegheny Land Trust and its partners. Since their debut in 1993, they have protected over 3,300 acres green space. Often the land is a long-standing urban garden, managed by neighbors. But ALT also helps protect and connect parks and trails, regardless of their size.
“Pittsburgh traditionally built every square inch of the city,” said Alyson Fearon, senior director of community conservation and resilience. “We firmly believe that some areas of the city should remain green spaces for security reasons as well. Vegetation stabilizes landslide-prone slopes, and it could handle stormwater … much better than some man-made ones [structures]. It should be a marriage of green solutions.
ALT says it has seen use increase across the region, but especially in communities like Garfield and East Liberty, two neighborhoods that have experienced rapid development recently.
In July, the organization said it had officially protected Kincaid Street Garden at Garfield. Two plots were purchased by the Three Rivers Agricultural Land Initiative from ATL and Grow Pittsburgh. At the end of October, the Enright Community Garden in East Liberty was protected. Both spaces have a dedicated group of gardeners who ATL says don’t have to worry about converting land to non-agricultural use.
“[In] these neighborhoods, if we don’t protect this nice flat plot that has utilities with it, even if it would be too small, it could eventually be turned into a new home, ”Fearon said.
For ATL, the land protection process begins with community awareness. If neighbors are interested, they fill out an application and a steering committee is formed that includes community representatives. Then Fearon and others at ATL find out who owns the land, how it is to be acquired, and what it could cost.
“This process is as fast or as slow as the owner and who we have to buy it from,” Fearon said.
When people were forced to stay closer to home, people began to frequent nearby gardens or footpaths. People heading to Dead Man’s Hollow in McKeesport, for example, started touring the green space in their own neighborhood in Upper St. Clair.
“Since the pandemic we have been busier than ever, in a way maintaining and improving the green spaces we have and with the recent protection of a number of community conservation plots, but also the larger plots” , Lindsey Gill, marketing and communications director, said.
The group works in Allegheny County and aims to protect a number of plots, including some in Franklin Park, Ohio Township and the former site of St. John’s Hospital in Brighton Heights.