Hazelwood, Run Residents React to Announced Playground Funding

For more than 3 years, neighbors in The Run pleaded with city officials to repair and reopen their playground, which was plagued by a series of hazards including deep holes left by missing benches and tables, concrete chunks falling from the Parkway East during PennDOT repairs, and a broken play structure that injured a neighborhood child. Then, on Sept. 2, Run resident Barb Warwick encountered workers at the playground. “A team from DPW came just last week—replacing a lot of the old and rusted parts,” she recalled. “My kids are super happy to have their playground back.”

A Sept. 3 City of Pittsburgh press release announced that “Carnegie Mellon University [CMU] and the City of Pittsburgh have partnered to provide support for the rehabilitation of Four Mile Run playground in Greenfield and improvements at Lewis playground in Hazelwood as part of the OnePGH community investment plan announced earlier this year by Mayor William Peduto.” It did not say how much CMU planned to donate for each playground, or whether the funds were part of the $4 million CMU originally committed to OnePGH. OnePGH is a partnership between the city and outside nonprofit entities such as CMU. Allocation is not controlled by the city.

District 5 Councilman Corey O’Connor said there is “no set number” for the CMU donation “because we want to do a neighborhood process to see what people want at both playgrounds.”

“For The Run,” Councilman O’Connor added, “[these current repairs were] City money. We requested the repairs last fall, but there was a backlog due to COVID.”

The press release characterized DPW’s work on The Run’s existing playground as “short-term repairs” while the new playground is being planned. But residents say no one was lobbying for a brand-new playground, and that it should be unnecessary once their playground is fully repaired.

“It’s exciting to see the work happen,” Run resident Ziggy Edwards said, but added, “We learned about these plans the same way we learned about the CMU- and Pitt-proposed Mon-Oakland Connector [MOC]: through press coverage. It’s disappointing that—once again—major decisions affecting our neighborhood came from a partnership between our elected representatives and monied interests that excluded residents.”

Hazelwood and Run residents, along with dozens of social justice and community groups, churches, and others have rejected the MOC—a proposed shuttle road between the Hazelwood Green development and Oakland campuses championed by the public-private partnership formed between CMU, Pitt, and Mayor Peduto’s administration for that purpose. Residents say building a new road through the Junction Hollow section of Schenley Park and The Run will permanently degrade the park and one day erase the neighborhood. Affected communities including The Run, Panther Hollow, Greenfield, South Oakland, and Hazelwood created their own plan for how MOC funds should be spent instead: Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS).

James Cole of Hazelwood said he was unaware of CMU’s playground funding commitment until contacted for this article. “How is it that no one asked the people in the neighborhoods what they want?” he asked. “I have 150 kids up [at Burgwin Field for youth programs] every day, and this is the first I’m hearing about it.”

But Councilman O’Connor defended the process. “We’ve heard from people for a number of years about both playgrounds,” he said, naming community groups such as the Greenfield Community Association, Hazelwood Initiative, and the Center of Life; past feedback from community and budget meetings; and 311 calls as sources of input.

Councilman O’Connor said there is “no timeframe” yet for the meetings the City wants to hold with residents, but stressed that “there will be opportunities for community input.”

In a similar spirit to the OMOS plan, residents are already identifying and proposing alternatives for the playground funds. Ms. Warwick says a playground is desperately needed at Greenfield Elementary School.

“Greenfield is a K-8 school with a special needs program and a Pre-K program. Right now, all they have is a field that’s often too muddy to use and a big parking lot,” Ms. Warwick explained. A group of parents from the Greenfield Community Association and the Greenfield School PTO are working together to raise funds for a playground. “We should build a playground that will improve the lives of kids from all over Greenfield,” she added.