The challenge

In 1980, the ‘greenways’ system was developed to consolidate steep slopes and abandoned properties after Pittsburgh’s population halved due to the collapse of the steel industry. Greenways are corridors of protected open space managed for conservation and recreation purposes. Today there are 1,200 acres of citywide greenways, with maintenance left up to unfunded resident volunteers since the 1980s. This lack of investment has resulted in significant ecological, safety, and access issues.

In 2018, the city spent an unprecedented $12m cleaning up landslides, triggered by increased rainfall and freeze thaw patterns as a result of Pittsburgh’s changing climate. Greenways have become a liability. Investing in this system, and the stewardship groups who value this greenspace, up front, will allow the City to mitigate landslide issues and reclassify the properties from liabilities to community assets.

The innovative project

With a team of community and non-profit partners, the city developed a pilot project in the 183 acre Hazelwood Greenway in 2020, creating a menu of services the city and its partners could provide.

Residents were led through a visioning process, and then directed the location and scope of work for the project. Throughout the year, the community organisation hosted greenway excursions, volunteer days and planning sessions, while the city and partner organisations wrote grants, facilitated meetings, cleared invasive vines, called in the goats to munch the invasive Japanese knotweed, built trails, cleared dump sites, and conducted restoration plantings.

This project was recently funded to become a two and a half year programme, and to explore carbon markets for a sustainable funding source. With new attention and community excitement about these green assets, Pittsburgh intends to protect its greenways as a first line of defence against the changing climate.

The partnership

The City of Pittsburgh owns the Greenway land and partnered with community organisation the Hazelwood Initiative who have been stewards of the 183 acre site for more than 40 years.

The partners discussed what work could be done for free through city government services, any existing grant funding partners had to leverage, and what work would cost money and how much it would cost from the outset. Whereas typically a non-profit partner would have to pitch a project and get approval from the City to conduct work in the greenway, this proactive approach brought significantly more resources to the table. One $50,000 grant garnered four weeks of clearing and trail work through a workforce development program for difficult to employ populations (by contractor Landforce); five weeks of a herd of goats clearing (by Allegheny GoatScape); 150 trees for a restoration planting (by Tree Pittsburgh); countless volunteer and community activity events; improved access and wayfinding signage; dump site clean-ups; and community partnerships.

The Impact

The project has removed invasive species and made the greenways accessible and safe again. Through ‘Get to know the Greenway’ events, including walks and snowshoeing activities, volunteer clean-ups and tree plantings, and other events to garner excitement around the greenspace that comprises a good portion of the community, residents have a greater understanding of the role greenways play in biodiversity, improving air quality, and protecting Pittsburgh from flooding and landslides. There is significant interest from residents in the site, and maintaining and growing this greenspace is highlighted throughout the Hazelwood neighbourhood plan: Our Hands, Our Plan.

The project will lead to other greenways around Pittsburgh being restored, and new ones created on vacant land.

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