By Ziggy Edwards and Ray Gerard for Junction Coalition
The Four Mile Run playground at the corner of Four Mile Run Road and Boundary Street has been demolished to make way for a new one. The most exciting part? The children who live in the neighborhood helped design it.
District 5 Councilperson Barb Warwick reported in a July 31 Facebook post that installation of the new equipment and safety surface would start on Aug. 21.
The playground was often closed over the past five years. Dangerous conditions prevailed, including broken and rusted equipment that injured a local child. During PennDOT’s 2018 repairs to the I-376 parkway bridge above the playground, large chunks of concrete fell from the bridge’s underside. A longtime resident was hurt. The playground also sustains damage from regular flooding.
The new playground faces an uncertain future even before it’s built because of major work planned for the I-376 bridge. Still, children in The Run have lacked consistent access to a local playground. The kids we spoke with are champing at the bit to try out the new equipment.
The children shall lead
Several children who live in The Run presented their vision for the playground. At an April 7, 2022, public meeting with Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works, the children displayed a drawing and a list of features they wanted.
On Aug. 13, we spoke with two of the kids, 10-year-old Finn Holohan and 8-year-old Violet Holohan. Here are their thoughts on the final design of the new playground.
JC: What part of the new playground are you the most excited about? What is your favorite piece of playground equipment?
Finn: I’m really excited about the new climbing equipment. That’s what playgrounds are all about for me.
Violet: The spider web climbers.
JC: How did the kids in The Run decide what you thought the playground should have? What were some things you all agreed on?
Finn: I think most kids like the option to have new climbing stuff.
Violet: We agreed on the spider web.
JC: Does the playground design look the way you hoped it would?
Finn: I think it looks really nice – better than I expected. It has a really nice clean design.
Violet: Yes! It looks way better.
JC: What do you think you’ll play on first?
Finn: Climbing equipment, obviously.
Violet: The spider web!
“The process was actually refreshingly well-structured and seemed fairly transparent,” their mother, Marianne Holohan, added. She said the project organizers “were very open to the kids’ feedback” and also responded to community needs like tables for picnics and community events.
Opportunities missed and seized
Flood mitigation is always top of mind for Run residents. So meeting attendees wanted built-in stormwater features that would help address the problem.
“People from The Run specifically asked for green infrastructure similar to the rain gardens installed at Wightman Park, but we were told that was outside of the scope of the project and would have to be coordinated with PWSA,” Ms. Holohan recalled.
“I have since brought it up multiple times with PWSA and asked that they coordinate with the city… but no plans have been communicated as of this time. This is a big opportunity to mitigate the stormwater from the parkway bridge that floods Boundary Street, and they are missing it.”
Residents living near the playground fear they could lose their homes during the bridge replacement. One of them asked a poignant question through the project’s Engage PGH page. “How can the city protect this park during the renovation and not our homes? As much as our little park desperately needs repair, this seems like yet another waste of money.”
Councilperson Warwick responded in her Facebook post.
“The parts were already ordered and on their way when the PennDOT project was announced,” she wrote. If the city waited to install the playground until after PennDOT completes the I-376 project, “Many of the kids who participated in the design process would be too old to enjoy it.” Her office is in regular contact with PennDOT about the project and promised to share more information as it becomes available.
Despite the complicated backdrop of neighborhood issues, getting children involved in designing their local playgrounds has proven to be a winning idea.
“It’s really exciting that we have a playground that was actually designed by the kids who live in this community,” Councilperson Warwick wrote in an Aug. 14 text.
“Starting later this year, we’re planning on doing the same thing with families in Hazelwood for the redesign of Lewis Playground,” she added.
Junction Coalition is a grassroots advocacy group comprising residents of Four Mile Run and surrounding communities.