Architectural; Illustration; Rendering; Sketch; Watercolor; Skibba; Zanetta/ Courtesy of Councilperson Strassburger's office.

There are larger, more iconic parks in the city of Pittsburgh. But Wightman Park, 1.25 acres at the corner of Soloway and Wightman streets in lower Squirrel Hill, may soon become a model for the development of our public spaces.

On April 14, civic leaders gathered in Squirrel Hill to officially begin the Wightman Park Improvement Project. Expected to be completed by November, the project will upgrade the park’s amenities and also meet critical infrastructure needs.

“Squirrel Hill residents have waited decades for improvements to Wightman Park and their patience will soon pay off with one of the nicest, most sustainable and accessible park spaces in Western Pennsylvania,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.

The renovations, designed to trap and redirect stormwater in the area, include substantial rain gardens and underground collection tanks. Project leaders estimate the finished park will provide 50,000 cubic feet of water storage and will capture more than two million gallons of stormwater per year.

The renovations will cost $4.2 million, with $2 million coming from the city budget. Another $1.2 million comes from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, $500,000 from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Community Conservation Partnerships Program and $500,000 from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Community meetings regarding upgrades to Wightman Park have been ongoing for a number of years. In that time, the need for better stormwater management techniques across the city has only become more pressing: 2018 was the wettest year on record in Southwestern Pennsylvania, with storms causing widespread landslides and flooding across the city, including in many of the basements in homes surrounding Wightman Park.

Rendering by Depiction Illustrations. Courtesy of Pittsburgh City Councilperson Erika Strassburger’s office.
Strassburger’s office.

“Beginning with my time as a Council staffer and continuing as Councilperson, I am proud to have helped bring this project from a community vision to reality,” said Erika Strassburger, who represents the area and spearheaded the project. “I’d like to thank everyone who helped to fundraise, plan and achieve the revitalization of this neighborhood gem that will also alleviate the impact of increasingly common severe rain events and improve the quality of life for all.”

In addition to having a number of boosters around the city (including Mayor Peduto’s Chief of Staff Dan Gilman, who previously held Strassburger’s council seat), state leaders like Senator Jay Costa and Representative Dan Frankel also advocated for the project and attended the groundbreaking ceremony.

The engineering firm Ethos Collaborative consulted on the water management systems, while the landscape architect firm Pashek+MTR collaborated on the design.

“These improvements integrate seamlessly into the park,” said Robert Weimar, executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. “Our parks and green spaces are natural partners in making Pittsburgh more resilient to flooding and sewer backups.”

Beyond the upgraded environmental design, the park will also feature a variety of innovative recreation facilities, including play equipment for children of all ages and abilities, including those with autism.

Visitors will also find installation art from local sculptors Oreen Cohen and Alison Zapata and new family restroom facilities that include an adult changing table (a first for a public space in Pittsburgh), as well as an educational boardwalk feature and a community picnic pavilion.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.