Angelique Bamberg and Jason Roth moved to East Liberty in 2001 in an era some refer to as “before Whole Foods.” The newly married couple fell in love with an old house near Enright Parklet, a two-acre public green space and playground where, according to Bamberg, “everyone in the neighborhood—regardless of race, class, work schedules—would gather and play.”
On September 28th, the Mayor’s office announced that it was selling the park to LG Realty, owner of the Penn Plaza apartments next to the park, as part of a redevelopment agreement that will include retail and shopping areas.
Bamberg, Roth and other residents were devastated and quickly organized to petition the Mayor’s office to save the park.
“Our neighborhood is coming together to protect this park—to take this away is going to be a detriment to this neighborhood,” says Bamberg. “The entire neighborhood only has three basketball courts and two of them are here. This park is the only green space in East Liberty. The only space that is equally owned, shared and accessible to all.”
According to Bamberg, stakeholders who have opposed the sale of the park include community development corporations in the area such as East Liberty Development, Inc., Friendship Community Group and the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation.
“We have heard the sale of the park couched as key to securing affordable housing. But this is false. Affordable housing does not depend on the sale of this park,” says Bamberg. “Tenants use this park. We share common goals and are united as a community.”
Bamberg’s opposition to the sale of the park stems from many perspectives—as a mother whose kids have grown up playing with friends in the park, as a resident who appreciates the role the park has played in keeping the neighbors engaged with each other, and as a planner who understands that parks are important in fostering strong communities.
The community group opposing the sale is questioning the planning process involved in the sale. “The proper planning process was not followed—it is happening in reverse and right now we are seeing rezoning signs, which is presumptive,” asserts Bamberg. “Typically, with a sale of assets from public to private hands, a master plan is presented to the community and opened for comment and review. That didn’t happen here.”
Bamberg launched the petition to stop the sale of the park last week and is gathering at least 500 signatures to present to the Mayor, District 9 Council Member Ricky Burgess and City Council.
So far 445 supporters have signed the petition. Many of those who signed talked about their own children and grandchildren using the park to play and garden, as a place where they meet their neighbors, and as a valued green space in the community.
“It is incredibly important for neighborhood communities to have a space to convene, connect and play,” says Oreen Cohen who signed the petition. “The community in East Liberty has been dislocated, disrupted and left in disrepair way too may times. Taking a stand for the residents of East Pittsburgh, the architecture, history and the children. Without a park area these kids are forced into the street. Lets give them a safe place to play.”
Jessie Ramey adds, “Public parks are a public good. Once gone, they are gone for future generations. How sadly ironic in a neighborhood named for the eastern ‘liberties,’ where early settlers were ‘at liberty’ to graze their livestock. In other words, the foundation of East Liberty is public use as a common good. Public parks are an embodiment of that spirit.”