Benefits of sustainable landscapes for city parks
Pittsburgh Park Conservancy
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy staff are not city employees, but they partner with the city. Philip Gruszka, director of horticulture and forestry for the parks conservancy, explained it helps with capital projects.
“The city may have a million dollars for a $6 million project, and we raise the other $5 million,” he said.
The city’s landscapes are on the historic register because they were designed 100 years ago, and part of sustainability is maintaining historic preservation.
“When we do a project with the city, we look at the historic landscape and try to replicate it,” he said.
Gruszka added the city doesn’t have the staff to do all that needs to be done in the parks.
“They’re good at cutting grass and picking up litter, where they’re challenged is pulling weeds and deadheading plants,” he said, explaining the parks conservancy and contractors help with those jobs.
When the conservancy fundraises for capital projects, it always adds funds in an endowment to generate more reserves to maintain the gardens.
Gruszka noted another step the city has taken toward sustainability: only using herbicides if the plant is poisonous and could come in contact with the public — poison ivy, for example.
“Adjusting mowing height is really important. That suppresses a lot of weeds when you leave the grass a little taller,” he said.
He also mentioned fence lines in ball fields are notorious for weeds, and now as new facilities are built, a strip of concrete or asphalt is left next to the fence line so workers can mow right up to the strip. Gruszka said the conservancy does a lot of environmental restoration to control nonnative invasive species. One way to do that is by bringing in well-trained goats to eat them. For this, an area is fenced off using an electrified fence for the goats, while a second fence encircles that enclosure to keep the public away.
Gruszka spoke about the restoration done at Highland Park, which has a formal entry garden and grand entrance. There’s a fountain with a garden surrounding it, and at some point, the fountain quit working. The city didn’t have resources to fix it and the garden around it became a weedy mess. The parks conservancy restored the fountain and gardens around it, and Gruszka considers restoration projects like that part of sustainability.
He also shared that stormwater mitigation is a part of most of the city park’s projects, highlighting one park that was seldomly used, other than occasionally for sunbathing or kite flying, yet the city was mowing its 6 acres of lawn area. To cut down on mowing, while completing storm drain work, a meadow was planted. However, enough lawn was left to allow for continued kite flying and sunbathing.
“Aesthetically, it’s so nice compared to mowed grass. Creating a meadow takes years, nothing we do is one and done,” Gruszka said.
Another restoration/sustainability project was in Schenley Park, where there used to be 2 acres of lawn, but when demand for parking grew, it became a 400-car parking lot.
“When we went through the master plan, residents said they’d like to have that green space back. It took $11 million to make that parking lot go away and bring the green space back.”
Gruszka said they constructed a soil profile that was 80% sand and a mix of different types of gravel, because of that, 97% of the stormwater infiltrates the lawn area, thus it acts as a rain garden.
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