Pittsburgh’s best kept secret is hidden in plain sight: The Allegheny Commons. The park serves as a backdrop for writers, Pirates, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The park had fallen on rough times in the mid 2000’s-2010’s. In 2017, a concerted effort to revitalize the park was lead by city officials and the Rooney family. Today those officials celebrated a milestone in rehabilitating the park.
I’ll be the first to say, I hate comparisons. Used too often they’re a writers crutch. The ‘Uber of this’, the ‘Netflix’ of that. They’re throw away sentences. But in the case of Allegheny Commons cultural significance to the city it’s hard not to compare it to Central Park in New York City.
Allegheny Commons is Pittsburgh’s Central Park. Yes, there are Schenley and Frick parks, but they’re disconnected. The Commons on the other hand feels lived in. People not only live next to the park, but in it. On an average day joggers, cyclists, p-p-power walkers, and more fill the pathways. Couples find love there. There is even locks on one of the many bridges that spell out Marry Me.
The North Promenade Phase 1 focused on the East Side of the Allegheny Commons. That is the dicier side of the park. The project restores the area between the old Northeast Fountain (Now Patricia Reagan Rooney Memorial Fountain) and Federal Street (the dicier street of Northside). Though I love a bit of danger in my night time walks, I’m happy to report this project has cleaned up the area substantially.
New trees, benches, and lighting now dot the park. Over $4 Million dollars put into the project over the last five years with assistance by the Allegheny Commons Initiative, Northside Leadership Conference, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. The next phase crosses the Federal Street divide.
I’ve covered the rehabilitation of the park for years – partly because it’s close to home, partly because writer Brian O’Neill would have covered it if he had not retired, but mostly because of a story that happened when the project started.
The Rooney Family practically grew up with Allegheny Commons. During the planning phase to restore the Northeast Fountain, Patricia Rooney walked over to meet non-profit leaders. One leader exclaimed, “Mrs. Rooney! You walked here!? It’s not safe.” The burned down port-a-potties in the park served as a melted plastic danger sign. “I’ll drive you home when we’re done.”
Patricia Rooney looked at the leader and said, “If it’s not safe to walk here, then my family has failed the Northside… We need to fix that.” True to her word, it’s been fixed. Character like that, is why the fountain was renamed to the Patricia Reagan Rooney Memorial Fountain after her passing earlier this year.
It’s a sense of ownership that isn’t unique to the Rooney Family. Former Councilwoman Darlene Harris would enthusiastically drive through the park picking up trash. The Kalaris family has serve ice balls at Gus and Yia Yia’s for over 80 years. And whether consciously or subconsciously Allegheny Commons has been a backdrop for award winning journalists and writers in the area.
The COVID-19 Pandemic reminded us to cherish our public spaces. Today’s ribbon cutting reminds us that Allegheny Commons is a common treasury for all.