Recreation & Quality of Life
Thriving communities have many attributes that benefit quality of life. Among them are well maintained green spaces, retail shops and restaurants, recreational programs and facilities for children, cultural institutions, and a vibrant downtown bustling with business activity. Healthy communities also have the governmental capacity to maintain these vital resources and to sustainably fund them through fair and equitable taxation.
Statistics indicate that Wilkinsburg has been losing population—and tax revenue—for decades. Balancing the municipal budget means raising taxes or reducing expenses. With our taxes already the highest in the county and among the highest in Pennsylvania, leadership has been relegated to reducing staff and not filling open positions.
The result is a struggling community. Projects are not completed and maintenance is postponed or not done at all. Many parks in Wilkinsburg are overgrown, outdated, and underutilized. Meanwhile, high taxes drive out business, leading to a downtown in decline with too many vacant buildings.
Pittsburgh parks are maintained better. The City is expanding recreational spaces and has non-profits that support and promote them. The City has a bigger budget, more staff, and greater resources that result in planning that is effectively implemented. If Wilkinsburg was part of the City, we would have access to more government resources and fall within the service area of non-governmental groups dedicated to everything from the arts to music and recreation. The possibilities for our commercial areas also would be greatly expanded.
What parks and recreation resources would Wilkinsburg gain if we merge with the City?
Pittsburgh’s Parks and Recreation Department is staffed with 35 full-time employees who prioritize local programming using a Racial Equity Toolkit, learning for all ages, and, maintenance and upkeep of City parks. Staff manage 13 active living centers for older residents and sponsor sports programming (like Citisports) and culturally diverse educational and recreational opportunities at recreation facilities and parks. There is an emphasis on STEM/STEAM programming as well as art, music, and culture, and the Rec2Tech initiative focuses on the delivery of technology focused programs.
Would a merger lead to a Wilkinsburg cultural district, like downtown Pittsburgh?
Not right away, but new restaurants and entertainment venues are more likely to occur if we merge with the City and our property tax rates become more competitive. Wilkinsburg currently has only a handful of restaurants and just a few music venues. With lower taxes and more support from outside organizations that only operate within the City limits, Wilkinsburg would be better able to attract and support new restaurants and entertainment venues.
How would a merger change our parks?
The pandemic has taught us that having clean and safe green space is critical. Wilkinsburg is blessed to have many parks, but it struggles to maintain them. The City, on the other hand, puts a lot of focus on parks. The City would do a better job of maintaining and cleaning them and, more importantly, could offer recreational programs for adults and youth.
Local youth sports leagues would have better facilities and a safer environment. While the Wilkinsburg Parks and Recreation Committee of Council, along with our Public Works Employees, have been working hard to try to care for our parks, they comprise only a handful of volunteers and a small staff with many responsibilities and not much budget. An infusion of resources is sorely needed for residents to get the most out of this great resource.
Would a merger increase activities for seniors and youth?
The Borough has expanded its programming and activities for senior citizens in recent years. Additionally, the Wilkinsburg Library continues to develop popular and well-attended programs for children. While these efforts are to be applauded, the resources available through a merger would dramatically increase the quality and number of these programs.
Wilkinsburg has access to sports leagues like the Wilkinsburg Baseball Association and others. The City has RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities). The Borough does not run or pay for sports leagues, so any leagues that are active now would continue with new options like RBI and other Citisports leagues.
There are community and senior centers throughout the City that serve residents of all ages. Offerings include everything from providing meals and technology courses to arts, music, and sports leagues. Among the City’s 2021 goals is providing free laptops and hotspots to seniors.
The City’s yearly budget indicates that it is constantly performing upgrades to existing facilities. There are water spray parks and public swimming pools, as well as outdoor fitness equipment and ice rinks. CitiParks programming operates year-round.