Creative reuse and play at the new North Braddock Recycle Park

This month, residents of North Braddock will showcase an ongoing project to revive a neighborhood park through creative reuse and elbow grease.

A coalition of local organizations and individuals are in the process of revitalizing the newly renamed Recycle Park, a neglected playground at the corner of Bell Avenue and Verona Street in North Braddock. The Park will contain playground equipment built from recycled materials harvested from the neighborhood.

By using only repurposed materials and engaging local residents in the design and building of playground and seating equipment, the Park team not only reduces costs, but also demonstrates that existing resources can be used inexpensively to rejuvenate an undervalued space.

“This project will be the beginning of showing residents that it does not take a lot of money to make a place beautiful,” says Vicki Vargo, the executive director of Braddock Carnegie Library. “It just takes a little creativity, some materials that most don’t want and a lot of help from your neighbors!”

And on Sunday, September 20th, the Park will host a celebration of play produced by the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative. This event, the Ultimate Play Day, invites children and adults to invent, investigate, enjoy and participate in the redevelopment of what was once a well-loved hangout.

Previously the site of a school, in the early 1970s a park was constructed at Bell Ave. and Verona St. with plentiful amenities, including lights, a water fountain and playground equipment. Vargo, a longtime Braddock resident and an important member of the restoration team, attended concerts there as a teenager. But in the 1980s the park fell into disrepair, and when the untreated wooden playground equipment deteriorated, the borough removed it. Now, all that remains of the original park is a merry-go-round, a pavilion and a concrete path.

But local youth and adults continued to visit the park through the years, and by 2012, all agreed that the site was ripe for revival. So in 2013, several local organizations partnered to initiate ground-up redevelopment. Among them, the Braddock Carnegie Library started offering drop-in after-school classes where kids contributed their ideas and designed playground equipment. The Carnegie Museum of Art enlisted architects and art educators for their technical and pedagogical expertise; while the adjacent garden project, Gardweeno, bolstered the sense of community and change that the Recycle Park team hopes to inspire in North Braddock.

Funded by a grant acquired through North Braddock Cares, a program of the Mon Valley Initiative, the project is in its early stages. So far, architects have used local kids’ ideas to create a plan for the final park (featured photo above), which includes an open play area surrounded by a seating platform, a fort, game areas, an outdoor classroom and an extensive jungle gym linking Recycle Park to Gardweeno. On Build Day, held on August 15th, participants completed construction of a hive bench and began work on three tire seats. Planning will continue through the winter, with building beginning again in the late spring of 2016.

By Sunday’s Play Day, the Park Team plans to install ceramic tiles made by local youth at the park’s entrance. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative applauds creative play with found materials, and the event will feature activities such as the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s nature station, where children and adults can participate in self-directed play with natural objects. The Carnegie Museum of Art, Gardweeno, the Saturday Light Brigade, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children and other organizations will also present activities. Data collection sites will allow visitors to contribute ideas and provide feedback on the Park. The event is free and open to all.

If you are interested in being involved in the revitalization efforts at Recycle Park, please contact, or call 412-436-9366.

Featured photo: North Braddock Recycle Park concept plan, Photo courtesy of Vicky Vargo