Playful Tuesdays at Gus and Yia Yia’s started as a way to drive business to Allegheny Commons West Park despite the West Ohio Street bridge closure. It became a way to educate people of all ages on the importance of play.

By Ashlee Green

Photos by Lauren Stauffer

When the West Ohio Street bridge closed earlier this year, business at Gus and Yia Yia’s ice ball stand began to suffer. The Northside Leadership Conference got together with the City to come up with a plan to revive it and to highlight the western side of Allegheny Commons Park. The Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) and the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative came on board, and “Playful Tuesdays at Gus and Yia Yia’s” was born.

Sarah Siplak, Director of the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, helped orchestrate the games at the weekly event, which also included history talks and music. Each week, she helped transport a giant Connect Four game, a blanket with large LEGO DUPLO blocks and Cornhole and Badminton equipment to entertain guests. She even helped design a chalkboard with weekly prompts written on it like, “Where do you like to play on the Northside?” for passersby to comment on.

“One part of our mission is to educate the public on the importance of play at all ages,” said Siplak.  “It’s really about equitable access to play for all people. Recognizing that play is learning and that it can happen all around you; it doesn’t have to be at a playground.”

Though the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative did not take any strategic analysis of the number of people drawn to Gus’ cart due to Playful Tuesday events, Siplak said she did see the same families returning each week to take part in the fun. That’s a sign that her work, and the work of the Northside Leadership Conference, the City and DOMI, was on the right track. The goal, she said, was to get people to look at the environment around them in a different manner. Instead of stressing about the closure of a road or bridge, Siplak said, she hopes people’s focus eventually redirects to: “Will there be pop-up playtime today?”

Playful Tuesdays at Gus and Yia Yia’s is set to take place next summer as well. It will be easier to put in place in the future because the concept is already there, Siplak said. She’s hopeful for what’s to come:

“Let’s bring people together. Let’s get people to play games together.”