Community Keystones

Blog by Sean Cuff, Policy Fellow In early August, I interviewed CommunityCare Steward and long-time Larimer resident Tab Duckett outside his adopted lots near Thompson and Joseph Streets. He and his lawnmower have been fixtures of the community, and represent the outsized role neighbors have had to take on to keep their blocks maintained. He was born and raised in the neighborhood. In between at least ten horn honks, waves, and “hey there’s” with passersby, we talked about how the…

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RVP Reflection Series: What did Masoud see?

Throughout my experience at the Reclaiming Vacant Properties (RVP) conference in Atlanta this year, I encountered a storm of new, fresh, and different ideas about how to address many of the concerns generated by cycles of disinvestment within 'rust belt' cities. Beyond these techniques though, I think the far more valuable treasure gleaned at this event comes in the form of contacts and relationships with other folks performing similar work in parallel with Grounded across this country. Their insights, challenges,…

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Planting Seeds for the Future

Pittsburgh, as the nation within which it resides, has a storied past awash with inequality. Both here and in the United States at large, a great deal of this inequity stems from the fact that the means of production (mainly land) are controlled by a small number of people relative to the total population. Historically, this has been the case for just about as long as this country has existed. As our worries mount in the face of climate instability,…

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GSI…. but why?

Background Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a city defined in large part by water: from the 3 large rivers that help to outline the city's center, to the snowfall that periodically graces this area's winters, this element shapes human life in the region. Historically, the waterways running through the Pittsburgh area have been used for transportation (both of people and goods), sustenance (through farming and fishing), and recreation, among other pursuits. However, the influence of water in this region is not only…

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Permaculture Design: Ecological Solutions to Planetary Problems

For the purposes of sorting out the issues our world currently faces and quelling the fires which threaten to consume us there is one system of ethics that seems particularly well suited. This system, developed from the synthesis of indigenous wisdom about Earth systems and modern best practices in the management of human populations is called Permaculture. Coined by Bill Mollison, the term permaculture is a combination of the words permanent and agriculture (or culture). However, it is an approach…

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The Bigger Picture

A lot has been said and studied about the economics of vacant land and there is certainly more to say and study.  When it comes to the economics of vacant land, it is best described as a negative externality, which if remains unmaintained creates a substantial social cost to its surroundings. There are obvious financial damages to our local institutions and subsequently the public as consumers of those public services.  And there are far less measurable, but obvious impacts on…

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A Story of Vacant Land (Part 2): The Evolution

Have you ever wondered why or how the vacant lot next to your home got there?  Obviously, a series of events had to happen to create that neglected space. Vacancy didn’t show up overnight.  A combination of macro forces and micro decisions, each of which is interrelated led to what you see in so many of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods today.  With over 27,000 vacant lots in the City of Pittsburgh, something has happened at a massive scale. Understanding the history and…

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A Story of Vacant Land (Part 1): Costs & Benefits

Numbers don’t lie.  Well, if we are being honest, they sometimes do.  As community leaders, advocates, and policy analysts, it’s our job to think critically about data.  In short, numbers mean something, which is why it’s so important to contextualize them. They represent real people associated with real costs.  When analyzing costs and benefits, nothing is more important than humanizing the numbers. Let’s consider some of the numbers and truths with regards to vacant lot maintenance.  In Allegheny County, 67.3%…

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Attention to Detail

The quality of your environment is one of the greatest and most overlooked sources of happiness. CommunityCare stewards carry around butter knives so that they can clean the cracks in the sidewalks. LandCare contractors compare techniques because they take pride in their work. These examples illustrate the importance of community members playing a central role in greening their communities. When residents are the actors, greenspace maintenance takes on new meaning. It's not just about getting a job done, it's about making…

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Sustainability Education

We recently came across a study published in The Journal of Environmental Education focused on the effectiveness of sustainability education in four different unique schools. The study lead to interesting results about which methods of sustainability messaging are most effective at encouraging youth to be environmentally conscious members of society. Schools must immerse students in sustainable practices and possess a culture of equality and sustainability in order to impact students. After interviewing students at each of the four schools, this…

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LandCare Women Making a Difference in Hazelwood

Strengthening communities through vacant lot maintenance Have you ever wondered who maintains all of the vacant lots in Pittsburgh? With over 27,000 vacant lots in just the city alone, it takes a coordinated effort to care for this vast amount of vacant land. The City of Pittsburgh owns approximately 26% of Pittsburgh’s vacant lots and the URA owns another 5.2%, or around 1,400 vacant lots. If you haven’t really noticed a vacant lot in your community, chances are that it…

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Grab a seat at the roundtable.

What are the building blocks of community change? Peter Block argues that the answer is small-scale, informal, and personal resident engagement: the roundtable. The Grounded Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Liaisons have been putting this idea to the test while reading Block's work Community: The Structure of Belonging. Each month, we meet to discuss project activities as well as to take part in a group discussion about the best ways to increase resident involvement and buy-in, essential ingredients for community health and sustainability. Last month,…

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