Celebrating Pittsburgh: Rebuilding from the ground up

PITTSBURGH — As our communities change, many urban areas in the city and county are seeing more vacant lots. But a local nonprofit is giving the neighborhood the tools to make a positive change. From areas overgrown with weeds to trash and grass-covered lots, you can find spaces like these across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The latter has 60,000 vacant lots, with 30,000 in the city. Thousand more lots sit with rundown empty homes or condemned houses.

“Just an eyesore, a total eyesore,” said Terri Minor Spencer of Sheraden, while looking at a condemned home on Fairdale Street. “It has a big difference, or what it looks like when you step outside your door.”

Minor Spencer doesn’t live on Fairdale Street but said that one day she had had enough. After years of blight and tired of seeing the community in depression, she brought a vacant lot for just $1 last year.

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“My very first thought was, ‘How can I give this back to the community? What can I do?’,” said Minor Spencer.

She connected with Grounded, a local nonprofit working to help people develop those lots into sustainable green spaces, like community gardens or natural playgrounds.

Grounded Executive Director Ariam Ford-Graver said, “We found that through research, living next to unmaintained overgrown vacant lots, it can cause depression. It can cause anxiety. It’s not good for community pride, but we do know that living next to well-maintained on green spaces allows for communities to have higher test scores among their children and higher earning potential, decreases in anxiety and depression, and now more than ever, communities really need access to these green spaces.”

photos from several Grounded sites developed.
photos from several Grounded sites developed.

Grounded helps people navigate the world of land management not only by lending out tools from its “Mobile Toolbox” but also by providing access to knowledgeable people who understand how to work with cities, municipalities, and the county.

“There are already people out there cleaning up trash in that those lots,” said Ford-Graver. “We find that talent, provide more resources so that they can have an even greater impact on the community. What would be really great is for people to know that this is going on and that no matter where you live in the community or the county, you can have a role.”

People don’t have to buy lots. Grounded has helped by providing access to more than 175 lots over the years, many of which owned by government authorities such city administrations. Ford-Graver said people or groups maintain them for communities. In Homewood, we found a group gathered at a lot along Upland Street. Volunteers trimmed bushes, cut grass, and picked up trash.

In the Sheraden neighborhood, the community gathered last summer to help Minor Spencer decide what to do with her space on Fairdale. Then after a few workdays clearing the area, progress was made. There is now a bench, flowers, a checkers table, and more is in store.

photos from several Grounded sites developed.
photos from several Grounded sites developed. (Grounded)

“It’s moving along really really good,” said Minor Spencer. “In the back was going to be outside yoga, they were going to have some herbs.”

Minor Spencer said the little bit of progress has people excited and more are wanting to get involved. She thinks people don’t realize how easy it is to make a change.

“We need to get these empty lots filled up with love and community members,” said Minor Spencer.

If you want to help support Grounded and its mission, you can do it by volunteering or supporting its new “Grounded at Home” bags.

The bags are filled with different plants that people can keep in areas where they don’t have a lot of green space, such as an apartment deck. Find out more information HERE.