Ground Truthing Our Data: Understanding How Land Loss Occurs and How to Justifiably Return Land

In Pittsburgh’s historically Black Districts, 6 and 9, how did racist urban development policies and discriminatory lending practices affect residents who lost their homes to tax delinquency? What is the socio-economic legacy of that harm? Now vacant and publicly owned, who are the racially just end-users of these thousands of lots? For the last half-century, systemic racism in urban planning and public policy has created the conditions for hypervacancy (concentrations of vacant land lacking decades of investment)to disproportionately impact Pittsburgh’s Black communities. Studies show that because they live in hypervacancy, a child achieves less academically, is chronically sicker, and earns less over a lifetime than their peers who do not live with hypervacancy. As a social determinant of health, hypervacancy directly impacts residents, causing increased feelings of stress and increased exposure to environmental contaminants. To address health impacts caused by hypervacancy, we need to reduce the amount of unstewarded and divested vacant lots, the plurality of which are publicly owned parcels. Vacant lots can be recycled in a way that honors community trauma and delivers restorative justice.

Using publicly available data and resident interviews, Grounded Strategies and de-bias will be able to better understand the root causes of land loss and land divestment and the impact on Black Pittsburghers. These data will then be used to create a geostatistical model that can identify lots best suited for racially just reuse. This reuse will focus on the residents of Districts 6 and 9 as they have been most impacted by land loss. Not only will data be collected by resident data collectors trained, hired, and compensated by Grounded Strategies and de-bias, but residents will also be the first choice for land reclamation.   

Grounded Strategies and de-bias will produce a replicable case study and intellectual framework for racially just land recycling based on resident experience and knowledge. In the shorter term, Grounded Strategies and de-bias will provide the City and residents with an accurate geodatabase of publicly owned vacant land lots with their history. They will also give community organizations a model for parcels suited for racially just end uses. In the long-term, this will allow residents and victims of land loss due to tax delinquencies, and their descendants, to advocate for no-cost transfers and low-cost purchases of their land back. It will also provide an opportunity for regenerative intergenerational wealth to be paired with racially just neighborhood development in the communities most impacted by hyper vacancy.