Northside Data Collection & Analysis

Not all vacant lots in Pittsburgh are created equal.
Have you ever wondered what exactly a “vacant lot” is? The category of “vacant lot” in Pittsburgh is a catch-all for any parcel, city- or privately-owned, which not only includes overgrown lots, but also community gardens, wooded hillsides, maintained side yards and even the occasional parking lot.

In other words, not all vacant lots are created equal.

Our goal is to identify parcels in the greatest need of some TLC; the litter-filled, overgrown patches of blight that truly are a nuisance (and often a safety hazard) to rest of the block. These are the lots that need to be a priority for the neighborhood; their stabilization can make the greatest impact to their block. The first step in to find where exactly these lots are and what specifically makes them a nuisance.


Currently there is no consistent system or publicly-housed data that allows for neighborhood groups, developers or residents to truly understand the state of vacancy from neighborhood to neighborhood. Unlike most community-level surveys done on pen and paper, the information collected from these efforts will eventually live on the web and be made public for residents and community-groups to aid in future planning and revitalization efforts. Another issue with door-to-door (or lot-by-lot) neighborhood surveys is that there is no standard across projects, which means the data collected in separate neighborhoods can’t be compared. The goal of this project is to change that – to make the data consistent, open, and accessible for everyone. This type of reliable data can be used for environmental and political campaigns, to map local assets, and to support greening efforts on vacant land.

For this data collection project, GTECH employed three actively-engaged community members in the Northside to collect information on over 6,000 vacant lots that lie in the Northside neighborhoods. Carrying tablet computers, the data collectors and GTECH staff walked down each street in the Northside to collect information on every vacant lot using a web-based survey tool called LocalData. In addition to unimproved vacant lots, every improved lot (community gardens, flower gardens, playgrounds, etc) was noted.

We are formalizing a standard way of collecting data by collaborating with LocalData and community groups across Pittsburgh so that information may be compared across neighborhoods and projects. We envision sharing our results on the web by the winter of 2014.

Not only is the data shared openly online, but the data collected is also shaping the third iteration of our ReClaim Ambassador program in the Northside. Fourteen Ambassadors are participating in ReClaim Northside to learn about solutions to blight, and transform vacant lots in their own neighborhoods. You can learn more about ReClaim Northside by clicking here.


Thanks to our data collectors, Keith Brown, Ruth McCarton, and Tyrell Scott, for tirelessly walking through each Northside neighborhood to gather information on vacant lots and introducing us to its unique characteristics. We also want to thank the Local Data team for being flexible and helpful as we piloted a new survey.