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, and aspirations often mirror our own, and their experiences can help to inform our work moving forward.

An incredibly salient point, as voiced by Gregg Hagopian of the City of Milwaukee during one of the breakout sessions, is that many cities caught up in the boom-bust cycle of industry (such as Milwaukee and Pittsburgh) suffer from the same paradox: they contain BOTH many houses without people AND many people without houses. Ever present as the subtext in this conversation was the presence of parcels within these neighborhoods which contain no structures whatsoever, instead occupied only by overgrown vegetation which local municipalities are ill-equipped to adequately address.

Partnerships between organizations addressing multiple aspects of the vacant land conversation (homelessness, un/underemployment, dilapidated structures and infrastructure, poisoned paint and soils, a lack of affordable housing, etc.) seem to be the most successful in terms of adjusting the course of a neighborhood’s trajectory.

Perhaps the most effective partnerships I heard about were those that combined job training, education, social safety-net resources, and the creation of affordable housing. These multi-faceted alliances address the whole person, rather than a single aspect of their experience. By considering that individuals are complex (and often in need of assistance/training opportunities that are frequently unavailable in or near their communities) these comprehensive education programs can guide their pupils toward both a greater degree of community participation and more stable career paths.

Given Pittsburgh’s history of industrial pollution, the connections I forged with brownfield developers and contaminant remediators were of particular interest. Notably, I had the chance to converse with Megan Walton of Delta-Institute. I feel that the discussions we have moving forward will really help to shift both Grounded and Pittsburgh toward ever more environmentally just practices.

I look forward to deepening the relationships we formed with other organizations addressing vacant and underutilized lands nationally, in the hopes that we can bring more effective solutions to Allegheny County’s distressed neighborhoods.

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