Grounded #StormwaterStories – A Workday in Homewood

“You all better get some food before we get started!”

Zinna raised her voice slightly to be heard over the sizzle of hotdogs on the nearby grill. Volunteers put their gloves down and picked up a plate. They had been patiently waiting under the Grounded Strategies tent to get started with the planting of a newly excavated rain garden. The garden sits on the corner of Rosedale and Hill and is the newest addition of its kind to the Homewood neighborhood.

Before it was a rain garden, it was a cleared lot. Before it was a cleared lot, it was a vacant and prominently overgrown excuse for a lot. And before that, it was a demolished family home buried in its own basement. Things can change.

Ariam emerged from a team huddle with Tom and Masoud behind the PGH Mobile Toolbox (a literal box of landscaping tools on wheels helping vacant lot warriors across the county achieve their dreams) and went to join the group.

“Hey everyone! While you’re eating, I’ll explain why we are here and what our goals are for the day.”

The transformation of the lot began months prior to that July afternoon as part of the Grounded Green Stormwater Infrastructure Project. The site was chosen because of the way stormwater habitually inundates a clogged storm drain, causing issues of flooding and pooling water. Taking direction from the Homewood Cluster Plan, Grounded worked with Operation Better Block and many other community voices to plan and construct a rain garden to help mitigate the stormwater issues in the area. It was a large oblong feature about 2 ft deep, soon to be home to a colorful palate of low maintenance plants. It would be the peaceful welcome home for those getting off of the bus at the Wilkinsburg Park and Ride. It was imagined and created by the community, and it’s completely theirs.


“Can we help?”

Ariam looked over and saw three young girls. They had parked their bikes behind the PGH Mobile toolbox and wanted a job.

“Absolutely! Grab a pair of gloves. We’ve got some mulching to do.”

Bucket by bucket, they hauled shredded mulch around the rain garden to cover the roots of newly planted trees. As they lugged, they passed other volunteers planting smaller perennials around the edges of the swale, and others throwing rocks into the bottom of the feature to support drainage.

Thunder cracked, and they knew the storm was rolling in. Volunteers were eager to finish planting the last of the trees, but they knew they needed to leave time to clean up. They rounded up the group and explained the tasks for the next evening.

As we finished packing the toolbox, the first drops started to fall, and the nearly complete rain garden got its first test.

“See you tomorrow.”

With that, Zinna began to walk back to her home on the opposite end of the corner, just as she had done many times over the many years.

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