The Challenges of Reclaiming Vacant Land

Bridget Northside
Bridget Little standing on the large vacant lot she was hoping to reclaim. Photo by Rebecca Droke/Pittsburgh Post Gazette


Creating something new out of a vacant lot isn’t always easy.

There are a number of challenges a person can run into, but getting access from the property owner can be one of the toughest ones. This was the case for Bridget Little, an Ambassador for GTECH’s ReClaim Northside program. This is her story.

Bridget, along with many of her neighbors, had been eyeing a large vacant lot in Allegheny West for quite some time. In fact, some had already put many hours of volunteer time into the lot, planting flowers, installing historical signage, and tending to trees and shrubs. What makes the lot so special? First, it is situated where the historic childhood home of the famous impressionist artist, Mary Cassatt, used to be. This makes it an important historic landmark for Pittsburgh. Secondly, the lot is at a visible intersection, but does not give a friendly welcome to the Northside. Lastly, hundreds of pedestrians walk through the lot every day to get from the T Station on Allegheny Ave to the Allegheny campus of CCAC. Because of the lack of good pedestrian infrastructure in the area, it makes sense for pedestrians to take the lot as a shortcut that puts more space between them and speeding cars. Yet, the footworn trail on the site leads not to a crosswalk, but a busy highway on-ramp, making the shortcut dangerous in its current setup.

The design for the original space.

Bridget’s plan took these concerns into account. She created a design that included an improved trail on the site, newly planted trees as a traffic-calming measure, and signage to direct passersby to Northside businesses. In the early spring, Bridget reached out to the property owner, PennDOT, to see about getting access to the site. After reaching out to PennDOT, we filled out their Adopt-and-Beautify Agreement, complete with design sketches, and crossed our fingers. Then it was time to wait. Bridget continued along hoping the site access agreement would come through. In April, she presented her idea at a community presentation of vacant lot projects. Then came May, June, and July, and there was no news. With the season for vacant lot reclamation coming to a close, it was time to make a decision. We decided with Bridget that it was time to move on to another lot.

This was a big disappointment, but demonstrates how difficult it can be to trace ownership and responsibility for vacant lots. So, we went back to the drawing board. Bridget wanted to keep the gist of her original idea intact. She wanted a lot that would be a place for wayfinding – a place that would draw visitors out of the busy North Shore to the wonderful sights and businesses in the Northside. Bridget has a few leads on lots through community groups in the area, and from time spent walking around the neighborhood and looking at for the best vacant lot for her project. While in some ways it feels like we’re back to square one, we’re moving in the right direction again.

Here at GTECH we like to celebrate the amazing work done by the residents that we’re journeying with. But, the work of reclaiming vacant land does not come without a few bumps in the road. Maybe it’s the site access issue, or that a community can’t come to a consensus on an idea for a vacant lot, or there aren’t enough volunteers to pull together a project. These challenges can be tough, but many Pittsburghers, like Bridget, are willing to show their love for this place by persevering. That’s something we also want to celebrate!


P.S. If you’d like to help out with Bridget’s project in any way, please send an email to, or call Lydia Yoder at 412-361-2099 ext. 3#. We can make sure you get connected with Bridget.

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