Addressing Blight in the Community With Green Spaces
According to data from the City of McKeesport, McKeesport is home to approximately 2,500 vacant lots. While vacant lots and properties exact various economic, social, and mental tolls on residents, revitalizing blighted lots can have a positive impact on communities as they come together to beautify their neighborhoods.
Beginning in 2014, McKeesport worked with GTECH Strategies (now Grounded Strategies) to develop individual plans to turn vacant lots into vibrant spaces through their ReClaim McKeesport vacant lot remediation program. Grounded Strategies provided technical assistance, planning, and funding for participants of the program over a year-long period. With the help of the community and volunteers, the ReClaim McKeesport Ambassadors created nine new community green spaces throughout the City. In fact, Tube City Renaissance’s Library District Gateway Garden is the result of this program and ReClaim McKeesport Ambassador Shari Holland!
This program is an excellent example of what can happen when driven community members are able to put their ideas into action and make a difference in their communities. With an abundance of vacant lots throughout the City, turning vacant lots into green spaces is one way to create momentum in a neighborhood and address feelings of disinvestment in the community.
The findings from the ReClaim McKeesport program support this idea- according to the report released by Grounded Strategies, 78% of survey participants noticed positive changes to the neighborhood post-implementation of the nine projects. 74% of community residents felt more pride in the area’s appearance, 38% were less worried about criminal activity in their area as a result of the program, and 46% were more encouraged to walk around the neighborhood more.
Vacant to vibrant greening projects like the ReClaim McKeesport Ambassador program are a great way to increase community participation through the beautification of a neighborhood, but they have other benefits as well. Green space replacement for vacant lots can stimulate environmentally conscious economic revitalization by improving local property values. Green spaces can also act as a site for educational workshop and youth programming. In the case of community gardens, they can provide an opportunity to grow produce to distribute throughout the community.
Although there are many benefits to improving a vacant lot with a green space, it is not always clear how to go about this process. Grounded Strategies has a lot of good resources for this kind of work, as does Grow Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning. Please follow the links provided for more information about vacant lots and what it means to make them into something special.