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Dec. 11: Heinz School Team Presents Strategies for "Greening" Vacant Lots


Jenni King

Nathan Wildfire

Carnegie Mellon's Heinz School Team Presents Recommendations
And Strategies To Revitalize and "Green" the City's Vacant Lots

Graduate Students Work With the Mayor's Office To Create a Plan for the City's 14,102 Vacant Lots

PITTSBURGH—A team of 11 master's students at Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management released a study today that explores the negative economic, social and environmental consequences of vacant city lots and suggests feasible, sustainable strategies to revitalize these areas and renew the city of Pittsburgh.  

The study, "Greening Vacant Lots for Pittsburgh's Sustainable Neighborhood Revitalization," offers a series of strategic policy recommendations that may help city officials effectively manage the reclamation and revitalization of vacant lots. It underscores the negative impact vacant lots have on neighborhoods, from neighborhood degradation and financial burdens to hindering redevelopment efforts. The report suggests ways to create systemic change within the city and addresses the vital role that community groups and public-private partnerships play throughout the process of vacant land revitalization.    

The team identified many barriers to vacant lot revitalization, including a complicated and lengthy land-acquisition process at the city level and an inconsistent and incomplete series of databases attempting to capture a comprehensive picture of vacant lots in the city. They report that the number of vacant lots, often concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods, totals 10.2 percent of the total number of parcels in the city.

Vacant lots also represent opportunities. The report's cost-benefit analysis shows that Pittsburgh could experience a $2.09 return on investment after five years for every $1 invested in a vacant lot. This is greater that the $1.57 return on investment that Philadelphia saw in its nationally recognized vacant lot reclamation program.

The team makes recommendations for achieving stabilization, the most fundamental step in vacant lot reclamation, which can increase neighboring property values, deter crime and improve community health. And they assess existing city programs, including the Greenways, Side Yard Sale and Garden Waivers programs that are in place to deal with vacant land management, but are under-funded and underused.     

The project began at the request of the Vacant Land Working Group formed by the late Mayor Bob O'Connor's "Redd Up" initiative and has been carried on by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration. The Heinz School team collaborated with city employees, community groups and "green" experts to understand problems created by vacant lots and explore possible solutions. The team logged more than 4,000 hours conducting independent research, interviewing experts, engaging the community, collecting and analyzing data, creating tools, and crafting recommendations.     

"Vacant to Vibrant: A Guide for Revitalizing Vacant Lots in Your Area," a handbook to help guide community members through the land acquisition and reclamation process, is available. To obtain a copy of this report or for additional information, contact Jenni King in media relations at 412-268-4290. For any other information, contact Nathan Wildfire at 412-805-4783 or