Pittsburgh Vacant Lot Toolkit

November 2015   Pittsburgh, PA

Client

  • City of Pittsburgh

Team

  • Breen Associates

Recognition

  • 2016, Planning Award, American Planning Association, Pennsylvania Chapter

Facilitating community access to city-owned land for stormwater management, urban farms, and neighborhood beautification.

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Key Points

The Vacant Lot Toolkit created a simple and transparent program for community members and organizations to access city owned vacant land for urban agriculture.

Community Access

The Toolkit connected community members and organizations to assets that allowed them to lease, use, and vacant land. The process was focused on underinvested and under-resourced communities in Pittsburgh.

Graphic Clarity

The project clarified the process by which community members may access vacant lots and developed clear diagrams to facilitate access. The resulting Toolkit was developed through extensive community and agency input.

Stakeholder Coordination

The consultant team managed a client team comprised of multiple agencies with differing goals, requiring coordination to align priorities between the stakeholders.

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One of the legacies of Pittsburgh’s economic shift is a large amount and wide variety of vacant and distressed property. The reversion and accumulation of properties coming under public responsibility has placed an enormous burden on the City while contributing no taxes to pay for public services. The estimated cost of maintaining these properties in 2011 totaled $20,457,155. Through the City’s Open Space Plan, it was determined that the City must find suitable uses for these lands.


Asakura Robinson was engaged by the Department of City Planning to review the existing programs and policies relating to vacant land disposition, develop policy recommendations to encourage more reuse of City owned vacant properties for edible, flower and rain gardens, and to develop a toolkit to provide community members and organizations with greater access to these programs. The resulting Adopt-a-Lot Program passed City Council in November of 2015.

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The accompanying Vacant Lot Toolkit (VLTK) – a resource guide for residents that compiles the goals, policies, processes, procedures, and guidelines allowing residents to build temporary edible, flower, and rain gardens through the Adopt-A-Lot Program – is available on the City website and will also be made available in a print version to local organizations and at public libraries. The toolkit was created in part through an Advisory Committee consisting of various City departments and authorities as well as non-profit partners, including Grow Pittsburgh, GTECH, Penn State Center, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Tree Pittsburgh, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Useful for projects on both public and private land, the toolkit clearly defines the process to access the nearly 7,200 City-owned vacant lots for food, flower, and/or rain gardens.

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