The Department of City Planning is conducting an inventory of city-owned vacant lots in order to guide land reuse initiatives on underused parcels.

The inventory is a foundational step in creating a Vacant Lot Toolkit, a resource that will guide city residents through the process of reimagining vacant, distressed or undeveloped lots. The city owns 7,286 such vacant properties. The average residential zoned parcel is 5,302.94 square feet or 0.12 acres.

The inventory notes the current uses of the land as well as its future capacity for projects such as urban agriculture, urban forests or public art, says Shelly Danko+Day, the Open Space Specialist for City Planning who focuses on urban agriculture and food policy.

“It’s sort of a perfect storm. We have a lot of vacant land and communities want to improve their neighborhoods,” she says. “More and more people want to take on urban agriculture because you can grow food, but it also helps to reinvent these communities.”

Vacant or distressed lots can become the city’s responsibility for a number of reasons, such as tax delinquency, and their upkeep is a financial drain. Developing the toolkit was a recommendation from OPENSPACEPGH, a City Planning initiative that is part of PLANPGH, the city’s comprehensive plan. Ultimately, the intention is to create a streamlined process that will allow the city to offer land to community groups or individuals who can use it to address the needs of their neighborhoods, says Danko+Day.

“Doing something that helps to improve a vacant lot really helps to improve an entire community,” she says. “Pittsburgh is growing. We have these vacant lots that might be used for housing or other purposes soon, but in the meantime anything we can do to help people get excited about their communities again seems like a really good idea.”

The work is being completed by City Planning and two consulting firms: Brean Associates, a local firm, and Asakura Robinson, a Houston-based planning and urban design firm. Begun in April, a completion date for the inventory is not yet set.

Margaret J Krauss

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.