Land Stewardship for Lasting Community Health and Change with Ariam Ford, Executive Director at Grounded Strategies


Karrah Krakovyak
Sustainability Innovator
More about Karrah Krakovyak
Highlights from this article

Most of those houses were built in the 1800s and use led paint and lots of other types of contaminants that now also have to be remediated if you wish to, bring that land back into productive use. So there's a physical environmental health issue for all of these vacant lots.

And so we worked directly with folks on the ground on lots doing cleanup stabilizations and projects, but then we're also taking what we're learning and the stories that we are collecting from the grassroots up to a systemic policy change level, where we want to see the process of recycling all of these vacant lots back into productive use that is equitable and one that delivers environmental justice.

Studies show that, for example, if you grow up next to a concentration of vacant lots, because we know it's a systemic issue and it's related to all issues of social justice, you are more likely to be sicker over the course of your lifetime. You're more likely to make less money than other counterparts in your cohort. You're like more likely to have a score lower on tests or have more mental stress.

The majority of these vacant lots in the city are concentrated in black and brown communities that have been also happened to be low income. That also are already underserved in respect to high quality public spaces and not have all of these vacant lots that are overgrown and unmaintained that are negatively affecting their quality of life as far as you know, beautification of their community, property values and things like that. And so not only is there an absence of a surplus of green spaces, there's an active element working against even just existing in a beautiful place for which to recreate. And so for us, that's an opportunity to correct.

But we're in this unique situation where a lot of climate solutions need space and we just happen to have a ton of it. A quarter of Pittsburgh's land is vacant. So particularly in our city, stormwater is one of the biggest climate issues that we're going to be facing in addition to heat island effect. So like greening of land is way up there as far as strategies. And we just happen to have this surplus of vacant land, a third of which is owned by the city. So sustainability and land stewardship and Pittsburgh specific context is so important because we have an opportunity to take one of our biggest issues and solve some of our upcoming bigger problems. But if for any city in general, it's everything has to have space. And so if you have all of this space and you can figure out how to best make it work for your community, resiliency is definitely an outcome of that.

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