Pittsburgh, PA
United States


Analyzed data and community interviews to understand the root causes of hypervacancy in Black communities to develop a framework for racially just land recycling.

Urban planning policies and discriminatory lending practices have systematically harmed Black residents and led to hypervacancy. “Hypervacancy”—the characteristic of high concentrations of vacant land—has marked health impacts on the residents who live in affected areas. Research shows that children living in neighborhoods with hypervacant conditions achieve less academically, are chronically sicker, and earn less over their lifetimes than children living in areas with lower levels of vacancy. In order to address the health concerns associated with hypervacancy and reduce the amount of divested publicly owned vacant lots in Pittsburgh, Grounded Strategies and de-bias worked to demonstrate the value of this land and how it could be used for racially just development and recycling processes.

Grounded Strategies and de-bias used a combination of publicly available parcel data and community conversations to better understand the root causes of land loss and land divestment and their impacts on Black Pittsburgh residents. Their work was focused within the Homewood and Hill District neighborhoods, which have been most affected by land loss. Community conversations took many forms, including focus groups, tabling, and door knocking. From these conversations, Grounded Strategies and de-bias found that residents had immediate needs involving vacant land and properties, such as purchasing a side lot or unraveling tangled titles that need their own case management. These conversations revealed a gap in trust between community members and local entities charged with supporting residents, including local government and community development corporations. Residents emphasized the need for more opportunities to build their internal capacity within a community to meet their own community development and property reuse goals.

Grounded Strategies and de-bias also completed a literature review focused on policy and legal mechanisms at a hyperlocal level, which informed their efforts to produce a replicable case study and intellectual framework for racially just land recycling based on residents’ experiences and knowledge. This case study came in the form of a geospatial groundtruthing model, which depicts individuals’ and families’ stories on specific lots and describes whether these parcels meet attributes associated with unjust land loss. The map of these lots is also overlaid with poverty rates, homeownership rates, and historic redlining maps, which places these stories in further historical context. In the long term, this information will allow residents, victims of land loss from tax delinquencies, and their descendants to advocate for no-cost transfers and low-cost purchases of their land back. It will also provide an opportunity to pair regenerative intergenerational wealth with racially just neighborhood development in the communities most affected by hypervacancy.