Menu Contact/Location

Downtown forum focuses on vacant, abandoned properties

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Justin Vellucci
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Where some curse the sight of vacant homes, boarded-up shops and weed-choked yards, Arthur P. Ziegler Jr. sings of opportunity.
On Monday, the president of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation spoke with about 620 elected leaders and development officials who gathered Downtown to help share and expand that vision during a two-day national conference on vacant and abandoned properties.

“Vacant properties are a big problem in older cities and we look upon them, often, as a major resource for revitalization,” Ziegler said as he prepared to enter a session at the Omni William Penn Hotel. “We’re here to learn about what other cities are doing and what other solutions they’ve found.”

Participants’ name tags read like a who’s who of America’s post-industrial Rust Belt, with representatives attending from Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and Youngstown, Ohio, among others. But, each city’s take on dealing with blighted homes, population loss and neighborhood disinvestment seemed to unite them.

“This is really the place where the ‘do-ers’ in different communities can come together,” said Don Chen, executive director of Smart Growth America.
“If there’s one message, the one message is: ‘No one can solve this problem on their own,’ ” said Joseph Schilling, a Virginia Tech professor who served on the conference’s executive committee.

But what, specifically, could Pittsburgh officials glean from the National Vacant Properties Campaign’s first national conference?

Chen and Schilling said they could learn to preserve neighborhoods and aging infrastructure by following the successful steps Philadelphia took in its Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.

Pittsburghers also could benefit, they said, from studying Youngstown, which aggressively tackled abandoned properties through its Youngstown 2010 plan. Or the city could look closely at Richmond, Va., which helped rebuild six targeted communities through its Neighborhoods In Bloom program.

Greater Pittsburgh has plenty to teach leaders from other communities, participants said. Several talked about development of former industrial and waterfront sites, while Chen praised Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s buyback of more than 11,000 tax liens as “very exciting.” Ravenstahl helped kick off the event with a welcome speech.

The excitement in Pittsburgh and its recent designation as “America’s Most Livable City” were actually part of the reason the conference came to town, said Jennifer Leonard, director of the National Vacant Properties Campaign.

“It’s a good showplace for cities similar to it,” Leonard said. “It’s a city with problems. But it’s also a city looking for solutions.”

Justin Vellucci can be reached at or 412-320-7847.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633