Editorial: Land bank initiative can revitalize cityscape

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Pittsburgh is ceaselessly touted as a vibrant, livable city. But for those who live and work in proximity to the city’s thousands of blighted properties, the question has long been: When will all this supposed vitality translate into actual revitalization? After weeks of heated debate, that moment may be now.

Pittsburgh City Council passed a bill yesterday by a vote of eight to one to create the Pittsburgh Land Bank, a government-affiliated, partially autonomous body that the Council expects will help find new ways to deal with vast swaths of the city’s blighted and abandoned properties. The bill now awaits the decision of Mayor Peduto, who, given his outspoken support for the bill in a letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, seems all but guaranteed to make the land bank a reality.

The Pittsburgh Land Bank — which will be responsible for creating a database to track the city’s many blighted properties and determining the future of the roughly 7,900 vacant properties held by the city itself — is an innovative way to deal with a decades-old problem for the city. The final version of the bill contains more than enough statutes protecting the rights of individual property owners and City Council’s control of the decision-making process. The success of the Pittsburgh Land Bank’s efforts, however, is contingent upon the new agency’s avoidance of the missteps of past redevelopment efforts by lending its ear to the communities it will serve and moving forward with some trepidation.

With this news, there is plenty of cause to be optimistic. The proposed land bank would expedite the process of repurposing or selling these empty properties, but this is not an endeavour that the City Council should rush into. As anyone who has witnessed the slow dismantling of the city’s 1960s project to revitalize East Liberty with Penn Circle are well aware, blind confidence is a troubling basis for a development plan.

Instead, the Pittsburgh Land Bank must take modest steps that meet the specific needs of the communities it works with, using these vacant properties as a catalyst for revitalizing local businesses and community life in neighborhoods across the city by creating green spaces and supporting the creation of local businesses. The inclusion of three community members on the land bank’s nine-member board bodes well for these communities, but it would be foolish to think that this, along with the input of a district’s council representative, is a substitute for dialogue with residents.

Pittsburgh isn’t only a city of bridges. It’s a city of abandoned lots and food deserts. With the proper conversations and considerate planning, the Pittsburgh Land Bank can change that.

 

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