This blog was written by Thomas Guentner and Ilyssa Manspizer, of Landforce.
Nestled near the top of Brighton Heights sits a four-acre parcel of land which once housed St John’s Hospital. Built in 1896 and operational until 1995, St John’s served mill workers in the Northside communities until succumbing to a lack of funding and eventually being destroyed by an act of arson. For the past 20 years the land sat blighted by the remains of the old hospital and in a state of development limbo until the Urban Redevelopment Authority reached out to GTECH Strategies for support and a little creativity. This is where a new story begins, a story of collaboration and vision.
Brighton Heights community members have heard endless promises about housing replacing the former hospital site but have had to deal, first hand, with the byproducts of blight. Drug use, illegal dumping, and vandalism have plagued the grounds with the aid of unchecked vegetation growth and the red brick ruins of St John’s. With scenery such as this, it is hard to inspire a vision of what possibilities lie in wait.
As GTECH began to put together their management plan for the site, one thing became clear, help was needed. It would take a concerted effort to make way for the community’s vision and a dedicated team to see it through. Fortunately, that team already exists and was ready to go thanks to the Green Space Alliance.
Landforce, a new Pittsburgh organization, and member of the Green Space Alliance, combines workforce development and land stewardship, providing opportunities for people with barriers to employment to gain work experience while restoring the environment. As a new organization, Landforce is eager to fill their niche in Pittsburgh’s green renaissance, while ensuring that the benefits are felt by all of Pittsburgh’s people. By the end of Landforce’s first season, their Crews will have worked with a host of Green Space Alliance partners, including Nine Mile Run Watershed Association to maintain and install green infrastructure; Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to restore native woodland; the Urban Redevelopment Authority to maintain vacant lots; and Allegheny Land Trust, South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, Tree Pittsburgh, and Mount Washington Community Development Authority to construct and maintain trails. Landforce was the perfect fit for the St. John’s property, exemplifying the useful partnerships that have arisen out of the Green Space Alliance, while providing the opportunity for people working to restore their own futures to restore degraded land and contribute towards a community’s well-being.
Working in the blazing sun for more than a week, breaking bow saw blades, and facing rampant poison ivy, Landforce worked to clear sight lines, prune trees, remove garbage, and remove undergrowth. Yet, it took far more than hard work and heavy hand tools to complete this project — it took even more partnerships.
Representatives of Tree Pittsburgh spent four hours on the work site teaching Landforce crew members to properly prune trees and remove invasives such as Tatarian honeysuckle and ailanthus, which compromised the ecosystem and obscured sight lines. In addition, they trained Landforce as Tree Tenders so that crew members can bring their new skills back to their neighborhoods and onto their next jobs. Allegheny CleanWays also pitched in, hauling away the last of the vegetative debris.
Brighton Heights community members are suddenly using the site, to walk their dogs, or to stroll, remarking frequently upon the stark difference of the before and the after as they pass by a cleaner, safer St John’s. The community, one step closer to reclaiming an asset from the grip of misuse, can now share the vision of the Green Space Alliance as they look at a new version of an old sight. Through it all, Green Space Alliance partners, intent upon complementing, and not duplicating, each other’s skills, proved to be a potent force for the St. John’s property.