GSA ‘Meet & Greet’ February 27th, 2020

Join us for a GSA ‘Meet and Greet’ at the Tree Pittsburgh office on February 27th from 3-5 pm.
Feel free to invite colleagues and friends in the ‘green scene’. New members welcome! We will have activities to get your input on the upcoming year for the GSA, and of course food and libations. Hope to see you all there for our first meeting of the year.

The Pump House, formerly of the Carnegie Steel Company’s Homestead Works, was home to the Homestead Strike of 1892, an unfortunate, yet significant event in US labor history. It sits among the Sycamore-lined banks of the Monongahela river, overlooking the Carrie Furnace. For over a decade, Rivers of Steel Heritage Area (RSHA) has worked to preserve the legacy and its important place in American History by restoring the structure and creating a small museum and event space inside. The site is also a popular restroom and water stop among cyclists traveling on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail.

Most recently, the RSHA has updated the parking area to a nearly 20,000 square feet asphalt parking lot. When it rains runoff from the parking lot flows into a narrow swale that extends the entire length of the lot, approximately 200 yards! In the late summer of 2016 the RSHA contracted with StormWorks, a program of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, to prepare and implement a landscape plan for the swale. Later that fall the landscape plan was realized thanks to the invaluable partnership with Landforce. Throughout the course of two days, StormWorks staff and the Landforce crew prepared the site and planted over 50 native shrubs and grasses along with nearly 2,500 perennials. Among those plants include native species such as: Ninebark, Chokeberry, Switchgrass, False Indigo, Joe Pye Weed, Blue Flag Iris, Butterfly Weed, which provide colorful and textural interest throughout the seasons.


This blog was written by Scott Roller, of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

View of the Frick Environmental Center from site’s southeast edge. Irregularly spaced columns and variation in window width pay homage to random placement of trees in nature. Image: Nic Lehoux

Pittsburgh’s amazing city parks are the ultimate outdoor classrooms. There’s plenty of space, great things to see and do no matter what the weather, and there’s always something new and amazing around every tree, hillside, or winding trail. Now, with the newly opened Frick Environmental Center, you also have one of the world’s greenest buildings as your welcoming starting point for your incredible parks. Designed to be the first LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certified building in the world that is free and open to the public, now is the perfect time to take a walking tour of this awesome building and grounds. Designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson with landscape architecture by LaQuatra Bonci and built by PJ Dick, the Frick Environmental Center will be a hub for environmental education programming for the Pittsburgh region. Here’s a 12-step guide to the highlights of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Frick Environmental Center in Frick Park.


Solar arrays cover parking spaces, collecting the sun’s energy and guiding rainwater into storage cisterns for non-potable on-site use. Image: Scott Roller

As you approach the front gates off of Beechwood Boulevard, look at the gatehouse to your right. Look for flower and leaf shapes in the ironwork of the gatehouse door and windows, including a lily at the apex of the entrance door. It is just one of many details meant to bring touches of nature to the Frick Environmental Center building and site. As you pass the gatehouses, bear to your left and walk toward the large covered parking lot. Once you’re under the roof (and have checked for approaching cars), look up. You’ll notice that this is no normal roof. In fact, this one is made of thousands of solar cells. These solar arrays gather the sun’s energy, and help the Frick Environmental Center collect as much energy as it uses. The solar arrays’ sloping roofline also help collect rainwater, funneling in into the two large silver water barrels you see at the front edge of the parking lot. This water will be used for watering plants and other non-potable uses.

Now take a look at the garden space in front of the silver water collection barrels. Check this space in the spring, as new plantings will add one of the site’s key educational pieces when the From Slavery to Freedom Garden joins the landscaping in front of the solar array-covered parking spaces. A partnership with the Heinz History Center, the From Slavery to Freedom Garden will feature plants native to our region that were utilized by escaping slaves making their way north to freedom. Used for food, shelter, and medicinal purposes, these plants played a key role in their journey. Look for interpretive signage to be in place soon, as well as long-term programming components built around the garden installation.

Kid sized doors – in addition to regular adult-size doors – were designed by architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to make visitors of all sizes feel welcome. Image: Mark Simpson

Next, walk past the barn and restrooms, around the curving path until you reach the fountain. Inspired by the original fountain that stood nearby, this one is designed to have a lower water stream while stillhaving the sound and reflective qualities of the original fountain. Its design will use much less water than other fountains its size, and has edging stones meant for sitting to rest or meet friends. Now continue on the curved path, and pass onto the bridge that leads to the entrance doors. As you approach the doors, look to your left, and you’ll see one of the two outdoor classrooms. These covered open air spaces are perfect for being outside while still shielded from sun and rain. Now, notice that you have two entrance doors to choose from. In order to make everyone feel welcome, there is a full-sized adult door, as well as a smaller, kid-sized door.


Pittsburgh-based UrbanTree crafted furniture for the Frick Environmental Center’s living room and class rooms. Exposed woodgrain and tree rings are intended to spur questions and conversation. Image: Scott Roller

Once inside, walk along the windows until you see the entrance desk at the other end of the building. It’s no ordinary desk, though. It’s made from wood found on the construction site of the Frick Environmental Center, and its intertwining support branches and exposed wood grain are amazing to see. Take a left at the desk, and you’ll be in the living room, where you’ll see other furniture – including square end tables with big open circular cut-outs. They’re perfect for climbing through, or for counting the rings to see the age of the tree it’s made from. Now, step out on the balcony to see another fun detail. Look at the windows and the two-story support columns. The windows are different widths, and they – and the columns – are spaced unevenly from each other. They are designed this way to give the feeling of the random placement and varied sizes of the trees in the surrounding woods.

After you’ve looked around the interior of the building – which is heated and cooled through a system involving 18 geothermal wells drilled over 500 feet deep – exit past the front desk. Pick up a map before you go outside, though, and check out the energy diagram on the back. It shows where the geothermal wells, water collection, natural building ventilation, and other innovative energy highlights of the Frick Environmental Center are located.

Carved sandstone emulates topographical layering in this detail of the site’s rainwater feature installation by environmental artist Stacy Levy. Image: Scott Roller

Once outside, look down to the curving, layered sandstone below. If you think it looks like layers of earthfrom a topographical map, you’re spot on. When it rains, water from the roof will be channeled to the sandstone, flowing over like a river making its way over layers of earth. Finally, as you cross over the bridge look to your left and you’ll see the outdoor amphitheater. With regionally-sourced sandstone benches, and Frick Park’s trees and trails as its backdrop, it’s quite possibly the best seat in city. Take a look at the black walnut wood siding, and notice that it is unfinished. This will allow the blonde-hued wood to fade naturally to shades of grey, matching the bark on the trees in the surrounding woodland of Frick Park. The wood will age differently depending on its exposure to the rain and direct sunlight, serving as a spark for conversation about how the elements affect nature. Finally, as you exit the bridge, look at the round, grey-painted iron gate. See if you can spot the tree and roots in its design. It’s just one of the many creative nature-inspired design touches built into your Frick Environmental Center.

For a slide show of the Frick Environmental Center, please visit

View of the Frick Environmental Center from site's southwest corner, with outdoor amphitheater visible in the foreground. Unfinished black walnut siding will age naturally to grey hues that match the bark of trees in the surrounding woodlands. Image: Jeremy Marshall
View of the Frick Environmental Center from site’s southwest corner, with outdoor amphitheater visible in the foreground. Unfinished black walnut siding will age naturally to grey hues that match the bark of trees in the surrounding woodlands. Image: Jeremy Marshall.








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.

Professional conferences can be daunting, especially if you are traveling alone. However, there are many benefits to pursuing these experiences even if they push you out of your comfort zone. Along with expanding your knowledge base, professional network, and professional resources, conferences can offer a so many more (and less spoken about) benefits!


Conferences disrupt your daily routine, and help  you recharge your brain’s batteries! Exposure to different perspectives, ideas, and innovative solutions is inspiring! It feels good to be refreshed in your craft and to share this new knowledge with your team.



Meeting new people with different professional responsibilities is a great form of networking. However, attending a professional conference gives you the opportunity to meet with professionals that may have similar jobs and experience the same challenges as you! If you can say, “I’m the only one at my company that does what I do”, then professional conferences are just the ticket to helping you solve that specific problem that no one else at your office can relate to.



At the very least, it is a great way to travel! Though you are still working, conferences are a great way to travel to new cities or parts of the country that you have never been before. Even if you stay is short, you can take any amount of time not participating in a session to experience local cuisine, see a show, or walk the streets. Not only are you expanding your professional network, but you are adding to your personal growth as well.

No matter what the topic, theme, or field, conferences are a great use of your time and can offer many professional and personal benefits. Even if you are not interested in attending a professional conference, every benefit can be applied to personal gain as well! It is always inspiring to learn new things, meet people of similar interests, and travel! The best part is that everything that you learn can immediately be put into action or applied to what you are doing.




We are also so excited to be planning the second Pittsburgh Blight Bootcamp, coming in October, which is a conference available to not only professionals working on community development and land use issues, but also residents! This is a unique opportunity for residents to mingle and problem solve amongst those who work on these issues every day. If you are feeling inspired to expand your personal and professional network, register here!

This blog was written by Cassidy Martin, an intern at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

The Pittsburgh Greenspace Alliance (GSA) is comprised of 30 non-profit organizations that are committed to improving the greenspace issues that are present in Pittsburgh today. Greenspaces are things such as parks, hiking and biking trails, and natural areas that benefit the Pittsburgh area’s economy and health, positively influencing the area both personally as well as recreationally and aesthetically.

Since its formation in 2013, the GSA has developed several initiatives and areas of focus.

One of the current initiatives of the Greenspace Alliance is, “[to work] with the administration on improved relationships with the non-profit community.” In other words, the GSA collectively wants to improve the relationships between the members of the alliance so that organizations can accomplish common initiatives together, and can also be as successful as possible within their own individual projects.

One person making this initiative a reality is Gavin White, who is currently an employee at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) and at GTECH Strategies, both of which are members of the GSA. Working at both organizations gives Gavin the opportunity to experience and understand what different members of the GSA envision for the greenspaces of Pittsburgh, and how they could collaborate to improve their initiatives.

Gavin has two different titles at his respective jobs. At PPC, Gavin works as a Community Outreach Coordinator. In this position, community engagement is a critical aspect of the job. He is responsible for getting to know residents in the communities and making personal relationships. He makes himself available to people in the community so it is possible for them to have an outlet where they can voice their concerns and issues as well as give feedback on current projects. Gavin listens to the concerns of the community while making sure they have the opportunity to give input on the projects taking place in their local parks. Not only is he responsible for ensuring that residents of the community are informed about the things going on, he also participates in the work as well. Gavin explained that he works in other areas at PPC as well, such as graphic design work for printed materials and other small creative projects.

At GTECH, Gavin is a Project Coordinator where he works more hands-on, designing and building greenspace projects, especially with young people. Gavin helps design and build Green Playces, which are “outdoor classrooms and play spaces where youth can learn about their environment and how to take care of it.” Other work that Gavin does at GTECH is somewhat similar to what he does at PPC as well, in the way of community outreach, graphic design, research, writing, etc.

Gavin explained that he really enjoys working at both organizations because it allows him the chance to work at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to projects. For example, at PPC, he can work on large-scale projects and planning processes, such as the watershed planning PPC is pursuing with the city and PWSA for Four Mile Run in Schenley Park and Heth’s Run in Highland Park. He is currently managing the production of the public art for the August Wilson Park in the Hill District, which is celebrating its grand reopening on August 6. Gavin is also involved with building up the Pittsburgh Parks Prescription program. This program was created with the goal to tackle childhood obesity and other health challenges throughout the Pittsburgh area.

At GTECH, Gavin described that he works on more “affordable” projects.  Currently, Gavin is focused on building and designing Green Playces throughout Pittsburgh. The Green Playces projects he is currently working on are in Wilkinsburg, Allentown, McKeesport, and the Hill District. He is also finishing up art projects in two existing Green Playces in Homewood and Northside.

Gavin says that he feels that combining his work at PPC with the Pittsburgh Parks Prescription program and his Green Playces projects at GTECH shows how the GSA could work specifically between two member organizations who have overlapping initiatives. With an overall common goal of getting kids outside and educated about the environment, these two projects could come together and have both PPC and GTECH on board with both initiatives.  He is already working with these two organizations as well as Venture Outdoors and Student Conservation Association, who are also Greenspace Alliance members, to establish a “Remake Learning Playlist,” teaching kids to become “Young Conservationists.”  These and other collaborations would not only most likely make each project more successful, but could also bring more awareness to them as well.

Gavin’s work at PPC and GTECH is an excellent example of how bringing together initiatives from multiple organizations of the Greenspace Alliance makes these projects more successful. Working together as a motivated, supportive group would make the Greenspace Alliance’s initiatives more effective for the Pittsburgh area.

Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods.

There are 90 of them, after all. Each one has its own charms, and problems, and groups of people working to solve them. But, like individuals, these neighborhoods often focus on their own challenges, and sometimes forget that other neighborhoods are working on very similar problems. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These community leaders work hard to make their neighborhoods better one step, or one lot, at a time. But such individuals can also play the role of neighborhood representative, sharing their challenges and successes with other communities in the same position, benefitting not just their own, but two or more neighborhoods!

Last week the Hazelwood Urban Ag Group and other interested residents met with residents from the Larimer Green Team to learn about energy efficiency, explore Lots to Love, and talk about their experiences – an opportunity to share challenges and successes and learn from what the other group has accomplished.  

We knew that Larimer and Hazelwood were facing similar challenges: each has lots and lots of vacant land, with big development moving in (for Larimer, a Choice Neighborhood grant to the tune of $30 million; in Hazelwood, groundbreaking at the Almono site and concurrent community development). But they also both have dedicated teams of fantastic individuals working to improve their communities lot by lot.  And so we thought, let’s bring them together to show them Lots to Love.

Lots to Love is a guide for community organizations and residents who are interested in transforming vacant lots into well-loved spaces. It was built precisely with groups like these in mind.

So I picked up Larimer Green Team members to commandeer (with their blessing) the Hazelwood Urban Ag meeting. We spoke about how they all might save on energy at home by following some simple tips and using online tools to track energy usage, and then dove into a Lots to Love training session, registering each group and their projects on the site. Throughout the meeting, we learned about projects that each group is working on, from the planters that Elaine Price of Floriated Interpretations hopes to install in Hazelwood, to the revamping of the Larimer Community Green. These projects and more are now registered on Lots to Love, so feel free to explore! 

By bringing these groups together, we got to share resources with each, and more importantly, they got to share lessons with each other.  Pittsburgh may be a city of neighborhoods, but it’s also the City of Bridges.  Maybe we ought to put Mr. Rogers’ famous question in the context of neighborhoods (and the bridges between them) and ask all 90:

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Carleton’s arboretum was originally called “Cowling’s Folly,” as its purchase in the 1920s by President Cowling was considered to be a waste of money.

Growing up in Chicago with a family full of homebodies, I rarely left the concrete jungle in my youth. Sure, Chicago is full of great parks (the city’s motto is Urbs in Horto, City in a Garden), but as someone with little hand-eye coordination, I never liked parks as a child because I associated them with how bad I was at sports! It wasn’t until I went to college in a small town in Minnesota that I really began to experience and appreciate nature. In fact, I would credit Carleton’s Cowling Arboretum with sparking my interest in and passion for the environment and sustainability. Being surrounded by 880 acres of pristine prairie is the essence of tranquility, but according to a study released last year, we as humans don’t need nearly that much green space to obtain the calming benefits of nature. At GTECH/Lots to Love we talk a lot about the impact that transforming blight into green spaces has on the health of our communities. But it also has a huge effect on our personal health, and even the way our brains work.

Last year, researchers at Penn published a study in the American Journal of Public Health in which they investigated whether viewing a greened vacant lot decreased participants’ heart rates significantly more than viewing a “regular,” blighted vacant lot or even being in an area with no vacant lots. The study was conducted in Philadelphia, which has 40,000 vacant lots but a long history of greening these land parcels. Since the early 2000s, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, through a contract with the city, has been operating a program to turn vacant and blighted properties into informal parks, with new topsoil, grass, trees and small, three-foot wooden fences. As of last May, the horticultural society was maintaining 6,500 greened lots, as well as paying neighbors a modest sum to care for 2,100 additional lots.

West Philadelphia’s Mantua Neighborhood

For the study, participants were recruited from two Philadelphia neighborhoods. One group went for a walk along a planned route in their neighborhood, passing by nongreened vacant lots while wearing GPS-enabled heart rate monitors. Three months later they did the same walk, only this time the vacant lots had been greened in the interim as described above. The second group was a control group; the vacant lots they passed in the first walk had not been greened by the time of their second walk. The results are quite significant. The average reduction in heart rate from being near the greened lots was 5.6 beats per minute (bpm) lower than when the participants were near the nongreened vacant lots, and over 2 bpm lower than when they were not near any vacant lots. The researchers conclude:


“. . . permanent downstream inflammatory changes and dysregulation of cardiovascular, neurological, and endocrine systems accumulate over a lifetime for persons repeatedly exposed to stressors in their neighborhood surroundings. Basic structural improvements to blighted neighborhood environments, such as ‘greening’ vacant lots, offers a promising and sustainable, yet underused, solution to such stressors.”


This is good news for those of us who live in cities. In a separate study published in Nature a few years back, researchers at the University of Heidelberg and McGill University found differences in brain activity between urban and non-urban dwellers. Researchers performed a stress test on participants while MRI mapped their brain activity. Urban residents showed higher activation of the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates anxiety and fear. People who grew up in cities also were more likely to have increased activation of the anterior cingulate, a part of the brain that regulates stress. To me, this means that as cities continue to grow, green spaces are more vital than ever, a way to reduce our stress levels in fast-paced urban environments.

All this science shows that green spaces are not only good for the health of our communities, they’re good for our physical well-being. The blighted properties in our neighborhoods are untapped opportunities for better personal health. Greening these spaces doesn’t just reduce crime and increase property values. It also lowers our heart rates and stress levels, thereby making us feel calm, relaxed and happy. Plus, doing the physical work on vacant lots is great exercise! Check out Lots to Love to find a vacant lot to green in your neighborhood and start reaping all those health benefits!

Last fall, Detroit Future City released their Field Guide to Working with Lots. This resource is intended to act as a user friendly tool to help Detroit residents transform vacant spaces into community assets.

The guide showcases a diverse selection of design concepts, ideas and examples of ways that residents can transform lots within their city. It provides everything from estimated cost, suggested locations and design examples that can serve as your starting point. You can download printable lot design booklets and even construction plans for your chosen design.

We chose to include this resources as part of the Lots to Love toolkit so Pittsburgh residents can utilize it for their own projects. Though there are certainly differences in landscape, policy and regulations between Detroit and Pittsburgh, we hope that the design concepts and general approach inspire community members to move forward with their projects. Each design is highly tailorable to each lot and resident in Pittsburgh. We look forward to seeing how these inspirations are applied to nearby communities.

To learn more about Detroit Future City, visit their website here. To view their digital guide, click here.


Remember the acronym “NIMBY”? That’s how sociologists and cartoonists often characterize the visceral reaction that a proposed new development (airport, power plant, strip mall, etc.) will elicit among the residents of the surrounding community: “Not in my back yard!” ioby, however, is all about empowering local projects that bring positive change to our communities (our collective “backyard”). That’s why a partnership between Lots to Love and ioby made so much sense.

Weinberger, David

ioby is the polar opposite of NIMBY, as you might have guessed, it stands for “in our back yards.” ioby is a nationwide nonprofit that supports local leaders of projects that have a positive impact on communities. ioby’s emphasis is on what they call “crowd-resourcing,” a combination of crowdfunding and resource organizing. As such, they provide a platform for crowdfunding (the pooling of small online donations for a project) as well as tools to organize volunteer time, advocacy, social networks, etc. to help grow and implement ideas that make neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable and more fun.

ioby has a great track record of success in their six year history. They have helped 596 projects raise over $2 million collectively (about $3,300 per project), and they have 300 projects underway right now. The average donation to an ioby project is $35, and most donors live on average only 2 miles from the projects they fund. Check out the Pittsburgh-based ioby projects, including a few projects by GTECH Ambassadors like Annaya. With all of this success and a thoughtful focus on local leaders, as well as ioby’s decision to open an office in Pittsburgh this spring, Lots to Love is excited to partner with ioby in order to better support our local leaders and their projects. If you’ve already found a lot to love and are working on raising funds, ioby can help!

Once you’ve consulted our resources and are ready to start fundraising, begin by filling out this form and selecting that you heard about ioby through GTECH Strategies. After you submit the form, you’ll be contacted by an ioby strategist to discuss your project and think through a timeline and best practices for fundraising. It couldn’t be easier, and you’ll be that much closer to making your lot a success!