Professional Conferences Are Worth More Than The Networking!

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!

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.


[dt_sc_h6 class=””]What is Pittsburgh Blight Bootcamp? [/dt_sc_h6]

November 7th was the first ever Pittsburgh Blight Bootcamp where residents, nonprofit professionals and government representatives were able to meet, mingle, and educate each other on topics surrounding the issues of vacancy and blight in the Pittsburgh region. Topics ranged from Resident Led Advocacy to Data Driven Decision Making. You can view the program of speakers here. This day long event connected residents to resources and best practices to increase the impact of community led blight elimination efforts.  This event was brought to you by the Pittsburgh Blight Working Group. A partnership between the City of Pittsburgh Office of the Mayor and Permits, Neighborhood Allies, PCRG, the Design Center of Pittsburgh and GTECH Strategies. Unable to make it to the event? The presentations will be available for viewing here!


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Fighting blight is definitely a collaborative effort, and the bootcamp encouraged interaction and support of the others around us fighting the same fight. Everyone in the group I brought were left feeling inspired and motivated by each other and by connections they made.” – Bethany Bloise, Mon Valley Initiative


[dt_sc_h6 class=””]Residents of Pittsburgh have a say in fighting blight and were eager to speak at Blight Bootcamp. [/dt_sc_h6][dt_sc_blockquote type=”type1″ align=”left” variation=”gray” textcolor=”#000000″ cite=”” role=””]

Angela’s Story


Northside resident and GTECH Ambassador Angela Williams presented her experience as a resident and advocate for her community. Angela’s street in Perry South has been surrounded by overgrown, empty lots for many years. She had a role in the transformation of other empty lots in her neighborhood in the past, but hadn’t yet attempted to take on the lot next to her home. After her sister, Starla, passed away unexpectedly in November of 2014, Angela decided to transform the lot next to her home into a beautiful space that would be dedicated to her sister. It is named Star Meditation Garden in her honor. Her inspiring presentation was well received and helped her make several connections with greening organizations and other motivated residents. When asked about the event, she said, “I think this is an excellent way to connect dedicated people to resources and I hope it continues.” You can learn more about Angela’s own fight against blight here.


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Resident involvement is crucial to collective impact



Another resident speaker, Lydia Kramer from GTECH Strategies, also participated in the event. Reflecting on the first Bootcamp, Lydia said, “It was very inspiring to be amongst so many motivated people. It goes to show that things are happening in Pittsburgh and will continue to happen for years to come.” Her favorite part? “I loved that residents, organizations and local government all had an opportunity to represent their concerns surrounding blight. I am very excited about all the connections made that day and I hope that all of these groups are now even stronger partners.” 

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Heading home inspired


Bethany Bloise, from the Mon Valley Initiative, attended with an interest in fighting blight in the communities in which she works. This includes Turtle Creek, East Pittsburgh and North Braddock. She feels that “Blight Bootcamp gave my North Braddock CDC the tools they needed in order to start surveying the blighted parcels in their community and to make a plan for each section/category of blight.” She goes on to say that “fighting blight is definitely a collaborative effort, and the bootcamp encouraged interaction and support of the others around us fighting the same fight. Everyone in the group I brought (18 people) were left feeling inspired and motivated by each other and by connections they made.”

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Final Thoughts


The experiences of presenters and participants at Blight Bootcamp reflects an overall sense of accomplishment and inspiration. Once the event closed, there was an overwhelming sense of excitement and willingness to continue fighting blight. Stay tuned for next steps following this years Blight Bootcamp and we look forward for next years sessions. In the mean time, check out the photos below from the event! 


Did you know that volunteering not only helps your community, but you benefit as well? According to the Corporation for National and Community Service there is a lot that you can take away from a workday, other than an immense sense of achievement. Check out their report and see if you can relate to these volunteering benefits and what more you can gain from becoming more active in your community.



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Urban blight is often associated with decay, crime and instability. Blighted property is described by the Washington Post asa contagious affliction.” Vacancy and subsequent blight begins to spread by depreciating adjacent property values, which discourages local residents from investing in home improvements and decreases the likelihood of banks to administer loans. The “affliction” reaches a certain threshold where it deters prospective investors and homebuyers, thus perpetuating the core problem. In 2001, a Philadelphia study found that houses within 150 feet of a vacant or abandoned property experienced a net loss of $7,627 in value. Properties within 150 to 300 feet experienced a loss of $6,819 and those within 300 to 450 feet experienced a loss of $3,542.

Strictly financially speaking, there is a massive incentive for reinvesting in blighted communities. A University of Minnesota study quantified the demolition of a vacant building and leaving a vacant lot instead led to “$26,397 in lost of property tax revenue over a twenty year period. This compounded over many vacant properties can lead to serious financial strain on small governments. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Quarterly, a 2010 study of Philadelphia reports, vacant properties cost $20 million in city services a year, almost half of which is spent on code enforcement and maintenance. Not only are vacant properties costly, the loss of millions of tax dollars furthers the financial burden.

All things considered, it can be much cheaper for groups or government agencies to reinvest in improving blighted infrastructure than to let the properties remain vacant. A reference to the St. Paul, Minnesota budget for the costs associated with vacant properties revealed that while demolition saves $4,697 the rehabilitation of a vacant building saves an estimated $7,141 in maintenance costs over a twenty-year period. 

Though the blight conditions may seem bleak, there are widespread efforts across the nation, including Allegheny County, which inspires hope for such communities. Many cities are receiving millions dollars in grant relief specifically to help mitigate the financial burden that blight brings to local and state municipalities. Blight focused programs, groups, and nonprofits are working harder than ever to ensure the future of underserved communities by providing new and innovative solutions for everyday citizens to help reclaim their communities.

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Lots to Love 

There is lots to love in the grater Pittsburgh region. Learn how you can play a part in ReClaiming your community. 


Blight Bootcamp: November 7th 8:00 AM – 3:30 PM 

Learn about resources and best practices to increase the impact of community led blight elimination efforts.

100 Resilient Cities: Pittsburgh

Learn how Pittsburgh has become one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities. 


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Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste.  ~William Shakespeare

It is no secret that Japanese Knotweed has a strong hold in Allegheny County. But for those who have been battling the invasive plant, there is hope! Pumpkins and other squashes seem to be able to gain the upper hand and can help to fight out this voracious plant. To learn more about Knotweed, visit Grow Pittsburgh’s information page. If you’d like to fight off knotweed with squash, check out this article from the Post Gazette.

Growing pumpkins may not be for you, but have no fear, there are other ways to deal with this invasive menace. We posted fun recipes that you can make using young knotweed shoots! If you can’t beat it, eat it!




An inspirational story about how our very own Northside Ambassador, Cynthia Levy-Mendoza and family work together to transform their neighboring vacant lot into a wonderful community space. Check out Cynthia’s project page to learn more about her project and what her plans are for her vacant lot.

If you would like to meet Cynthia (and fam!) or visit her site, it will be featured on this years Two Wheels Lots of Green Bike Tour this Saturday August 22nd! Please register online and visit the GTECH info page  to learn more!

Join us this Saturday! Check out more information on the bike tour here and to register.

A lot of progress has been made by the ReClaim Northside Ambassadors! This summer we have moved tons of soil, planted dozens of flowers, and battled the veracious knotweed. Check out their vacant lot project pages to see even more photos and the ambassador’s stories.

We have allot of volunteer workdays throughout August and September, so stay tuned and check the events calendar for more information and how to join the effort!