Engage Your Community

Engage Your Community Before You Begin Your Project

It’s never too soon to reach out to neighbors and community partners to introduce your idea for a vacant lot. Make sure you’re up with the news of your neighborhood, and get familiar with your neighborhood’s community plan if one exists. Engagement with neighbors and community groups should continue throughout the bulk of your project. If you truly intend to have a community-centered project, make sure you don’t do everything by yourself. The community should be integrated in your project throughout the whole process, and you should be thinking about how your project will affect those around you. You can start by taking an inventory of active groups in your community in order to find out what is already going on, how your project might fit with community goals, and also to build some support for your idea. Attend all the local meetings you can and meet the people who are already very involved in your neighborhood. Community groups hold meetings to discuss different issues and projects in the community. Some are widely attended, and others are

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smaller groups.  If you are new to a community group, it is best to contact the group before attending a meeting. If you’re not sure where to look, check out our list of community groups in Allegheny County. Also, be sure to take a look at our Organizational Directory.

This is also a good time to reach out to your Council person (if you’re working in the City of Pittsburgh, you can find out what district your project is in through the Lots to Love map) and introduce yourself and your idea. This can help get the word out and gain early support and guidance for the project as it relates to broader community goals.

If you’re uncomfortable just knocking on doors without anything to guide you, consider making a survey to get more specific information from your neighbors. Take a look at a survey template here. 

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Engage Your Community Throughout the Process

If you haven’t taken the steps to engage your community, but you’ve already moved forward with your project, then it’s best to pause where you’re at and find out what’s going on in your neighborhood. If you’ve already been engaging your community, you can start to think about ways that community partners can support your project. At this stage, you can also post your idea to the Lots to Love website map. Simply have your organizational partner register as a user and submit the idea. This will give you another outlet for gaining input and finding support for your idea.

Community partners such as churches, businesses, council members, and neighborhood groups can support your project in a variety of ways

  • Design Input – Now that you have some idea of what you want to do with your project, it is a great time to reach back out to community members and get their input. Attend another community meeting, but this time ask to be on the agenda. It’s a great time to share your concept and ask for input, find out if there are any activities that could support your project, but also if there is anything that might be in conflict. This will help you refine your idea and finalize the design.
  • Letters of support – This is also a great time to identify some long-term partners to serve the roles we discussed above. As you gain support from community partners and neighbors, it is a good idea to ask for letters of support to use later in the process as you apply for site access or grants.
  • Sponsors – Community partners can support your project as sponsors by giving a monetary or in-kind donation. In return, the community partner may be promoted on your lot, or in written materials about your lot project.
  • Liability Holders – Some lot owners, such as the City of Pittsburgh, require those working on the lot to have a community partner cover the liability insurance for the lot. This is a great way for a community partner to support your lot project. If the community partner already holds liability insurance for other properties, their cost of insurance will likely stay the same.
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  • Programming – Community partners are often looking for a space to run programming, either because they have limited space, prefer an outdoor space, or want to reach a different audience. Your lot could be the perfect place for a community partner to run programming like classes, celebrations, or meetings. In return, the community partner could support your lot project with monetary or in-kind donations.
  • Volunteer groups – Community partners may be or be connected to a good source of volunteers for your lot. Consider different types of volunteers you could invite to your lot: students, senior citizens, youth, citizens with required community service, or others.
  • Memorandum of Understanding – If you know who your partners are, then this is a great time to outline agreements based on the role of the partnership.

Engage Your Community to Find Volunteers

Hopefully, the connections you’ve made through this process have allowed you to find support and secure your final plan for the execution of your project. This network should be the first place you ask for help, including organizing volunteers for the implementation and future maintenance of your project. For more information about finding and coordinating volunteers, visit our events calendar for upcoming opportunities.

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