Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Meet the Man Making the Most Out of Pittsburgh's Vacant Lots

Patrick Doyle examines GTECH Strategies and its successful work to improve once-empty lots.




Andrew Butcher, GTECH Strategies CEO and Co-Founder / photo by kristi jan hoover

 

Andrew Butcher arrived in Pittsburgh in 2006 with a straightforward plan: Graduate with his master’s degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon University and find a job in community development. Instead, near the end of the program, he started to plant sunflowers on the Almono site in Hazelwood. “The last thing I expected to do at CMU,” he says, “was farm a brownfield by hand.”

The farming was part of a novel approach to Pittsburgh’s vacant-lot problem. Once chockablock with housing for a population of 677,000 at mid-century, the city today is home to an estimated 305,000 people. Where homes and commercial buildings once stood, we now have 28,000 vacant lots. In some poorer neighborhoods such as Homewood, Larimer and the Hill District, single homes stand alone on entire blocks, surrounded by windblown trash and abandoned tires.

Butcher and his classmates viewed those lots as an opportunity. By planting sunflowers on vacant lots, they hoped to beautify empty space, encourage neighborhood revitalization and even use sunflower oil as biofuel. 

After graduating in 2007, Butcher, along with Nathaniel Doyno and classmates Chris Koch and Matthew Ciccone, formed GTECH Strategies to pursue that mission. Over the past eight years, the nonprofit organization has excelled at partnering with neighborhood groups to clean and green vacant lots — and teaching them to pull levers to get funding from foundation and public coffers. To date, GTECH has helped to clean up more than 2 million square feet in 60 communities and employs 16 people (Koch is the new CEO of the Design Center; Ciccone now is a developer in East Liberty; Doyno is an energy consultant in New York City). The nonprofit is building five kid-focused play spaces around the city; in 2015 it launched lotstolove.org, which maps Pittsburgh’s vacant lots and provides resources for neighborhood groups looking to develop them.

“Vacant lots are a primordial stage of development,” says Butcher, pointing out that not every garden or playground GTECH builds is permanent; instead, it’s about laying the groundwork for community revitalization. “We’re looking to create short- and medium-term change. The process of improving a place can be an economic driver.”

To see that process in action, head over to Larimer, where GTECH helped to implement the neighborhood’s 2008 development plan and cleaned up 12 vacant lots with key partners such as the Larimer Consensus Group, the Larimer Green Team and the Kingsley Association. A once-empty lot on Larimer Avenue now is the thriving Larimer Community Garden, where 40 raised beds serve as a neighborhood gathering spot and a place to grow food. The work also helped to stoke the first construction of homes in Larimer in a half-century. Last year, KBK Enterprises completed 40 units of low-income housing — a feat topped only by the 2014 announcement that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was awarding $30 million to build 350 mixed-income units in the neighborhood.

“What they’ve been instrumental in doing is creating a pathway for vulnerable communities to explore their assets and look at green infrastructure,” says Fred Brown, former associate director of program development at Larimer’s Kingsley Association. “They help take those nascent assets and provide technical assistance at the grassroots level. What

I like most about GTECH is its ability to empower vulnerable people.” 
 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” art exhibit intends to encourage passersby to consider the effects of climate change.

Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

The matriarch of the family is the perfect place to look for a meaningful something old.

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

Allegheny Health Network is the latest employer in the region to raise its company-wide minimum wage.

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in July

We eat for a good cause with Leo's Sunday Sauce, wonder what took us so long to get to Lola Bistro and hit the main menu at Muddy Waters. Plus, we go offline with Dave Anoia of DiAnoia's Eatery.

Lidia Bastianich Shares Her American Dream in a New Memoir

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein talks to the celebrated chef, restauranteur, television host and author about grandparents, foraging and the plight of refugees seeking a better life in the United States.

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

The Homestead Artist with a Worldwide Reputation

Jesse Best maintains a presence in New York and Tokyo. But, he says, Pittsburgh has been 10 times better to him than any other place.

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Sprout Fund Passes the Torch

50 Pittsburghers to receive $1,000 Legacy Award to carry on the nonprofit’s vision.

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Pirates Pitcher Steven Brault has Pretty Good Pipes Too

The Pirates reliever sang the national anthem Tuesday night before the Bucs hosted the Brewers at PNC Park. It's worth watching, especially for his teammates' reaction at the end.

Crime in the South Side Has Fallen Dramatically

Illegal activity plunged along East Carson Street following several new security measures.

Fired by City Paper — Charlie Deitch Won’t Be Silenced

The former editor of the Pittsburgh alt-weekly is creating his own "more inclusive" publication.

Czechoslovakia was Forged in Pittsburgh

Rick Sebak details how the establishment of the European nation began with a meeting Downtown.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” art exhibit intends to encourage passersby to consider the effects of climate change.

Comments

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

Allegheny Health Network is the latest employer in the region to raise its company-wide minimum wage.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

Reflecting on the loss of a person so many of us admired.

Comments

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Chef You Shan Pei comes to Pittsburgh after cooking in Flushing, N.Y. restaurants for 18 years.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

Looking to show off your Pittsburgh love? Get your favorite city printed on basically anything at these local shops.

Comments

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

When you're craving the real deal, these local spots consistently churn out the very best.

Comments


The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

In "Will Work For Views," the video artist and musician Weird Paul is a little bit Dr. Demento and a little bit Mister Rogers.

Comments

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

The relaunched entertainment complex in Harmarville is casting a wide net, with some success.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Comments

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk found out last August, in the wake of a six-hour surgery that removed 14 inches of his colon and “a tumor the size of my fist,” the severity of what he was suddenly confronting.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary about Fred Rogers' work and philosophy inspires even more wonder about the television legend who called Pittsburgh home.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

The matriarch of the family is the perfect place to look for a meaningful something old.

Comments

Toppers That Take the Cake

Toppers That Take the Cake

Over the traditional bride and groom standing on top of your cake? Try some of these different ideas for cake toppers.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

Paying homage to the restorative power of nature, this deep green shade is one to watch in the coming year. Here’s how to use it on your walls.

Comments

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

From furniture to wall art and beyond, these local makers created one-of-a-kind pieces for your home or office.

Comments