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New effort to alleviate blight in Pittsburgh starts small

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Natasha Lindstrom | Tribune-Review
North Side resident Joann Deming discusses the expansion into Pittsburgh of Ioby, a civic crowdfunding platform that aims to help transform neighborhoods 'block by block.' Deming was in front of a mosaic mural Tuesday on Deuschtown's City Steps.

In a city home to almost 30,000 vacant lots, with many of its 90 neighborhoods abundant in charm but devoid of upkeep, Miriam Parson sees a need for neighbors to be part of place-based change.

She’s confident in the power of tiny grassroots efforts to spur momentum in economically depressed pockets of Pittsburgh — projects such as transforming weed-ridden lots into urban gardens, or replacing crumbling signage with locally inspired art.

“I’m a big believer that we need citizen-driven and equitable implementation of projects across our neighborhoods,” said Parson, 30, who lives in Garfield and recently bought a home in Polish Hill.

Parson announced Tuesday that she is the first full-time staffer based in Pittsburgh for the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based civic crowdfunding platform Ioby, short for In Our Backyard — a play on words billed as the “positive opposite of NIMBY” (Not In My Backyard).

In celebration of Ioby’s enhanced focus here, representatives of The Sprout Fund, GTECH Strategies and the city joined several community activists in the Deuschtown section of the North Side.

“We’ve had a great partnership with Ioby to help citizens take a leadership role in their small projects,” said Mac Howison, senior program officer for catalytic funding at The Sprout Fund, a nonprofit in Friendship that funds small-scale beautification projects.

Howison said Ioby will help alleviate the fundraising burden on residents and small groups while providing guidance to overcome barriers such as zoning or permitting issues. He gestured to a colorful mosaic mural behind him anchoring Deuschtown’s City Steps at the corner of Concord and Itin streets, a project initiated by a Sprout Fund grant of less than $2,000 and completed with the help of Ioby.

“We are the facilitators to coach the fundraising side and bridge the information gaps, such as getting city permission to bring in a fruit orchard on a vacant lot,” said Parson, hired as Ioby’s local action strategist three weeks ago.

Pittsburgh-based projects already have used Ioby in the past two years to recruit volunteers and raise a total of $30,000, Ioby reports. Many projects used funds from multiple partners, groups involved in similar beautification work in the region, such as TreePittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Among Ioby-backed projects: $1,301 raised for a discovery garden on Kincaid Street in Garfield where families join to teach children to about growing healthy food and $520 to convert a city-owned lot at Holyoke and Drum streets in Perry South into a gathering and children’s activity space, with work including planting shrubs, creating a walkway and installing seating.

Ioby’s plan is to build on such work citywide, with an initial focus on Uptown, the Hill District, Hazelwood, Homewood and the South Hills.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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