The city of Pittsburgh started the demolition season today as properties on Collier Street named the "killing fields" in Homewood began falling to the ground. Of the 1,507 housing units in South Homewood, only 72 percent are occupied according to the 2010 Census.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says since condemning these properties in 2008, the city aggressively asked the sometimes uncooperative owners to either improve the property or have it demolished.
"The 'killing fields' are coming down," Ravenstahl said. "It wasn't easy, but we never gave up. We tracked down the neglectful, out-of-town, and in some cases out-of-the-country, property owners who had no vested interest in this community, and we held them accountable."
Ravenstahl says a soon-to-be-launched Urban Redevelopment Authority program called PreservePGH will assist in condemning properties and preserving others that are seen as significant to the neighborhood. He added that they do not want to demolish a property unless absolutely necessary.
As for what will be erected once the demolition is completed by the end of the summer, Ravenstahl says the city will work with the neighborhood.
"Community gardens, potentially playgrounds and other things," he said. "Of course, our goal is to redevelop these properties and hopefully at some point have homes that are being built here."
Pittsburgh City Councilman Reverend Rick Burgess of District 9 said he thinks razing the dilapidated properties will affect the surrounding community.
"[The demolition] will not only begin the process of rebuilding the community but I believe it will help restore confidence in our city and confidence in our commitment to the greater East End community," Burgess said.
Burgess, who grew up in the Homewood area, is happy to see eyesores removed and safety improved. He notes that criminals would often hide contraband or conduct drug deals in the abandoned properties.
Ravenstahl says since 2006, the city has spent $20 million to demolish more than 3,700 dilapidated properties. After this summer, Ravenstahl predicts that number will top 4,000. This year, the city has dedicated an additional $3.3 million to bringing down problem buildings prone to criminal activity.
Two other demolitions areas for this season are in the Larimer and North Point Breeze neighborhoods.