Definition of blorft:
An adjective made up by the actress, author, producer, Renaissance woman, Tina Fey, meaning “completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.”
Only a few weeks on the job here at the Center for Community Progress and I am constantly reminded of the importance of local leadership with any land reform initiative. For the past five years I worked as the Director of Neighborhood Initiatives for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the City of Pittsburgh. What did my job entail? It depended on the day … parking, pensions, people, public safety, and sometimes even possums (thank you, Animal Control). Most days I, along with many others in local government, felt equal parts “blorft” and privileged at being a public servant. In cities like Pittsburgh and many other legacy cities across the country, one of the biggest issues facing local leadership is abandoned, vacant and problem properties. The question is how do you address this issue with so many other pressures facing cities and towns across our country?
The answer : you don’t have a choice.
Well, in actuality, you always have a choice but some of the most stunning examples of local leadership are those who have recognized that to shape the destiny of their city and town is to take control of these problem properties. By doing nothing, costs a whole lot of something. Loss of equity in adjacent properties, public safety personnel responding to calls, loss of tax revenue, and the list goes on. By doing something, you exemplify leadership at its best: managed risk with return on investment. You manage the risk of taking control of a property that may or may not have immediate market value knowing that further deterioration of that property and others around it will not continue.
At the end of the day, most local leaders are facing enormous fiscal challenges and doing their best to ensure that each and every day basic general services are provided to their residents. Pension fund obligations are mounting and in cities like Pittsburgh, our population is half of what it was 50 years ago yet our pension obligations continue rising. Comprehensive strategies to land reform such as tax foreclosure, code enforcement, land banking and community gardening are just a few ways to help stabilize the tax base and ensure a quality of life for all residents. I am proud and excited to work for an organization like the Center for Community Progress that can provide expertise and hands-on assistance to local leaders across the country on all of these strategies and more.
And to think, just two years ago I was sitting at a National Vacant Properties Conference in Louisville listening to these two people talk about this thing called land banking and I had my “a-ha” moment. Thank you Dan Kildee and Amy Hovey and the rest of the team here at Community Progress for providing other local leaders across the country with these” a-ha” moments. We are all here ready, willing and able to help assist with that enormous task of rubber meeting the road.
Most importantly, if there is one take away from all of this, it’s for each of you to take a moment and remember to thank your local leaders for the yeoman’s work they do each and every day. It means more than you know and really helps with those days filled with blorft.
I look forward to working with all of you … goodbye Pittsburgh and hello Washington DC!
Kim Graziani is Vice President of Capacity Building at Community Progress