Vacant Homes Tour
The Vacant Homes Tour in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, showcased vacant and abandoned properties, their histories, and potential. The tour took participants on a journey back in time through the stories of the people and homes of a once vibrant community, and worked to reframe the narrative around vacant properties from challenges to assets.
Wilkinsburg is community just outside Pittsburgh with a population of 15,000 residents. In 2014 a community artist, Dee Briggs, purchased a vacant house slated for demolition in Wilkinsburg. She painted it gold and used media channels to shine a light on the history of the house and the people who once called it home. In a community facing significant disinvestment, her aim was to demonstrate the intrinsic value of a property and a community.
The House of Gold project inspired a group of students at Carnegie Mellon University to work on issues related to vacancy. The students, along with an advisory committee guiding the project, reached out to experts on property vacancy to understand the issue more. Experts pointed out that Wilkinsburg is a pass-through community and drivers don’t typically come into town to work or shop. The intention of the Vacant Homes Tour was to encourage visitors to take a minute to explore the community in a way they haven’t before, and to inform community members about resources available for acquiring vacant homes.
With help from the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation and the Historical Society, neighbors volunteered to select homes to research and then acted as docents during the tour, providing information and welcoming tour participants to the homes. Tour participants traveled from vacant home to vacant home to hear stories and see images, sometimes mounted on doors salvaged from other structures. Participants couldn’t enter the properties, often because they were privately owned and unsafe, but the signboards outside told the stories of their histories: their original owners, what the homes used to look like, and what structures and uses once stood nearby.
Property Type: Residential Structure
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Small Scale (e.g. painting; performance; visual), Event(s)
Project Purpose: Community engagement; Decrease residential vacancy
Duration: Once / Single Day
Initial Cost: Under $10,000
Funding Source: Unknown
Organization Type: Academic
Implementation Partners: Artist(s); Community leaders; Historical preservationists
Community Type: Suburban
Project Website: Vacant Homes Tour >
Organization Website: Wilkinsburg CDC >
Press: ‘Vacant House Tour ‘ showcases Wilkinsburg’s historical housing stock >
Contributions By: Daniel Egusquiza