In just a few years, Landforce has evolved and grown from a community development project into a regional stewardship and employment training resource.
Mount Washington’s Emerald Trail Corps
In 2011, the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) created the Emerald Trail Corps (ETC) with help from a host of partners including the A. Philip Randolph Institute, GTECH Strategies and the Student Conservation Association. The goal of the ETC was to develop Emerald View Park and its trail network by training and employing a local workforce from historically disenfranchised community members.
After five successful seasons training and employing over 40 corps members who built, maintained and restored over 10 miles of trails and greenway, a demand arose to expand and scale the ETC beyond Mount Washington. Similar to the feat faced in Mount Washington, across Allegheny County there is a need to restore and maintain land trusts, park space, vacant land, gardens, riparian zones, and green infrastructure.
Researching for Expansion
In late 2014, MWCDC, GTECH Strategies, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC), UrbanKind, and the Allegheny Land Trust (ALT) used support from the Hillman Foundation to begin researching national models to inform the scaling, expansion, and growth of the Emerald Trail Corps. After examining over 25 programs in 15 cities, the research team discovered that other cities and organizations are also using an abundance of green space as a platform for changing lives and creating jobs.
The research team dug deeper, conducting a series of surveys, online assessments, and phone interviews. Finally, they selected four programs for site visits based on the innovation of their model, the variety of program structures, and the longevity and types of work completed by the programs. The four programs chosen for site visits included the Seattle Conservation Corps, the San Francisco Conservation Corps, The Greening of Detroit, and the Oakland Civicorps.
After two years of research, the team felt that their research of best practices, data analysis, stakeholder engagement, and collaborative planning both validated the need for the expansion of ETC and helped develop an exciting and dynamic model to expand the program.
Many cities around the country had already embraced stewardship, basic maintenance and improvement of public lands as a critical service to ensure high quality of life and as a very real way to create a pathway out of poverty for citizens with the highest barriers to opportunity and employment. The time seemed right for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to do the same, and to contribute our own blend of inclusive innovation.
In 2015, ETC began the process of restructuring for expansion and launch, adopting the working name Pittsburgh Conservation Corps until the organization settled on their permanent name, Landforce, in early 2016.