Seeing a future beyond the blight

After working in Hurricane Katrina disaster relief, where 134,000 homes in New Orleans were destroyed, Greg Trainor came to Philly for college. He looked around at the roughly 40,000 vacant homes in Philadelphia, and saw that the situation wasn’t all that different.

“I realized, Philadelphia is a disaster zone,” Trainor said. “A man-made disaster zone that happened over time.”

Looking back, Trainor says that was the moment he first had the inspiration for his nonprofit, Philadelphia Community Corps (PCC), which he sees as a potential strategy to eradicate Philly’s blight problem.

“If a disaster destroyed 40,000 houses in Philadelphia, everyone would rush to fix it,” Trainor said. “But because it happened so gradually, everybody just got used to it, and said that’s the way Philly is. … It’s so shameful, the whole idea that nothing can be done about it.”

PCC takes on projects stripping old properties of reusable construction materials and recycling them. Those materials are sold off at PCC’s building material reuse center in Kensington. Property owners who utilize PCC can treat whatever materials get recycled as a tax-deductible donation.

PCC is also a job-training program for youths who earn a paycheck while getting experience in basic demolition skills.

Trainor hopes that if the nonprofit expands he’ll be able to offer them more work, and he thinks the deconstruction and recycling industry has a bright future in cities across the country with large deindustrialized areas.

If enough people catch on to the benefits of reclaiming blighted land andrecycling old structures, PCC’s work could help change the face of the city, he said.

“Let’s fight,” Trainor said. “Let’s be the generation where Philadelphia says, let’s make a push for it, let’s get rid of the abandoned houses.”